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Day 1: On Walls and Magic and Invisible People

Day 1: On Walls and Magic and Invisible People

hiker.dykes Apr 23rd, 2024
hiker.dykes's 2024 PCT Thru-Hike

Southern Terminus (0.0) - Lake Morena Camp Ground (20.0) | Mileage: 20.0 + 1.5 (Backward from CLEEF to the terminus and later to sightsee the Oak Shores Malt Shop)

I woke early. From the dim light shining through the mostly translucent fly or the discomfort of my hip on the ground I’m not sure. The Garmin showed 5:07. It was still quiet outside so I tried to write on my phone, but the thoughts came in disjointed and bland.

Katie said we should pack up so we did. None of our things have a place yet and it was slow. We took turns in the trailer bathroom with the cute soap dispenser (glamping is probably not the best way to start a thru-hike) and stuffing packs and then walked to the shelter for breakfast. We each took a mug! of coffee and a banana and two pancakes from the stack Papa Bear was building on a little griddle. We started to sit where we had left our packs at our own table, but I heard the three middle-aged guys at the table behind talking about Chicago and up to this point we had been severely antisocial, so I said let’s go and we walked over and sat down and talked about our backgrounds and hiking experience and lives on the outside. We didn’t exchange names, but it seems like that’s not really a priority around here.

The trail runner came around 7. Turns out they don’t run at all but check permits and hand out black plastic bags to pack out used toilet paper and talk about leave no trace and give you a PCT tag for your pack (which was super exciting because I thought they only have those for the AT). This particular trail runner was named Abby AND FROM COLUMBUS, OHIO and had boy hair and hiked the PCT last year and the AZT before that and has since moved to Tucson and that makes perfect sense.

We were some of the last hikers to leave camp because there were too many exciting things to eat and do and see (sorry Katie), but finally we headed backward down the dirt road toward the terminus. The wall grew exponentially as we got closer. It was honestly less visually obtrusive than I expected, an infinite plane of rusted posts set 45 degrees from square, reaching up so so so high. Twenty or thirty refugees sat huddled on the side of the road just beyond the trail. They had nothing but a few backpacks and a small open fire. Nothing compared to the ultralight, ultra-warm, ultra-expensive equipment we carried. Nothing compared to the elaborate, homey camp with the heaters and stove and the free hot breakfast and the clean bathroom and the generous hosts less than a half mile up the road. Like everyone else, we looked and walked by.

The monument stood just in front of a decrepit barbed wire fence just in front of the infinite wall. The context made it pretty unremarkable and rather offensive. I hadn’t noticed the wall in the background of any of the photos we had seen while researching the trail. I wonder if that was intentional.

We walked away from the monument along the barbed wire until it ended and stood against the wall’s rusted bars, looking through to the other side. The land looked the same. Just dirt and shrubby brush and cactus and tiny flowers and probably lots of lizards and snakes and bunnies and bugs.

Two older sun-weathered women from upstate New York asked us to take their picture. Their names were Jill and Sherry. I assumed they were friends until they awkwardly scrambled up onto the monument and hugged in a way that was not a friend hug. So that was cool.

Katie was antsy so we took the essential photo and then it was time to go and that was how we started the PCT. The beginning was slow on account of all of the landmarks (i.e., mile 1) and photos, but by midmorning we were cruising. We slowly passed almost everyone from CLEEF (this is a race after all) and guessed their backstories and who we’d catch next and the likelihood they make it to Canada. The morning was cool and I was a little bit scared to use our new filter (because what if it didn’t work), so we skipped the early water sources and under-carried most of the day. Also it turns out that trekking poles are not so easy to use. We finally pulled them out in the afternoon after realizing it was ridiculous to carry the extra weight on our packs. I tried flicking my poles out in front and pulling through like a paddle, but the dirt is in fact not a liquid and the poles kept slapping down and tripping me up or getting caught in the bushes. After several hours of feeling forty years older and like a complete idiot, I was convinced trekking poles are utterly useless. That’s when Katie figured out that keeping them angled backward and sticking the tip into the dirt in line with your opposite foot as you step feels wayyy more comfortable AND turns your arms into bonus turbo legs. I now understand why four legged creatures move so much better than us and will never walk without poles ever again. That said, if you decide to acquire a pair after this five star review, I would highly recommend watching the REI tutorial before hitting the sidewalk.

All day, we turned back to watch the wall get smaller and smaller until it was just a thick line along the tops of the mountains. Then it disappeared completely.

After a short detour due to a very wordy and misleading sign, we rolled into the Lake Morena campground around 5:30 AND THERE WAS MAGIC. A youngish bearded guy and his dad were set up at a campsite grilling. The guy apologized because they were down to beyond burgers which was obviously the best case scenario and made us each one with cheese and grilled onions and chips. We stood around the dirt parking area eating and half stretching and we chatted with Brad (pronounced closer to Fred) from New Zealand who had been dropped off at the terminus by his uncle that morning. The man and his dad ran out of food and offered us their already paid site because they were leaving, but we wanted to set up in the PCT area and finally make friends (it’s supposed to be easy?) so we took a walk to the malt shop that serves fried tarantula and sink-showered in the campground bathroom and hung around waiting for them to leave before moving our packs.

The three middle-aged guys we’d been leapfrogging and joking with all day (Mick, Wayne, and Sin Nombre) guessed our names were Esme and Mary? Which was actually kinda close all names considered.

And unfortunately that was all the friend making we did because we took a while to set up our tent next to Maybe Joe (from breakfast and Chicago) and then it was dark again so we ate at the picnic table under the gazebo alone and everyone else was silent in their tents by 7:30 which is more than an hour before hiker midnight. We passed cold soaked pinto beans and two jalapeños back and forth across the table like tequila and a lime and cooked vegan orzo bolognese that Lily gave us for Christmas. But it got cold and there were mosquitos so we ate the pasta in our tent like real thru-hikers even though this felt like an extreme violation of basic camping rules. And then we had to go to the bathroom to brush our teeth and then we went back to the tent and then it was 8:30 and I wanted to journal but I was so so sleepy and legs filthy and Katie says snuggle and I put my head on her chest and then it was 9:30 and I had been asleep for an hour so I fell asleep again.

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