The journey begins with preparation
I know your first questions is “why?”. I first heard of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) my first day of college, from my first teacher, who said it was a goal of his to hike the PCT with nothing by a knife. He had us read Desert Solitaire. Later, the book Wild was recommended to me. I thought the author’s adventure was interesting, and more to the point, if that woman could do it, so could I. But if so, I would not skip the first 700 miles as she did. On highways 50, 80 and 58 I saw where the trail passed. So, while not a lifelong burning desire, the PCT keeps crossing my path. I believe we hold old age off with new adventures to keep us fresh, so I decided to take up the quest to hike this trail from Mexico to Canada.
There are two predominate ways to do the trail. A “thru” hiker is one that goes end to end without stopping. While of course, this is the true test and if completed, an amazing accomplishment. The other is to be a “section” hiker, one who chips away at the 2650 miles as time permits. The thru hike typically takes about 5 months, if the conditions are favorable, meaning not too much snow. As you know, I imposed on many friends to be gone 2 years, to serve in the Peace Corps, as they managed my business and home affairs. They did an amazing job, but I would not ask it of them again. So, I will be a section hiker, doing what I can during the times I can get away from the vineyard and wine business.
I have done a little backpacking, all in Yosemite. My limited experience taught me it is all about getting the weight you plan to carry as low as feasible. In fact, I have never taken a tent. I turned to friends that are experienced hikers, particularly Don K. and JR, who convinced me to take a tent. JR brought over several of his favorite pieces of equipment and it was a great starting point. With list in hand, from their recommendations and others, I headed to REI. My biggest concern was getting the right boots. I ordered some from REI online, but the fit was not good, so took them to exchange. I bought a 1-man tent, Jet Boil stove/fuel, Garmin mini, Backpack, dehydrated meals, Darn Tough socks, Gore-Tex pants, paracord, trail guide book, solar phone charger, and more. All very light weight, but trust me, I know that ounces turn into pounds. I ordered the Wellex sleeping pad, Forest Service map and Gore-Tex jacket online. I have an amazing North Face sleeping bag, so did not buy new.
The book does a fair job of identifying re-supply points, where you can mail supplies ahead, to avoid carrying more than you must. Many critical elements are missing, but helpful. It also describes water sources and other landmarks along the way. I mailed supplies ahead to 3 points, Mt. Laguna, Julian and Warner Springs. My Postmistress told me that if I don’t get that far, they would be returned. I sent clean clothes, dehydrated food, TP and fuel.
I became connected with a family friend, Spencer, who had done the entire trail a couple of years ago. He was very helpful. He had battled bad snow and a broken foot and kept going. He was the one who recommended sock rotation, and one of many to suggest the Darn Tough socks. He also suggested using the FarOut app, but I had just bought the Garmin. He gave me his lists, and I was happy to see it was pretty close to mine. For example, when I could not reconcile the fact that my book identified Julian was a resupply stop, but it was not on the trail, or even close, he explained that when you reached highway 79, you needed to hitchhike to Julian and back. I learned a bit more from the PCTA website as well. Such as, many places have access to public transportation, particularly useful for section hikers. The amount of information out there is overwhelming, and a person can really be perfectly prepared and know all, but I wanted a balance between good preparation and “experiencing” the trail.
I found a time slot, between pruning and the beginning of suckering/spraying, and booked a one-way flight to San Diego. I hoped to spend one night with my friend, Faye, but she was out of town. The bus does not run on Sunday, so I turned to my Tierra Roja friends. I sorted through my list for San Diego residents and reached out for a ride. Within 3 minutes, Alan responded and said he would pick me up at the airport and give me a ride all the way to Campo, the beginning of the trail. Several others also responded, Yvonne & Brian, Terrance, Leah, Ryan & Taila, and were there if I needed them. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to know you have that kind of support. They all continued to check on me as I trekked along.
Yvonne was the one to warn me of snow “It is really cold this week (in the low 20’s in the mountains) with a winter storm-lots snow today (14” at Mt Laguna) and a 3000 ft snow level. Our place up on Palomar (5600’) has ~ 10 inches. See today’s snow map below. Warming up over the weekend in low 50’s and then in 60’s next week but there will still be snow up high.” Indeed, I considered cancelling, but decided to just forge ahead and see how far I could go.
I took my gear with me on a road trip to the wine dinner in Scottsdale. I stopped at the Folsom and Scottsdale REIs, trying to get help with the Garmin, but they were as helpless as I. I camped a few of the nights, testing my new toys. So, now, I am as ready as I will ever be. The trail will teach me what I don’t know.