I woke up around 4am, Monday April 17th with a feeling I haven’t felt in quite some time. I was terrified, incredibly anxious, and to be completely honest I felt a little sick. For the past eight months I had been telling my friends and family about the incredible adventure I was soon to be embarking upon, about how incredibly happy and fortunate I felt to have given myself the opportunity for such a potentially life changing journey . . but today it was real. In a few short hours I would start walking north for five months, with nobody to count on for survival but myself, with everything I needed to survive in a pack on my back. Me and the mountains of the West.
I could hardly breathe as my Mother and I drove up to the Southern Terminus at the Mexico border in Campo, CA. It was happening, this long talked about thing was finally happening! After a couple of pictures were snapped, one last goodbye was said, and I was off. I started walking in the wild desert landscape and within those first steps I was finally able to breath once more. The stress of everything had been lifted, and to my relief I was feeling good. Really good.
The first mile is quite surreal. Not knowing what you are doing or where exactly you’re headed is magical; a true adventure. I came up to the infamous ‘Mile 1’ marker, took a cliché selfie photo with it and continued on. About 200 yards past the marker I had my first encounter with the incredibly territorial rattlesnake. This rather massive snake was about 8 feet of the trail, all coiled up and gave me a very half-assed warning. As my heart sped up to 170 beats per minute I thought to myself, “Man, mile 1 and already I’m seeing rattlesnakes . . definitely not using my headphones in the desert” but also, “You gotta give me a better warning little guy, you know the rules!” Needless to say the next three miles I was wide-eyed looking for more of Satan’s little serpents.
After a few miles, I slowed down to adjust my pack and two brothers came up to me. We talked for a few minutes and carried on together, which was a good thing for me. I already was looking for a fellow hiker to walk with. Their fellowship felt nice. The trail zigzags up and down, east to west, and up about a thousand or so feet within the first ten miles. The views were already proving be something that is seldom seen amongst most people, and I was happy to be one of those few. We came around a bend at about mile 7 and walked up to another group. Very nice people and everybody shared one thing in common, we all were carrying far too much weight! Whether we started with too much water, too much food, or just too many miscellaneous items, we were carrying WAY TOO MUCH. One person stood out in that group, a hiker named Kelsey. Kelsey had hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2014, and you could just sense that she knew what was going on. She was happy, and clearly stoked to be out doing another thru-hike. I knew that sticking next to her would be a huge plus for me heading forward. Luckily, she enjoyed my company as well. We both got a kick out of the second rattle snake I encountered that day, as it rattled quite loudly and sounded like it was underneath our feet.
After fourteen miles, you drop down to Hauser Canyon which places you at mile fifteen. It was about this time when I started to feel something in my left knee that had me pretty worried. The pain was definitely coming from the outside of my knee, and I know from the little research I had done that Iliotibial Band Syndrome occurs often with runners and also long distance hikers. Luckily, I had purchased an IT compression wrap before I set out, so I decided to give it a go for the rest of the day. The last five miles consist of about a thousand foot high climb, then a gradual decline to Lake Morena where we were to camp for the night. I had officially survived my first day on the PCT, bruised but not down. I climbed into my tent exhausted and not willing to bust out the cooking gear for a hot meal. I scarfed down some microwavable rice pouch I had, and fell right to sleep.