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Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California

March 20, 2022, came and went so quickly. I had been waiting on this day for months. Waking up in a Chula Vista hotel, I knew it had been my last night in a warm, comfortable bed for a while. My anxiety had been a rollercoaster all weekend, with nightmares tormenting me about my decision. With as much effort and thought I had put into this expedition over the past two years, I knew there was no way I could back out now.

Pulling up to the Southern Terminus in Campo, California, I set aside my emotions of being sad that I was saying goodbye to the love of my life and let my excitement for the new journey shine through. With my mom by my side, I knew I had the best chance of making it the 2,650 miles to Canada. Between snapping pictures, strapping on my pack, and final goodbyes, the start of the Pacific Crest Trail was a blur.

Slowly and steadily, we took each day at our own pace, soon realizing that it was better to start slow and ease into longer miles to save our bodies from pain. My feet quickly decided they wouldn’t blister but would continue to ache day in and day out. I am still working on a remedy. Mostly my body needed time to adjust to the long miles and strenuous exercise. It wasn't until around mile 600 that my ankle grew achy from walking on a continuous slope for tens of miles. Wanting to make it another 100 miles to Kennedy Meadows (South) before giving it a good rest, I pushed on using Vitamin I and athletic tape to mitigate the pain.

Never having backpacked longer than a weekend, I knew it would take time to adjust and become comfortable with my new day-to-day routine. How do I want to organize my pack? How do I want to protect myself from the heat/sun? How much water do I need? There are things I am still trying to sort through 700 miles later. But slowly, I started to become disciplined in my routine and found what worked best for me in the desert. Getting up at 6 am to try and beat the heat, taking at least two hours for lunch, and then hiking into the night if needed has kept me from overheating and given me time to rest my achy feet.

Not everything goes as planned, though. My itinerary, which took a month to create, became obsolete within the first week. It is still nice to look ahead and see how many days I might need between future resupplies, but I have found that plans change daily, and I have to learn to adapt. Before the PCT, a change in plans would give me anxiety. Not being prepared for something stressed me out. I can say that I have come a long way since then and am so much more comfortable living spontaneously. I still often start the day with a goal milage in mind, but along the way, something usually changes, and the plan I woke up with shifts in a new direction before night.

Some of my most spontaneous moments on the PCT include my first-night cowboy camping, river swimming when the opportunity arises, and when my tramily and I decided to get a hotel room in Cajon Pass after eating way too much McDonald's. I am so glad that I didn't have to hike out to camp after eating that much fast food. Each of these days, I had a different vision for how they would end, and all three of these days turned out better than I had ever expected, all because I didn't follow the plan. I recommend being more spontaneous to allow fun into your life and not get trapped doing the same things repeatedly.

As much as I want to invite spontaneity, there is still a lot of planning surrounding a thru-hike. Having to prepare food ahead of time, knowing where the next water source is located, getting a hotel room days in advance if you want to stay in town (which also means you have to find reliable internet), and knowing if you need to replace gear promptly so hopefully, you aren’t blowing up your sleeping pad every two minutes for almost a month (shoutout to FJ). The desert stretch of the PCT required more attention to detail with planning water stops. Most of our days

were dictated by where the next water source was. Could we make it there before camp, or do we need to pack extra water for overnight? The longest water carry I experienced was about 20 miles long. I would pack 4-5 liters of water for that distance, needing one full liter overnight for cooking dinner and breakfast. With how dry this year has been, I am surprised that was the longest stretch. Water caches maintained by local trail angels are a significant water source for hikers when there are no natural springs or streams in the area. We are told not to rely on water caches, but it is hard not to depend on them when you have 30+ miles between you and the next water source without the cache. I am very excited about the easier water access in the Sierras.

There will always be those unplanned surprises that can slow you down with frustration. If possible, I try shifting my mentality so that these obstacles make my experience that much more rewarding when I see the light. Downed trees, snow, wild weather, and equipment failure have affected most thru-hikers at this point in the journey. On day 1, we encountered rain that made us stop and cover-up. On day 18, we encountered numerous amounts of downed trees, which at that time slowed us down since we hadn't quite figured out how to maneuver with our large backpacks. On day 36, we fought the snow on Baden-Powell for hours, soon realizing that we had a limited amount of time left before sundown, and we were still on our way to the summit. On day 51, we climbed out of Tehachapi with the crazy winds that continually tried to shove us off the ridge and whip our faces with cold air. After 6 miles of a brutal beating, we found a protected campsite and set up shop. Sometimes it is better to take a break and make fewer miles than to push on and have a miserable time. On day 53, we hiked through freezing fog that painted a postcard-like photo and left me changing in and out of my wind/rain jacket all day. Days like these can wear a person down or build them up to be stronger. I chose to be stronger and will continue to Canada.

Staying strong is very important during a thru-hike, which means ensuring you are getting enough calories from food. Since I started the PCT without much experience, I wasn't sure exactly what my body would require on trail. It turns out I was about 50% prepared with my preplanned resupply boxes. My breakfasts and snacks have been working for me, but I have had to switch out one preplanned lunch, and my dinners are now all backpacker meals. The backpacker meals aren't a favorite for most hikers because they are bulky and pricey, but they are effortless and contain many calories. The pros outweigh the cons, and I always look forward to dinner at the end of a long day of hiking. Appetite on the trail also grows throughout the first few weeks. Thankfully, I have had an appetite the entire trip and done well eating most of everything I have packed. Many other hikers didn't feel hiker hunger hit until around Big Bear, the 266-mile mark. Once I sorted out

the issues with my meal plans, I calculated that I have been eating around 3,000 to 3,500 calories a day on trail. So far, I have sustained my weight, even though it has been redistributed a bit on my frame. Every other hiker I have talked with has lost weight and some up to 30lbs. It can be tough to plan out a week's worth of food and nail it on the spot. I often carry an extra day's worth of food to be safe. There was one section of the trail where I did go through all my food a night too early. Thankfully, my tramily had extra food on them. That experience taught me it is better to carry a little too much than not enough. On the other hand, it is easy to go overboard at the store and pack out way too much food. Food is heavy, and if you don't need to carry the extra weight, it is better not to.

Although each hiker on the PCT may be searching for something different on the trail, we are all seeking food, drinks, shower, and laundry in town. Some of the best places I have come across to refuel in Southern California were Idyllwild, Agua Dulce, and Tehachapi. Idyllwild was the quaint little mountain town buried in the Pine trees. It was where I took my first zero-day, 180 miles into my journey. We visited the Red Kettle for breakfast, Idyllwild Brewpub for lunch, Idy Sushi for dinner, and Nomad Ventures for new shoes since my feet had swelled so much that I went from a size 9 to size 10. The Idyllwild Inn was a cute little cottage-style hotel where we were able to rest and clean up before heading back to trail two nights later. 274 miles later, the trail walks you through the small town of Agua Dulce. Even though we had taken a zero the day before at the Action Camp 10

miles earlier, we stopped at Maria Bonita's Mexican Restaurant for food and drinks. We soon realized we wouldn't make it any farther down the trail that day and decided to cowboy camp in the vacant lot next to the restaurant like actual hiker trash. In the morning, everyone migrated to Home Made, a breakfast cafe just down the road, and after a full breakfast with all the fixings, we managed to hike out 14 miles to camp. Even though we didn't stay very long, Agua Dulce treated us well, and the restaurants were happy to have all the business. Six days later, we found ourselves in Tehachapi, at mile 558. The trail magic here was fabulous. one of my friend's dads lives in the area and treated us to TK Pizza. After pizza, we stayed with a fantastic trail angel who cooked us dinner, drove us to the store, and helped us slackpack an 8 miles stretch of the trail on our day off. Even though I was not too fond of the trail before and after Tehachapi, I truly enjoyed my experience in town with such fabulous people.

If you are not familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail, you may not know that hikers rely heavily on the help of random people along their journey. To hikers, they are not just random people; they are trail angels. Trail angels provide trail magic for hikers along the way, as simple as providing a few snacks/drinks in a cooler along the path. On the other hand, some trail angels open their homes to hikers looking for a place to rest for a day or two. Before stepping foot on the PCT, I had

no idea what to expect regarding hitchhiking, much less staying with someone you just met. Thankfully, I have had a fantastic experience from the few trail angels I have stayed with and the many trail angels who have driven me around and provided treats for other hikers and me. It is like nothing else to walk around the corner and see a cooler set off in the distance. When you are having a rough day, it can be the thing that relights the fire inside of you to keep going. And it takes a particular person to invite hiker trash into their home for a warm, clean place to stay. It is such a memorable experience to meet these wonderful people firsthand. I have nothing but great things to say about the trail angels that have crossed my path. Without them, it would be an impossible journey.

It would also be an impossible journey without the support of my mom and tramily. Many people begin this journey solo and either continue the cross-country trek on their own or with a group of other hikers they might call their trail family or tramily. I began this trek with my mom, who is amazingly brave for trying something completely new without hesitation. It was a great experience starting with my mom, and she helped me settle into the thru-hiker life. Five days into my trip, I met three people who would become part of my tramily later on down the trail. While most hikers are lovely and willing to help out when needed, it is nothing like having a family on trail to support you daily. To my tramily, the Piranhas, I may have packed up a while ago if it wasn't for all of you. Each of us are unique individuals who brings a different spice to the group. We make each other laugh, act immaturely, and, most importantly, look out for each other. The Sierras won't be the same without all the Piranhas but know that not everyone's journey can continue. I hope to see them all again in the future. And to the few hanging on, let us enjoy each other's company for as long as possible.

In the Southern Californian desert, I have seen gorgeous sunsets, experienced the highest of highs when standing on a mountain gazing at the vast world around me, and met kind-hearted trail angels who help hikers without question. It isn't always easy or fun walking 20 miles in a day, but every mile I hike is one mile closer to Canada. Let us see what the Sierras have in store for me!


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