It kept not feeling “real”, that I was going to hike the PCT… again. Really? Am I really going to do this again? Walk from Canada to Mexico? Yet, that familiar feeling of wanting it to not go by too quickly was already present. It’s like the anticipation of vacation and once you get going, you are so in the moment the entire time, suddenly you find yourself making plans for how to get back to the airport and what you need to do when you get home. Back to reality….Or is it? A lot of hikers talk about how they feel like the trail life is more real than anything. It’s an interesting point to ponder, especially when provided the opportunity to re-visit the trail life as I am about to do.
The final days preceeding my departure from LAX to Vancouver were filled with managing last minute packing of food boxes, making phone calls to my bank, phone company, car insurance etc. Then, when I arrived in Canada, the logistics of getting to the trail filled my mind and made the time pass quickly. This was all a distraction from truly realizing what I was about to embark upon, The excitement for being back on the trail was just not palpable yet, and was going to have to wait until my feet actually hit the dirt.
That day finally arrived, on July 9th at about 9:30am, when standing at the familiar wooden sign for the PCT at Harts Pass I snapped a few photos with my newest trail friend, Monica, whom I had only met the previous day. As we turned to face North, a mere 30 miles from the Northern Terminus of the PCT, it occured to me that the next few days were actually “negative” miles, and so still I had that feeling that my journey was not yet cemented in reality. We had to hike 30 miles North first, in order to get to the Monument at the US/Canadian Border, tag the monument, and then start the Southbound 2650 mile journey to Mexico.
Over the next three days we would cover 60 miles and return right back to Harts Pass. Monica and I decided on hiking together and we hiked strong. The first night we made it to Woody Pass, about 20 miles, where we enjoyed stellar views of the granite cliffs behind us and the valley below. It was a sentimental place for me, as it was the exact same campsite I slept at the very last night of my Northbound hike, which I completed only 9 months ago. How fitting that both my last campsite and first campsite would be the exact same spot.
What a difference a season makes! Back then I had woken to snow and mist and clouds, this time it was lush fresh greenery, wildflowers and brilliant blue skies.
We decided on leaving most of our gear at the campsite inside our tents for Day Two, so we could travel light out to the monuent and back, about 24 miles total.
I guess this would be as good a time as any to talk briefly about my pack and what I am carrying. My base weight (prior to adding food, water and fuel) before leaving civilization was around 13 pounds, including my Khatoola instep crampons but not my ice axe. I use a Whippet Black Diamond self arrest pole instead of an ice axe, so it doubles as a trekking pole and is therefore always in my hand. I use Exped trekking poles otherwise.
Basically, my big three include: ULA circuit backpack (same one from last year, but I cut off all the extra straps to save weight), Z-Packs 20F ultralight down sleeping bag (I should mention that it is child size, not literally, but it is super small and short and I got it on sale, so this is a new piece of gear for me, it weights 1lb), and my same tent, Z-packs Hexamid solo, all together my big three weighs about 3.5 lbs. Rain gear: ULA rain shirt, rain jacket, Montbell umbrella. Clothing: Sleep leggings and top (merino wool), 1 extra pair Darn Tough hiking socks, 1 pair sleep socks, 1 extra pair Patagonia underwear, 1 Patagonia Houdini wind shirt, warm wool hat, wool fingerless gloves, hiking leggings (which I plan to get rid of after the snow), 1 pair compression socks and a down puffy jacket from Montbell.
On my body: Shorts, sports bra, shirt, buff, Dirty Girl gaiters, Darn Tough socks, Altra Lone Peak 3.5 shoes, sunvisor, sunglasses.
Cooking items: snow peak titanium cook pot with lid, mini stove (cant remember brand), lighter and coffee cup. Other gear: 36″ sleeping pad, Half Mile section maps, small journal, pen, passport, wallet (a couple cards and some cash), compass, first aid kit, headlamp, trigger point ball (for my feet), toilet kit (small trowel, wet wipes), sunblock, chapstick, bug head net, bug spray, Smart water bottle, Sawyer squeeze mini, platypus 1 L water bladder.
Electronics: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with charger, mini bluetooth keyboard, 12,000mHz back up battery, Delorme InReach. Once I added a liter of water and 4 days of food, my pack weight increased to about 25 lbs, a vast improvement from last year. Definitely happy with this!
Now that I am writing in retrospect, I can say the moment this hike got real was when I made it to the monument, as mentioned in my previous post, but allow me to relive it for a spell. Small little flash backs came to me when I first saw the cut out line in the forest demarcating the border of the two countries. Butterflies tumbled around in my stomach. I walked the long green corridor towards the monument and as I approached it, I felt drawn to go straight in for a big hug. I wrapped my arms around it and pressed my beating heart against the wood, feeling the fluttering in my chest behind my sternum. At once, so many emotions welled up to the surface and I nearly started to cry. It was like the entire 2660 mile journey I made last year, all the joy, all the pain, all the love, came rushing back to me in a whoosh, and I felt both relief and inspiration. I felt a deep contentment and a fresh excitement. I went and sat on a nearby log positioned to stare straight at the monument, and I just looked at the two flags, US and Canada, the words inscribed in the wood Northern Terminus Pacific Crest Trail, Canada to Mexico 2,650 miles and looked at the surrounding trees, fresh grasses, blue cloudless sky, and I promised myself I was committed, I would make it all tbe way to Mexico. This is real, and I want it.
A lot of people say that endings are beginnings. The Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail has, for so many, including myself, been an ending point. It holds so much, that space, so many joyful, tearful moments from the thousands who have touched it at the end of their journey, and the few who have at the beginning. Now, it took on an entirely new meaning for me. This time around, the ending is the beginning. It’s even more than that, for I am not entirely convinced that this is a separate journey from last year, but rather it feels more like a continuation. The second half. The PCT Southbound, my better half.
I embraced to the fullest all the possibilities and more, of what it means to be back on the trail for the next five months, knowing what this monumental task was going to take. I had so few questions this time, there were far fewer unknowns, yet I still wavered in my confidence. I had been asking myself whether I could do it again. How will my body hold up? Will I endure all that pain again? Do I really have the will? But, I had truly already answered those questions, by getting myself to the monument and beginning the hike in the first place. Of course I want this, there’s nothing I want more. Of course I can do this, Ive done it before. There, in that moment, I felt ready to take on the task of pushing myself every day, of becoming trail conditioned, trail hardened, dirty, sweaty, stinky, hot, cold, itchy, tired, perhaps lonely and yet, in a nearly constant state of bliss. All I kept thinking over those first several days up to the monument and back to Harts Pass were I am so lucky, I am so lucky, I am so lucky. I am SO ready for this to be my life again. So, so Grateful for this privilege.