Mexico – Julian, CA

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April 1 – Day one on the Pacific Crest Trail. It started early, by five we were on the road heading to Mexico. Many of the same feelings were felt that I felt on my AT hike, excitement followed by a period of being extremely nervous. It was surreal that after so many months of planning it was finally time to actually start the trail. As we got farther away from civilization my nerves only got worse. The southern terminus is legit in the middle of nowhere! Eventually we saw the wall, and then the border monument from a distance. With minutes to go before the hike, I felt exactly the same as my AT hike. I wanted to turn around and go home. After getting my picture taken at the border monument, my ride was gone (josh thank you again like I said you have no idea how much it meant, see you in a month or so) and I was alone. I had one choice; to put one foot in front of another. The initial miles of the PCT were far different than the mountains of Georgia. I was in a barren landscape, surrounded by miles of nothingness. I couldn’t help but think about how far I had to go, which is the last thing you want to think about on a thru hike. I wanted the safety net that comes with living in civilization. Not having it was a scary feeling, and although I’ve completed a thru hike before, I felt mentally unprepared. For some reason, I really just could not get into the hike. Then I got to mile 5.

Coming across a shady patch along the trail, I sat down for a break and rolled my own cigarette for the first time since the AT. Sitting in the chaparral, surrounded by the mountains, listening to nothing but the birds as they sang their song, I remembered the peace that comes along with a thru hike. A hiker I met at the border soon caught up to me.

“So do you have any advice for long distance hiking?” He asked me.

The answer was simple. Never give up. I set off again with more determination than before. “I am going to Canada” I told myself. The trail began to climb uphill. Within a mile I was walking on the edge of a cliff, stunning 270 degree views for miles. Rock formations scattered the earth and the trail winded through rock mazes filled with flowers and trees that I’ve never even seen before. It was exactly the moment I needed to remind me why I hike. I have six months of those moments lying ahead of me.

The landscape changed continuously as I hiked on. From burn areas to lush groves to barren desert.. Let’s just say it was impossible to be bored. It felt good to push myself physically again, I worked some muscles that haven’t been worked in a long time today. After 15 miles I made it to Hauser Creek, which shouldn’t be called a creek because there’s no water here. I’m camped here now with three other pct’ers. I’m cowboy camping tonight, which is when you just lay out your sleeping bag on the ground and sleep without a tent. It’s common practice on the PCT so I figured I should go for it. Who knows what tomorrow has in store.. I’m sure it will be great.
April 2 – The nerves were back this morning when I woke up. I couldn’t eat anything and felt out of energy because of it. Right off the bat I had a 1000 foot climb out of Hauser Canyon. It was pretty chilly when I first set off but within the first mile I was on the side of the trail stripping layers until I was down to my shorts and sun shirt. It was only 7:30 and the sun was already intense as it beat down upon me. After five miles an oasis was visible in the distance: Lake Morena. I had made it. My first twenty mile waterless stretch, my first civilization of the pct. On the other side of the campground tents were strewn about in the PCT hiker site. Beyond it was a barren desert, filled with scrubby looking trees that didn’t even seem to be alive. I stopped for a while at the campground and regained myself. What would I be doing if I wasn’t here? Absolutely nothing. Into the desert I went.

It was a bit hotter today than yesterday, only exaggerated by the flat and exposed areas in which I was walking through. The desert so far has been ever changing though. One minute I’ll be getting baked by the sun and the next I’m walking through lush forest full of tall grass and mangrove looking trees. I climbed over a mountain and then descended to the desert floor. Then a mile later I walked through an area as green as the Shenandoahs before entering a beautiful meadow leading up to Boulder Oaks Campground. I stopped for water from the spigot and a break. It was one o clock and I had done ten miles, I decided to chill until two when the sun was less brutal. I washed my feet and popped two blisters, ate a honey bun, took advantage of the privy and finally started to feel into the hike. I planned to press on another 6 miles but ended up going about 8. It was a really hot and exposed section along the ridge of the mountain but now I’m camped out with a guy from the Netherlands that I met last night, a couple, and a solo woman. Names are so hard to remember at the beginning of a thru hike! Especially when people don’t have trail names yet! It’s a nice spot and the sun is starting to go down, I think I’m gonna try to wake up early tomorrow so I have time to spend at Mt.Laguna, where there’s a restaurant calling my name. 
April 3 – I woke up early this morning at four excited to give night hiking a try in order to beat the heat. I wanted to make it to Mt. Laguna early to spend some time there at the restaurant. I also planned to attempt my first twenty mile day since the AT. It was bitter cold and I left wearing all my layers but it was immediately worth it once I saw the stars. Seriously so amazing. They were so bright I almost didn’t even need my headlamp. I was headed up 2000 feet from Fred canyon so the cold wasn’t too bad as I warmed up pretty quick. Eventually I came to a sort of plateau where I crossed the first running stream of the trail after 35 miles. It was a beautiful wooded area but that coupled with being next to water made it even colder and I rushed through it waiting ever so patiently for the sun to start shining. After the plateau I was back climbing up the side of a desert mountain, that sounds weird but I’m not sure how else to explain it. It started to get hot and again my nerves started to act up, I couldn’t eat any breakfast and when I drank water I puked it right up. Honestly I really started to doubt whether or not I would finish this trail, and that was a terrible feeling to have. 

Before long I was at 6000 feet nearing the top of Mt.Laguna, the highest the Appalachian Trail ever got. The trail suddenly changed into a thick forest and the shade was such a nice change except that it was actually a little cold since I was down to my booty shorts by that point. I couldn’t even enjoy it, I just wanted to be at the lodge where I planned to get a room for the night and recharge even though it was over a hundred bucks. Lack of nourishment was really taking a roll on my body, I felt insanely out of it and was worried I would make myself sick. 

Once I got to the village, I called my parents. It was so good to hear their voices. I got to say all my feelings out loud which helped a lot. I’ve met a lot of people so far, but haven’t had as much of a social experience as the AT was so its been a bit lonely as well. Not that I mind being alone, it’s just hard in such a strange new environment. 

I got an apple and Gatorade at the general store, the only thing I could hold down. There was a pct hiker log book there’s da hiker box, it was nice to sift through the familiarity of these two things. The owner of the store was a real cool country dude and it felt like I was back in North Carolina. After about three hour break I decided I had sat around long enough and pushed onwards down the trail. I’m so glad I did.

From the lodge I was still in the green tunnel but it was warm now and I embraced it. It was nice to reminisce on my last thru hike. I met a cool guy named ninja tortoise and instantly was reminded of Turtle. Soon the forest became nothing but the burnt remnants of one. Back into a desert landscape I went. Not really though because a mile later I came to the most amazing view of the trail so far, one which gave me a view of the real desert. 4000 feet below me the Anza Borrego desert spread for miles like a blank canvas. In the distance I could see the Salton Sea as well as snow capped Mt. San Jacinto standing tall at 10,000 feet. This is why I was hiking the trail. I ate a sandwich I had packed out from the store and headed on with a new determination, I was finally eager to see what lay ahead. The surrounding mountains were tall and and rock formations hung to the edge of them. It was like a scene out of national geographic. Before long I came to the Laguna Campground where I got some water and rested for another hour. So far I’ve been taking breaks like this every five miles and that’s worked out really well. The tread of the trail is much gentler on the pct so it definitely makes the miles go by quicker. I was gonna stay at the campground but didn’t have enough cash so I headed on another 7 or so miles. The late afternoon lighting was spectacular in the desert, the rocky cliffs seemed to shimmer in them and every detail was clearly visible. My legs started to get some sunburn on them which I’ll have to keep an eye on the next few days, if it gets any worse I’ll have to retire my short shorts until the sierras. I’m cowboy camping again at the pioneer picnic area, I don’t think I’m supposed to camp here but it was late and I was tired, plus I really don’t want to camp up on the exposed ridge that the trail is going up to next. Nope it’s nice and wooded down here, safe and sound. My first solo night on the trail and my first twenty mile day. This ones not gonna come easy.
April 4 – I wake up just as the sun is beginning to rise and quickly pack up hoping to get a good view from the trail. Sure enough is was spectacular, I made it to a high point just in time to watch the sky change colors over the Anza Borrego desert. It was just another moment that reminded me why I was hiking this trail in the first place. The next six months of my life are going to be filled with moments just like it. I hiked on as the bitter night air transformed into a blistering heat. There was no shade as I hiked around the edge of the desert on a ridge, but after five miles I made it to the sunrise trailhead where there was a canopy and water. I stopped for thirty minutes or so before heading back down the trail. Again there was no shade and the sun was almost directly overhead. Soon I was descending steeply, more steep than the trail has gone so far, straight down to the desert floor. Blooming cacti began popping up everywhere, their pink flowers reminding me of rhododendron. My knee had been bothering me a little bit after the hike down it was killing me, I stopped for a break in a meadow where I found the tiniest smidgen of shade to escape the heat. I was soon joined by “camper Dan” and it felt good to exchange the typical trail talk with someone. After an hour we both pushed on, heading five miles more to the next water source. We continued to drop further down into the desert and the heat seemed to get worse even though the day was getting later. It was truly beautiful though, the desert is an extremely diverse place. We’ve got an awesome campsite at this water source with a view, and a few other people are camped here as well. Ten miles to go until Julian, the first trail town! 

The first stretch of the PCT has been ten times harder than the AT was, but it’s also been ten times more breathtaking. This trail has shown that it’s going to take a lot out of me, but I think I’m finally ready to let go and see where this sandy path is going to lead. After the first few days on the Appalachian Trail, I always said I knew I was going to make it to Maine. Well now I know I’m going to make it to Canada. Not because I’m some badass hiker pro, but because I’m a stupid kid with a dream who doesn’t know when enough is enough.

April 5 – hiked into Julian with the sunrise. Saw a tarantula eating a scorpion on the way. Got free pie and ice cream at Mom’s for being a thru hiker. Now I have a bed and a shower and a room and life is good but I’m ready to be back on the trail.

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5 thoughts on “Mexico – Julian, CA

  1. Tammy

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us PJ! You are an amazing young man! If your Mom didn’t already tell you, Miss Tammy said to drink water! Be safe and hike on!

    Like

  2. Emmanuel Dubois

    Phenomenal narrative, exceptional adventure, thank you for sharing so generously!

    Wishing you many starlit nights and scenic views on the PCT

    Like

  3. I thru-hiked the A.T. last year and am trying to decide which long trail to tackle next. Sounds like a great start to a great journal. Can’t wait to live vicariously through you this year! You sound like you got this. 🙂

    Like

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