Total miles: 48
We woke at Boulder Oaks campground next to the wooden picnic table. Condensation had fallen down from sky all night. It had coated our bags making the down saggy and damp.
I barely slept during the night on my little half length Neoair. Sleeping has always been hard for me on trail. Why did I cut this luxurious pad in half? I don’t know. Am I trying to prove something? I hope not. I kept waking up during the night and staring out to the darkness confused about where I was.
When 5am rolled around we stirred one by one. Hardtime packed up and set out first into the low cloud. Felix and I set off soon after. The mist was hanging low over everything. The sky had not yet properly lightened. The air was cool with a light wind blowing.
We found the trail again at the edge of the campground. The path meandered around a flat grassy meadow then over a highway. We climbed up above the road in the soft light of dawn. We walked to the soundtrack of cars passing along the highway, their headlights little orbs in the dark.
My body felt good this morning and my feet didn’t hurt at all. No trail hangover. I surprised myself. Perhaps my body won’t have to go through the growing pains of starting a thru-hike again.
Some sort of feeling was building up within me – rising up inside. Something I couldn’t pinpoint. Sadness? Confusion? Anxiety? I couldn’t place it. Shouldn’t I just have been feeling happy? I’m back on trail. This is all I have dreamt about since I left. What is this?
Soon enough I am able to get out of my head and I’m feeding of Felix’s energy. He has thru-hiked before, but these views he says are beautiful. He stopped every five minutes or so and snapped a picture – a big wide grin on his face. It’s a wonderful thing to see this happiness in someone else.
It wasn’t nearly as hot as I expected, even after the sun rose. I popped in my headphones and entered cruise mode, which felt like meeting up with an old friend. I love listening to music while I hike, it’s like my day has a soundtrack. It’s like I can control the mood of the day somehow.
My housemates lovingly made me a playlist before I started so each new song surprised me. At times I had to stop climbing because I was laughing so hard at a song or two they had snuck on there – inside jokes, disco music, a lot of Britbrit. Club bangers carrying me up the dusty trail, as they always do, music thumping in my ears. Laughing just for myself. No one else around. I do this a lot. Sometimes I get caught, but I left my dignity behind a long time ago.
I passed Hardtime first, then Jupiter while he is packing up. I rounded a bend to find Goddam, a hiker from the day before who was also packing up his little exploded ridge top campsite with big sweeping views. He made it the furthest out of all of us. Who are these first time thru hikers gobbling up miles? And how are their packs so little?
Then as we climbed that little switch is flicked, the one that makes me hike fast and suddenly I’m flying. I was cruising around the switchbacks, passing hikers I haven’t met yet feeling unstoppable.
I had forgotten what it is like to feel like this on trail. The hike fast switch engaged. I’m all at once taken back to the last time I hiked the PCT. Feeling strong in Norcal, hurtling my body along the ridgelines, finding the footprints of my friends in front of me and knowing there will be there waiting for me at the end of the day or me for them. The waves of nostalgia washed over me once and then washed over me again. I felt like I might get swept away in them. I snapped myself back to realty and they broke. I felt that feeling again and I still can’t recognise it. Nostalgia? Sadness? Loss? What is it?
I feel a bit lost out here already. It’s like I’m in a movie that I know plot to, but the lines have changed. I have no idea if that feeling will continue to rise or if it will settle. It’s early days. I know. I have to keep reminding myself to be patient.
The start of a trail is weird, it’s awkward and you do not know who your people are yet. Will I even have people this time? Do I even want them? So many questions bumping around in my brain. Too many. I need to calm down.
The miles churned away. Thick shrub lined the trail. It’s so much more green this year and it had grown. I’d already gone around 14 of the 15 or so miles to Mt Laguna when John appeared going the other way (wrong way) on the trail. We walked the mile to Mt Laguna, but the sign was a little off so every corner I rounded I kept expecting the turn off to be there.
Usually in the desert I’m force feeding myself. I know I need food, but also I’m used to being repulsed by most of it. It’s always to hot to eat, but it had been cool all day and I’d been so nervous to start the trail again I hadn’t eaten much the whole week leading up to the start of all of this.
I walked in to the restaurant at Mount Laguna at long last. A bunch of hikers were crowding the heavy wooden table in the foyer with empty plates / electronics cords spewing from the wall all tangled together.
I tried to order fries, but it was only 11:30 and the server behind the counter let me know they won’t serve fries until 12. I realised my promise to myself that I would try and eat some sort of nutrients if that it is possible. I ordered a salad with Italian dressing. The dressing was weird and chunky with dried herbs that got stuck in my teeth, but I give myself a little pat on the back anyway. Good little hiker, eat all the good things I coo.
Everyone arrived one by one, looking tired or relieved or hungry and they all rush the main room ordering as much food possible.
Later when wind kicked off and I wrangled myself away from my phone / comfort / bathrooms we set off into the hills once more. We were climbing and then BAM the wind announced itself.
Goddam and I were stumbling all over the trail. I was getting pushed to the side of the path – weaving along tripping over the rocks. My trekking pole stabbing the wrong places, my hat was clutches in my hands – hair blowing every which way.
Significant memory number one arrives in the form of a beautiful view of the desert floor, but it was too windy to go to the edge, which felt like a kick to the stomach. This was the first moment it really felt like I was hiking the trail and I remember so vividly standing there looking out from here crying (there is a lot of that – prepare yourself). I was amazed at how this trail had swept me up and carried me there – how I was there in that moment to witness it at all.
But we walked on against the pounding wind, away from my memories and then I knew in that moment it was time to let go of this first one. Release it. Make room for new things to move in and unlock those doors in my heart I kept so tightly closed on these sacred little memories. The past is over, it will always be a part of me, but I can not re-live it. I can only keep walking. The memory slipped out across the ridge line and finally it was free.
Later I was standing on a hillside in the wind in only my dress and my teeth were chattering away. I finally thought to put my rain jacket on. It’s too big for me. It’s nude coloured and it looks completely dorky, but I love it. It flaps in the wind like a sail. This is my life.
I’ve done this so I knew exactly what was coming up. It’s a ridge walk that climbs and climbs and climbs. We had only managed around 20 miles today and I want to push on, I want to fly across the trail again. I want to feel fast and strong. I want things that confuse me.
There was a spigot before a dry stretch and our little crew sat crouched behind one of the clumps of bushes to get out of the wind. Felix, Goddam, Yiran, Sam and then James also – the hiker we had passed the night before all trying to decide what to do next.
We make a smart decision – to find a sheltered spot there and camp here for the night. The wind was gaining momentum and clouds raced across the big open sky. It was only 6pm. It felt almost criminal to stop so early. 22 miles. My ego can go die. Why do I put pressure on myself like this?
There was only just enough room for all three of us sardined in a row at the campground across the road. We frantically tried to set up as the wind cuts through the shrubs and hits us. I’m sprinting the dirt roads trying to find rocks big enough to hold our ground sheets down and I arrive back, arms full and sprinkle them around.
Finally we were bedded down against the wind we are each wearing every layer we own. James sat next to us in a full suit of nude coloured Frogg Toggs, he slices off chunks of cheese from an entire block and we lose it watching him do this in his suit and we can’t stop laughing. Never go full Frogg Toggs someone messaged me the next morning.
Finally it was time for sleep. The damp was falling already. For a moment I thought about pitching my tent, but then the exhaustion of the past few weeks hits me as I drift off to sleep – the night backdropped by the howling wind.