March 25 (~7:30 – ~16:30)
Mexican Border – tentsite before Lake Morena (16.7 mi / Total: 16.7 mi)
Weather: Lovely morning, warm but not hot. Temperatures increase throughout the day and get quite searing. Got sunburnt.
Today is the day. I kept on thinking that the stress of my crazed organising these last few weeks and the last minute packing at Scout and Frodo’s would all dissolve the minute I’d hit the trail. Unfortunately, I’m preoccupied by the fact that my SIM card isn’t activating and I still don’t know how my brand new camera works. I get up at 4:30 and squeeze my new Enlightened Equipment quilt into my new medium sized cuben stuff sack from ZPacks. It doesn’t fit. Nonetheless, the quilt is amazing. So warm and thick. I’ve been hiking with my 20 degree EE Revelation for years but it just wasn’t warm enough for me. For this trail I got a 10 degree quilt, plus EE just started overstuffing their quilts by 30% as opposed to the 5% they did before, so it’s perfectly fluffy. My synthetic jacket from them is also surprisingly warm, which I’d never expected. It’s nice to see some gear working out!
Before the 25 people at Scout and Frodo’s are transported to the trailhead, we are served breakfast promptly at 5:30. I can’t believe Scout and Frodo do this every day – get up before 5 to make breakfast for all these hikers. I just have a coffee and do a live chat with Straight Talk to try and fix my phone. It’s no use. It still doesn’t work. At 5:50 we are all moved towards an army of cars and we quietly get in and are driven to the border where the PCT Association is waiting for us with their van. They take our pictures and we all sign the trail register. After Speedy and I take each other’s pictures, we’re on our way. We are the first to go, surprisingly, and we move down the sandy path and follow the bushes north. Now it has started.
Soon we are meandering down the trail. The desert is filled with trees and rocks and hills and the path goes up and down and up and down. It’s kind of what I expected. It’s well maintained and easy although that doesn’t mean that the ups don’t make my heart beat faster. We take lots of breaks and I take some landscape pictures. I try not to worry about my SIM card.
It’s a great first day, and nothing much happens, but that’s the beauty of it, really. We’re all adjusting to walking again all of a sudden. It’s mostly just a great first day, and pleasant hike through the hills. It’s quiet and the landscape rolls and we’re in the wild. Speedy starts using the term cruisy and it’s so accurate. Until everything starts hurting. First I feel it in my shoulders and my neck, then the muscles starts contracting as they go up into my head. It’s the backpack. I try and repack it, shift the waist and chest straps but it doesn’t do much. This isn’t a good sign. I try on Speedy’s new HMG pack for comparison – it’s much more comfortable. At first I feel as though I should’ve ordered the medium instead of the small, but I’m also carrying 12 kilos, which is right at the packs weight limit, and it’s just too much. Perhaps I’m just not lightweight enough for this backpack.
As the pain increases it overwhelms my experience of the trail and as I begin to daydream about getting a new pack – perhaps a Gossamer Gear, or a Six Moon Designs, packs without a lead time. Every time I take my pack off and haul it back on, the pain cripples me. And I have to do it a lot because I carry my water bottles in the side pockets which aren’t stretchy, and my arms can’t bend enough to get them out while I walk. I have to stop or perform some painful acrobatics every time I want to drink. It’s not ideal. This pack is cute, but it’s doesn’t seem to be right for me. It’s only day one but I’ve already found myself another thing to worry about.
I see Speedy again as I pass Hauser Creek. People are setting up their tents but we both still feel fit so decide to go up the mountain and head for the second tentsite, only a few kilometres away. Speedy goes and I follow after getting extra water for the dry camp. Once I hit the mountain the climb is steep and exposed. The sun is at full strength and I feel like I did when I hiked the Motatapu Track on the TA during my trailburn, and I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. The extra 1.5 litres of water absolutely kill me. It’s crazy how I felt fit at the bottom of this hill, and now I feel like I’m dying. I’m going up slowly, and I’m terrified Speedy decided to go further than the second campsite as I can hardly make it all the way up there. Fortunately, I find she felt the same way I did – and she’s right there waiting for me, the tentsite overlooking the mountains behind, a perfect view for the first night.
As I collapse, I watch her set up her Tarptent Notch Li for the first time and try and remember the steps as I’ve got the same tent. It’s a quick set up, and the tent is much bigger than we’d both expected. It’s cute. It’s so cute. I manage to set up my own and almost crash right after. I’d felt so good up until Hauser Creek and these last few kilometres up the hill ruined everything. I lie in my tent and wonder why I’m here at all. Walking is fun, but why so much, why so much for the next five months? I know it’s the pain of the backpack, it’s not how I really feel, but it’s overpowering. I hardly manage to make food and treat myself to some episodes of Star Trek: Voyager to try and forget about the intense pain in my shoulders and my failed phone plan. What a day one.