PCT Day 1: A Weekend Holiday Zoo

Today we had our last breakfast in Mammoth Lakes with The Hubby—Fish Nugget, Squarepants and me. Fish Nugget is Wildchild’s trail name, so that’s what I’ll use going forward. Squarepants is her friend who started the Pacific Crest Trail with her back on April 30, the one she lost touch with after Lake Isabella.

Meeting Squarepants was such a joy. We’d heard so much about her from Fish Nugget throughout their adventure on the PCT and beyond, she was like an old friend. When she finally got cell reception hiking into Red’s Meadow, she texted Fish Nugget and was surprised to find her hiking buddy ahead, waiting for her in Mammoth Lakes. Their reunion was epic. Hugs all around, stories to tell, it was a pleasure to host them for a couple of days of well-earned rest and relaxation.

Today they’re back at it, and I’m going with them. Am I seriously gonna make it?

The Hubby dropped us off at the Mammoth Adventure Center to catch a bus that would take us down into Devil’s Postpile National Monument, where the trailhead was. The line for the shuttle was a nightmare: three people wide, snaked around a large building, a two-hour wait amidst hoards of tourists, just like friggin Disneyland.

Why wasn’t there a PCT Hiker Fastpass? I would have totally paid extra for that. The girls, however, were surprisingly chill, taking it all in stride. After an hour of standing around in the mid-day heat with my 30lb+ pack, wasting precious energy on pavement instead of trail, it occurred to me that we could have avoided all this by going in at Horseshoe Lake. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

Waiting in line for the bus to Red's Meadow.
The line for the bus down to Devil’s Postpile from the Mammoth Adventure Center. Note to self, don’t ever try to get to Red’s Meadow on a holiday weekend again.

Oh well, too late now. The Hubby was long gone, off on the couchsurfing tour he’d planned for the month that I’d be on the trail. I couldn’t believe so many people said yes to letting him stay. Maybe he’s more charming than I give him credit for.

On the bus I sat next to a PCT hiker from Britain, so of course I had to ask him what he’d thought about Brexit.

Like others I’d asked while in town, he seemed against it, like how stupid were voters for supporting it when open borders and the euro had been so good for everybody? But when I brought it down to the level of Brussels telling UK fisherman that they couldn’t fish in their local waters anymore, he seemed to switch sides without even realizing it.

I forgot his trail name. I should have written it down. I think it had something to do with a knee injury. Or shin splints. He was getting off at Agnes Meadow and hiking 20 mile days, so I was sure we’d never see him again. But that’s how the trail is. You meet a lot of nice people, have some great conversations and that’s it.

Me, Fish Nugget and Squarepants
Bored out of our minds, we took selfies in line to commemorate the start of our trip.

Once we finally got down to Red’s Meadow, I thought I’d get a last-chance beer before finally heading out on the trail. But the line into the general store was so horribly long, I had settle for a flush-toilet sendoff instead. Luckily there wasn’t a line for that.

Flush toilets are nice. I would come to appreciate them more in the days ahead.

Getting ready to go, we ran into Manny, another PCT hiker that the girls knew. I knew him, too, from reading his trail blog. And he actually knew me because I’d commented on it, so running into him was cool, like meeting a minor celebrity. I was a total PCT Fangirl by that point, always on the lookout for familiar faces. I wondered if my trail name should be Stalker Mom, but I think you’re supposed to let other people name you while on the trail, so I put that thought aside.

Manny said he’d been in Red’s Meadow for a couple of days because he couldn’t get a room in town. He was hanging out for the power, charging his camera, phone and battery in the bathroom, the store, or wherever he could find a spare outlet. He had serious charging needs, but if you check out his blog, you’ll see why. His photos are fantastic, with the occasional rant, too. In fact he had just posted one that I’d read right before getting on the trail that was really good, but he had to take it down because it offended some people with whom he didn’t want to burn bridges. Too bad, because it was a heartfelt and honest essay about how he ended up on the trail, but I understood.

We finally hit the trail at 1:30, leaving most of the crowds behind. The girls trekked along like it was no big deal. I kept up for something like 15 minutes, then started dropping behind. It was hot, my pack was heavy, my feet started to hurt. The trail itself wasn’t so bad, a good warm-up, with not too many ups and downs, it’s just that I wasn’t used to it, despite all my training hikes. I resolved to drink a lot of water and go my own pace. But I worried constantly about slowing the girls down. They had to get to Canada.

I stepped aside for a lot of day hikers, welcoming the chance to stop and breathe.

Later I caught up to the girls, waiting for me at a trail junction. Squarepants wanted to take the John Muir Trail alternate route because Yogi’s guidebook said it had lot of beautiful lakes, though it was longer, and there were lots of ups and downs. I said I’d do whatever they wanted, but I knew that JMT hikers pretty much had to win a lottery to get trail permits, and I worried that rangers might be out there checking permits and bust us for taking the wrong route. Fish Nugget said rangers never checked their permits. I told her I’d read on people’s blogs that sometimes they did.

A couple other hikers came down from that direction and joined the discussion. They said there were tons of mosquitoes up that way. We talked a bit more, but the mosquitoes essentially sealed the deal. We decided to stay on the PCT.

This time I was able to keep up for almost half an hour before losing the girls ahead.

Late in the afternoon, I found them waiting for me at a bridge. Turns out they’d encountered some trail magic! Someone with extra food had given them a giant homemade brownie and some peanut pretzels. Sweetly they waited to share with me. Should we eat the brownie now or save it for dessert? Why wait, I said. Who wants to carry it anyway? Is it a weed brownie? I don’t know, taste it, they said. Tastes normal to me. We ate it, so delicious. I mentally thanked the angel who baked it.

We ended up going only six miles that day. That’s pretty much nothing for the girls, but a big deal for me, the out-of-shape-tag-along-mom lugging 30 pounds of survival gear. All-in-all, not a bad day though, considering our late start.

Our campsite the first night.
Our campsite the first night. I was so tired from hiking that day, I had forgotten to take pictures on the trail.

We camped above a river, a little too close to the trail, in my humble opinion, which would become a running theme of the trip. We weren’t that far from civilization either, as there were car campers nearby. It felt strange to have walked all those miles and still be so near people. That was a backpacking first for me. Usually I’m deep in a wilderness.

The girls whipped out their tents, dove in and were eating dinner in no time.

Meanwhile, I walked around camp, muttering to myself, trying to remember how to set up my tent. It took a while to finish, but I did get it done. Lordy, my feet hurt.

I ate snacks for dinner because I forgot to rehydrate food in advance. Must remember for tomorrow, I told myself. To save weight and hassle, I planned all no-cook meals for the entire trip. This meant I had to pick something for dinner in the morning and let it rehydrate in a baggie all day so that it’d be ready to eat by dinnertime. I added extra virgin olive oil to everything, magically transforming it into pasta salad. Genius, right?

Inside my tent.
Inside the tent, my cozy little home for the next month on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I usually sleep horribly my first night out on a backpacking trip because I’m afraid bears will come eat me in the middle of the night. But this time I slept okay, probably because I was with the girls who’ve been doing this now for two months.

So funny that my daughter, who use to scream hysterically on camping trips in the middle of the night when her flashlight died, was now my wilderness guide.

I introduced her to backpacking when she was young. We’d survived the bear raid that one trip and the mosquitoes the next and the cows after that. Now, after two months on the PCT, she’d hiked more miles than I’ll ever know. I felt truly humbled.

But it wasn’t exactly nighttime bliss. I had to get up for a middle-of-the-night pee in the dark, mindful of the cliff above the river. And then I had to put more clothes on in the wee morning hours because it got really cold. Then there was the usual tossing and turning that seems to follow me as I age, but for sleeping on the ground, it wasn’t that bad.

As for equipment, I’m using mostly old stuff, but this full length Z Rest I upgraded to is awesome. Usually I go for three-quarter length pads to save weight, but it’s so nice having something other than cold, hard ground to put my feet on. And my trusty old tent, the Clip Flashlight CD, was designed for two and adds weight, but I’m enjoying the extra room.

I do not understand how PCT hikers have the energy to blog at night. I’m too tired to even take a few notes. I took these notes two nights later.

30 Days on the PCT
Day 1: July 3, mile 912