‘Twas the night before blastoff, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… Just kidding, five soon-to-be hikers were frantically packing to be ready to hike at 5AM the next day.
After a two-day shakedown trip to Joshua Tree to make sure we were all set gear-wise, we headed to Gabe’s friend’s Sarah’s house in San Diego to do our last-minute preparations. Gabe and I would be hiking with his friends Gordon and Ben, and another friend Sarah would be joining us for the first week. With plans to wake up at 5AM the next day, we didn’t have much time to cram 6 days’ worth of food into our packs, but we made it into bed around midnight.
Fast-forward five hours to the morning, we crawled out of bed and hopped into the car for the ride to the trailhead. It was there we got our first PCT community experience. A surprisingly large crowd was waiting at the PCT start marker next to the border.
The sheer number of people caught us off guard- I guess none of us realized how popular the PCT was. Thanks to Cheryl Strayed, I guess? We waited in line to take the obligatory photo in front of the start marker, and off we went. For something I’d been thinking about off and on for the last several years and planning for months, it was a pretty anticlimactic start- just start walking down the road back the way we had driven in.
The hiking the first day was pretty uneventful, though there were some nice views of brush-covered hills. We met a lot of other folks headed the same way as us, and we learned the reason for the crowds- the annual PCT kickoff party would be starting that night at Lake Morena, the campground where we were staying our first night. The Annual Day Zero PCT Kickoff (ADZPCTKO) is apparently a pretty big deal for the PCT community. When we arrived at the campground after 20 miles of hot hiking through the chaparral, we found it was full of PCT enthusiasts, from former hikers to trail angels and other assorted groupies. To say it was a colorful bunch would be an understatement. People with feather-adorned hats and beards that would make ZZ Top jealous mixed with aging hippies and called each other names like “Thor” and “Snake Farmer.” (These are “trail names,” which hikers bestow upon each other as they walk the trail. I can only hope I get a good one, though right now “Stinky” seems an apt choice.)
We were all pretty beat by the time we reached the campground, and the crowd of people was pretty overwhelming. We headed to our spot in the overflow camping area by a playground which we were too tired to enjoy, ate a (surprisingly delicious) first trail meal of tortillas, rehydrated beans, and instant rice. It’s been a while since I felt like I deserved sleep as much as I did that night. First day finished!