Kim and I sat quietly waiting. Few words were exchanged between us. This was a time of uncertainty.
I told her I felt as if we were waiting for a hospital nurse to call me to the operating room.
Neither one of us felt worry, though, only expectancy. We were spending a few extra minutes together before I boarded a plane for San Diego.
When one of us did speak, the conversation was mostly about things we look forward to for the future. We spoke about when the journey that hadn’t yet started would be done.
Then again, perhaps the reason neither of us talked much was because we were sleepy. We had arrived at the airport much earlier than necessary.
My flight was scheduled to depart before dawn. Kim and I both woke up about an hour earlier than planned. At that point getting more sleep seemed futile, so we just went to the airport early.
Either way, we didn’t need to share words. We were feeling the same emotions, clouded by not knowing when we will see each other again.
Tomorrow I will begin an attempt to hike all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in California, Oregon and Washington.
|Date||Saturday, March 23, 2019|
“I wish I knew whose idea it was to fly this early in the morning,” I said in a text message to Tengo Hambre, my hiking friend from the Appalachian Trail.
He was in the Newark airport and preparing to join me in San Diego. He planned to hike with me for the first couple hundred miles of the PCT.
When the time came for me to stand in the security line and board my plane, I gave Kim an extra long hug.
Maybe I won't see her for five or six months. Then again, because there was so much snow in the Sierra Nevada section of the trail this year, I might have to come home for a few weeks after completing the desert section. Or maybe I’ll get hurt or sick or just want to quit early.
At this point, I can’t predict what will happen after tomorrow, the day I begin hiking.
My flights were uneventful and I landed in San Diego as scheduled, about 30 minutes before Tengo arrived. I picked up my large duffel bag from the luggage carousel. In it were my backpack, trekking poles and hiking shoes.
Then I went outside to wait for Tengo and our ride to a house owned by two trail angels named Scout and Frodo. We were given specific instructions by them for where to meet our shuttle driver.
As I waited for Tengo and our driver, I noticed a young woman standing nearby with a large backpack. It was an easy guess that she was also going to Scout and Frodo’s house.
I introduced myself and learned her name was Andrea. She had come from Germany and this was her first trip to the United States.
A few minutes later, another hiker arrived. His name was Luis and he was from Seattle.
Scout and Frodo have been hosting PCT hikers for several years, and I knew many more would be arriving at their house today.
A few minutes later our driver pulled up to the waiting area outside the terminal. He told us his trail name was Hoosier Daddy.
Tengo had not yet arrived outside, but a security guard wouldn’t let us wait for him in the loading zone. Hoosier Daddy had to drive around the airport once before Tengo came out of the terminal to join us.
After everyone was in Hoosier Daddy's van he took us to Scout and Frodo’s house, located in a quiet residential neighborhood on the north side of San Diego.
Hoosier Daddy was just one of several volunteers Scout and Frodo had recruited to help keep the operation of shuttling and hosting hikers running smoothly.
As many as two or three dozen hikers from all over the world will stay at the house each day between now and the end of May. Volunteers handle most of the driving, picking hikers up when they arrive in San Diego and taking them to the trailhead.
While at the house, U. S. hikers are allowed to stay one night. Canadian hikers can stay two nights, and hikers from other countries can stay up to three nights. This schedule allows everyone to recover from their travel and make last minute preparations before beginning their hike.
Other than the sale of stove fuel canisters, everything is provided without any cost to the hikers. Scout, Frodo, and the other trail angels refuse to accept donations. All they ask from the hikers is to follow a few rules for keeping order and not annoying the neighbors, and if possible, to join or make a donation to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
Tengo, Luis, Andrea and I were led to the backyard of the house where we found several large tents had been set up. Tengo and I picked the one that was farthest from the gathering spot in the yard. We figured some hikers might chose to stay up late, and after a long flight from the eastern time zone we knew we would not be in a partying mood.
I changed into my hiking clothes, then put the clothes I wore on the plane and the duffel bag that carried my backpack into a box for mailing home. As typical of Scout and Frodo’s thorough organization, a table was set up in their garage for preparing shipments like this.
I was given directions to the post office located a few blocks away, then Luis, Andrea and Tengo walked with me there so I could mail my box home. We then walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant for lunch.
Many more hikers arrived at the house during the day. By evening more than 30 were staying here.
Scout and Frodo have been hosting hikers since 2008, shortly after they had finished their own thru-hike of the PCT. By their estimation, one third of all thru-hikers have stayed at their house.
Before the start of this hiking season they announced that 2020 would be their last for hosting hikers. It is a service that will be sorely missed by future PCT hikers, and I’m grateful I was able to begin my hike there.
Tengo and I had a chance to chat with Scout. We learned he had hiked the Appalachian Trail southbound the same year we had gone northbound. He also completed a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.
Just before dinner time we were given an official greeting. Scout told us about the plan for the evening, plus what to expect for getting to the trail in the morning.
During dinner all of the hikers sat in a circle of chairs on the backyard lawn as we ate chili, cornbread and salad. The air was cool, so most of us wore jackets.
This day turned out exactly as I had hoped. Not only was it a chance to take care of a few chores before heading to the trailhead, the stay at Scout and Frodo's allowed me to get to know several hikers.
Some were like Andrea, who had traveled here on a visa from another country to hike the PCT. Another foreign hiker I met was Siobhan, who had come to the U.S. from Scotland.
A few had already thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Danny, whose trail name was Falls, had hiked it the same year Tengo and I did, but started and finished earlier than us.
Most hikers were in their 20s and 30s, with only a few closer to Tengo’s and my age. One of the older hikers was Mari Jo, or MJ, who said her trail name was Sideshow Bob because of her “crazy" hair.
We hadn’t yet started walking and already friendships were forming.
As we finished dinner, Scout began to tell us about the history of the PCT, for which has a keen understanding. He spent many years on the board of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
He spoke about Eric Ryback, who at the age of 17 in 1970 was the first hiker to complete a thru-hike of the PCT.
He also showed us a medal that was Ryback’s pet project after becoming a PCTA board member. Beginning in 2010, a medal has been offered for free to anyone who finished the whole trail.
As I looked at it, the idea seemed a little pretentious. Being awarded a medal just for walking a long distance? After all, I thought, thousands of people do that every year.
As it turns out, the feat isn’t as mundane as I first thought. I learned something surprising that put the endeavor of walking the entire PCT in perspective. Scout said fewer people have finished the PCT than have reached the summit of Mt. Everest.
Later I looked up the statistics and found he was mostly right. I discovered that fewer people (4,833) have reached the top of Mt. Everest, but in all, the summit has been reached more than 8,000 times. In other words, including times when climbers have reached the top more than once, the number is greater than the roughly 7,500 hikers who have walked the whole trail.
I wondered about hikers in my age bracket, so I tried to look that up as well. Demographic information was difficult to find, mainly because it has been inconsistently kept. Still, I found a survey last year showed just 6.1 percent of successful thru-hikers were over the age of 60. So by those numbers, it would seem that fewer than 500 people have been successful at what I was about to attempt.
By the time dinner was done I was ready to get to bed. It had been a big day filled with long travel and meeting many people. Tomorrow will be a bigger day.
I already had the experience of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2017, but at this moment, I didn’t feel I knew what to expect. The PCT seemed totally new to me.
Even though I completed one long hike, I didn't know if I could do another.