Tuesday, May 12:
We’re heading to California today, to hike on the Pacific Crest Trail – aka the PCT. How far we’ll go this year is uncertain. Six months ago, Jim had a total knee replacement of his left knee. It has healed, but not completely. But he wants to test it by doing a long hike and the PCT seemed like a good trail for that purpose. We’ve hiked the trail before (in 2000), and we know it is well built and mostly gently graded. The climbs and descents shouldn’t put a lot of stress on our knees. (Mine are feeling my age too.) On the other hand, much of the trail in southern California passes through desert, so water issues will require carrying heavy packs at times and may force us to hike more miles than we would like. Whether we can do the longer miles remains to be seen.
We've been training for this, but just about the time that Jim was healed enough to backpack, the weather turned really nasty (day after day of rain) and we got caught up in the preparations for Jim’s daughter’s wedding. At this point, we’ve only done two overnight hikes this spring and our longest day was only 13 miles – and that was three weeks ago. This may get interesting.
Since we couldn’t start our hike until after the wedding in mid-May, we decided not to begin at the Mexican border. It was too late for a complete thruhike unless we were willing (and able) to hike 30 miles a day to catch up. I don’t think so! The first 700 miles of the PCT is mostly desert; by late May, it gets very hot in the low country and most of the natural water sources dry up. By starting in Big Bear, 265 miles north of the border, we will miss some of the long waterless stretches, but should have the timing right to reach the Sierras after most of the snow has melted – we hope! We picked Big Bear as our starting point because we can reach it fairly easily by public transportation and because the first two sections north of there have only one “water alert” (a section of more than 13 miles without water.) The hope is that by the time we reach the town of Agua Dulce, the first long dry stretch, we will be in shape to either hike the 20+ mile dry stretches in a day or carry enough water to get through. We’ll see.
Our hope is to hike all the way to Canada. If we succeed at that, we may fly back to Los Angeles and hike the southern sections in the fall. It depends on how well the knee holds up and how we’re feeling about the trail. First we have to hike the section from Big Bear to Wrightwood. If that goes well, we’ll continue north. If not, it’s on to plan B or plan C. We have several possible alternates.
Today was a somewhat complicated travel day. We spent the night at Jim’s son’s home in Crofton, Maryland, drove to BWI airport this morning, caught a plane to Dallas and then another to Ontario, CA. From there we took a shuttle to the bus stop, then a bus to the Metrolink train, which got us to San Bernardino, and then from there we took a MARTA bus up the mountain to Big Bear where I reserved a room in the hostel. Whew!! We started out tired, and ended up exhausted. The connections were slow, with a lot of waiting time between, but they worked. We left home at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Big Bear at about 7:15 pm. It was a warm and breezy day, so waiting wasn’t bad, except for the uncertainty of wondering how well things would work, especially when we ran into construction at one of the train stations and weren’t sure whether the bus still stopped there. Car, plane, bus and train – the only thing missing was the donkey!
Being in Los Angeles felt strange. I went to school there (Occidental College) for several years but I would hate to live there now. The day was really smoggy. The mountains were hidden in a brown haze. Flying in we could see snow-capped peaks – probably San Jacinto or Fuller Ridge, but from below we couldn’t even see the mountains surrounding us. The land is still brown, or again brown. I enjoyed the flowers in town – lots of roses, oleanders and bougainvillea – different. Still, it isn’t a place I’d care to call home.
When we got to the hostel no one was available to check us in, so we went looking for dinner. We headed the wrong direction and ended up at Denny’s, but we were hungry so it worked well for us. We returned to the hostel, got a private room and took a cold shower. (No hot water!) The hostel was busy. There were several thruhikers, including a few that we had met previously at either Rucks or Gatherings. That surprised me: I didn’t think there was anyone on the trail this year that we knew. We chatted a while, then went to bed at 11:00, utterly exhausted.
I’m feeling excited and scared, happy and worried. The PCT wasn’t my favorite trail when we hiked it in 2000, but there is much beauty along its length. I love the long distance hiking lifestyle and am really happy to be heading out on a new adventure. In reading the guidebooks and planning our hike, I was struck by how much I remembered of our hike nine years ago, and also how much I’ve forgotten. The PCT has some really memorable areas: the Sierras, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Desolation Wilderness, Crater Lake, Sister’s Wilderness, Mt. Jefferson, Goat Rocks, etc. It also has a lot of utterly forgettable connector sections. Those drove me crazy last time. I think this year will be different though. I’ve changed and my expectations are different this time. I’m looking forward to the highlights I remember and will be open to whatever beauty I can find in the connector sections. I’m really grateful to get this opportunity to do another long hike. Given some of the health issues we’re dealing with, it wasn’t certain we would be able to attempt another long hike. Whatever happens, I’m excited to be heading out on the PCT right now. California, here we come!
Jim: A few words about the purpose of this expedition:
The highest priority, as Ginny indicated, is to test the new knee. But, as in our past hikes, we'll also do our best to fulfill our contract for the hike. To a large degree our PCT 2009 contract is the same as we've used for the last 10 years - just with different boundary conditions.
Those who read this should understand that this is “OUR” contract and “OUR” reasoning, based on “OUR” priorities, experiences, preferences, etc. It has no relation to what anyone else is doing, has done or will do. And it’s NOT a comment on, criticism of or comparison to anyone else’s hike – we don’t have the time, energy or inclination to judge what others are doing – we’re too busy living our own lives – our way.
The Spirit Eagle 2009 contract isn’t complicated - it still only has 5 points. And it reads like this:
All of this, of course, is contingent on the performance of a couple pounds of Titanium and/or other anatomical parts of too-rapidly aging bodies.
- We’ll walk from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.
- We'll maximize our time-on-trail. For the PCT, this means a minimum of 5 months to complete the hike.
- We’ll see the country, meet the people and learn whatever lessons God has to teach us.
- We’ll walk the mountains and the wilderness as much as possible - and “roadwalk" as little as possible. But we'll also take some of the "alternate routes" that we did not take the last time we hiked the PCT.
- Finishing the Trail is important, but not nearly as important as enjoying the Trail. If the push to finish gets in the way, we’ll re-examine what we’re doing and why. If necessary, we’ll take 2 years to finish rather than compromise on points 1, 3 and 4.