May 10, 2018 | miles 0 – 26 | Boulder Oaks Campground
What an incredible first day.
I woke up after just 2.5 hours of sleep, scrambling to get gear together and grumbling about how poorly I planned my time.
My parents, amazing as they are, drove me all the way from Sacramento down to the border south of Campo. We spent the previous night in a nearby casino resort which thankfully had a 24-hour cafe where I ordered my last meal before leaving civilization. A hearty breakfast of a bacon mushroom omelet with a side of pancakes really hit the spot, but unfortunately we didn’t get to leave the hotel until nearly 6 am.
“Darn it,” I thought to myself. Clearly the people from Scout and Frodo’s, a wonderful pair of San Diego trail angels who host thruhikers every year and drive them to the trailhead must have left already, and I was behind the crowd.
The sun was just wrapping up the dawn golden hour when I reached the trailhead. There were three cars parked in front of us – a trio of hikers and their dayhiker friend who was dropping them off, and another trio with fancy camera gear and tiny, tiny packs. Clearly just stragglers, or so I thought.
On a second glance however, something unbelievable crossed my eyes, and my jaw dropped to the floor. In sandals and a beanie, I recognized one of my heroes, the hiker superstar John Zahorian (@jawnzee). John is an incredible hiker – regularly pushing out 40- and 50-mile days while taking some breathtaking photos and producing some of the best hiking videos (YouTube). He also started his own minimalist pack, the Pa’lante Simple Pack, designed to give thruhikers exactly what they need and not an ounce more.
I was like a giddy kid trying to approach his first crush – stumbling awkwardly forward asking John meekly if it really was him and if he’d mind a photo together. And here I thought I’d be mature enough to know how to conduct myself like an adult…
Any reservations I had about my start time were gone then. I hadn’t even started yet, but I had already met one of the people most inspiring to me – especially in the world of thruhiking.
John was at the trailhead to drop off two of his friends Heaps (@wilderbound, wilderbound.com), an inspirational Kiwi gal who previously thru-hiked the PCT in 2016, and Jupiter (@jupiterhikes) another famous hiker known for thruhiking the Eastern Continental Trail from the International Appalachian trail down to the Florida keys. I knew Jupiter was starting on May 10th, but to think I’d meet both him and John at the southern terminus of the PCT on my first day was beyond all expectations. I was a child amongst giants – giants with teeny weeny Pa’lante Simple Packs that made me feel ashamed about how bulging my pack looked in comparison.
Wrapping up greetings and pleasantries, I took my turn taking photos at the terminus. Heaps and Jupiter went ahead while I bid farewell to my parents, chasing after the pair shortly thereafter.
The first mile opened into a gorgeous view of the hills ahead. Unfortunately I was too dumb to take a photo. I was too excited to fully register the moment; everything seemed absolutely surreal. I’ve dreamed of the PCT for so long, yet here I am just a mere mile away from Mexico with the trail I’ll live on for the upcoming months ahead of me.
The next three miles I hiked alone though gorgeous hills, only seeing a single person: yet another ultralight hiker with a Pa’lante simple pack. I started questioning whether I had overpacked my thruhiking kit. Hardly two hours had passed yet already there were three tiny Simple Packs held by hikers I assumed were much faster and more experienced than myself.
I continued on alone until Mile 5 or so when I ran into Heaps with the trio from the terminus. One of the trio was on the verge of throwing up – the heat and exhaustion had evidently taken its toll. Fortunately Heaps was able to help them to shade, where they were hiding under a tiny bush shielding them from further dehydration in the sun. I hope they made it out okay; every person who commits to a thruhike is pausing a huge chunk of their lives, career, and relationships – and one can only hope that neither illness or injury will take them off trail, never mind on the first day.
However to some extent, their slowdown was serendipitous for me; I started hiking with Heaps from there. Heaps is a bright and amicable, and a treasure trove of both humor and knowledge of the PCT and other hikers. We chatted until we approached the ultralighter who passed me earlier – Gautam.
Gautam worked in the film industry in New York after moving back to the United States from India to study music; he’s tried and tested tons of ultralight gear despite limited backpacking experience, except his gear turned out to be essentially my dream pack list: Pa’lante Simple Pack, Katabatic Gear Palisade sleeping bag, Borah down jacket, and a ZPacks tent.
Gautam, Heaps, and I continued our trek together for the rest of the morning. Gautam’s clever remarks and incredible comedic timing paired fantastically with Heaps’ gregariousness and knack for conversation, making the next ten miles pass by fun and fast. Gautam and I tried our best to soak in Heaps’ wisdom and advice for thruhiking.
We took our first major rest at Hauzer Creek, 15 miles in- already approaching my personal best for miles hiked in a day despite it barely crossing noon. There we rested and chatted with incoming hikers, eventually accumulating a small group of fellow restees with Felix, Samuel, and James. Little did I know this would be the first gathering of my eventual first trail family.
Under the unforgiving afternoon sun, we wrapped up our break and set out on our afternoon journey to the Lake Morena campgrounds. The heat was really taking its toll, so I ended up hiking ahead, eventually running into James again under a small tree just two miles away from the campground, where we chatted briefly.
James graduated from college for aircraft repair/maintenance just hours before flying out to the West Coast to start on the PCT. The shirt and shorts he was wearing on-trail were the very ones he wore under his graduation gown.
I found myself at Lake Morena with nearly five hours of sunlight leftover – far more than I had expected. Although I’d initially planned on hiking with this campground as my destination for my first day, I knew my legs still had more miles in them. I spent the next couple of hours with various other PCT hikers and trail angel Magic Man Matt who had brought snacks and drinks for everyone to enjoy. John and Jupiter also dropped by and together we waited for Heaps and other hikers to catch up. Gautam eventually passed by and hiked onward, and Felix came by with a new hat courtesy of John, but Heaps was nowhere to be seen.
Once the clock ticked past 5 pm, Jupiter and I decided to depart Lake Morena to push forward. With another 2.5 hours of daylight, Jupiter was looking to start “slow” in the high 20s, while I was simply seeing how far my legs would take me. I found out then that Jupiter was attempting a “yo-yo” of the PCT – he’d be hiking from Mexico to Canada…and back to Mexico. Which explains why he wrote “5300 miles to go” in the trail register at the southern terminus.
Jupiter is the type who can never sit still – always challenging himself to try something new. Furthermore, he’s dedicated and commits to excelling at whatever he pursues – whether it’s saving money for the trail, efficiently finishing jobs he was working on – metal fabricator, exterminator, etc., or hiking like a man on a mission.
Jupiter eventually stopped to make a couple calls, while I hiked on through beautiful meadows that really seemed to contradict the the so-called moniker of “desert” section before breaking to cook myself my first dinner. Jupiter hiked past me while I was eating, but I finished up in time to walk with Brandon – another hiker I met at Lake Morena. Brandon enjoyed hiking for the sake of hiking and had fully embraced the trail life, having warmed up for the PCT by hiking the 400-mile Arizona Trail as well as a section of the PCT from Tahoe southbound to Yosemite. He joked about he was already on a shower a month schedule – a reality that many thruhikers face.
Together we made it into Boulder Oaks Campground as darkness crept up around us and set up to cowboy camp near the restrooms. Not 30 minutes later, Felix, Heaps, and Hardtime hiked by and joined us, setting up near the picnic table at our site.
First day on the trail, and I already set a personal best for mileage. What else will this trail have to hold for me?
- Met John Zahorian, one of my heroes and thruhiking superstar at the trailhead dropping off his friends, Jupiter and Heaps.
- Hiked by myself for the first 4 miles through a gorgeous chaparral with rolling hills.
- Met Heaps and Gautam and walked together to Hauzer Creek at Mile 15.
- Chilled for an hour, then hiked over the mountain in the heat to Lake Morena.
- Chatted with Bruce for a while before joining John Zahorian and Jupiter.
- Jupiter was waiting for Heaps and for cooler weather before hiking the final section.
- John had an encyclopedic knowledge of the PCT.
- Walked and talked with Jupiter for 4 miles. Very interesting dude.
- Separated, I walked until Meadows and cooked dinner. Horse riders passed me; then Jupiter; then ran into Brandon and we hiked together to the Boulder Oaks Campground where we set up for the night.
- James is lowkey one of the most hilarious and charismatic people – albeit (and surprisingly so) a little shy to start.
- 26 miles, a new personal best!
- Hardtime, Felix, and Heaps hiked in afterwards and joined us for camp.