PCT Week One: Desert Misconceptions

The first 60 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail aren't what I imagined.

After years of dreaming, months of planning, and weeks of packing, the journey has finally begun. I started April 25, a Saturday, and already find myself five days into the journey.

The single thing I can say I have learned at this early point is nothing is what I imagined it to be.

Take the desert, for example. I imagined the depths of Southern California to be empty and barren—like the desert of Palm Springs that I grew up visiting. I imagined cowboy cacti and sandy ground and no shade to be found.

But the desert is different here—it is brimming over with life. I have heard more birds trilling from strange brush and unexpected trees in the past few days than I have in my entire three years in Washington State. There are lizards of all sizes darting across the trail and enough horny toads to satisfy my huge adoration (they are exactly like Toothless!). We even (nearly) stumbled across a huge rattlesnake, fat with some unknown prey.

The desert is full, and offers more shade and joy than I ever could have possibly dreamed up.

And the stunning splendor of this dry landscape isn't the only thing that has surprised me. I am a little fearful of writing it down, as I am not sure the hiking powers that be won't make me suffer later on, but this trail isn't beating me down as I believed it would.

The morning of my send off I was more nervous than I ever can remember being. I was rattled and racing. Fear settled deep in my stomach. I was scared that I wouldn't like it, that I couldn't do it, and that I would be in pain every waking moment for my first month.

The past few days have been tough, but doable. The terrain travels mostly along ridge lines. Sustained ups are followed by long traverses. The trail, dotted by hikers with large packs and gleaming Chrome Domes, can often be seen for miles off. The worst of it was Hauser Creek, a 900(ish)-foot elevation gain over two(ish) miles in the dead of the midday heat with heavy water loads for the first dry 20-mile stretch. Brutal for all!

But this trail life is good. My feet are blister-free and feel strong. My legs are tired but not too stiff or sore. My spirit is high and negative thoughts aren't plaguing me.

This is actually quite a lot of fun (the biggest surprise of them all!).

Until next time, happy trails!