In April of 2001 I took a six month leave-of-absence from my job and fulfilled one of my lifetime dreams... to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) 2,700 miles from Mexico to Canada. For over 25 years, since I was just 19 or 20 years old a map of the trail has hung on my wall and I still have the original National Geographic feature article on the PCT from June of 1971. Finally, the right window of opportunity had opened and I immediately knew that I was going to hike the trail, for as William Jennings Bryan once said, "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice." I immediately began making preparations for my hike that would begin on the Mexican border near Campo, California in late April...
Before setting out on the trail I decided to spend five days in San Diego to explore another "city-wilderness" that I'd never been to before.
Here I am at the home of trail Arch-Angel Bob Riess who is a school teacher by career, but also a person who has contributed untold volumes of dedicated service to the PCT trail community. On the very early morning of April 26th Bob drove five of us to the southern trail terminus near Campo for a first-light start of our hike.
From my journal (April 25th)..."At about 3:00 p.m. I caught the 29 bus to Bob Riess' home where after a while he drove up with a van full of hikers. After meeting everyone we soon took off for one last visit to the grocery store, then Bob took us to an all-you-can-eat bar where we stuffed ourselves full while enjoying this last supper. Back at the house I crashed on Bob's living room floor until about 4:00 a.m. ... "
|We got to the border at 5:30 a.m. and hung out for half an hour while soaking in the reality of the moment and waiting for the hot desert sun to rise. I decided to take a "christening" swing on the monument before heading north where I was now committed to making connection with the northern terminus on the US/Canadian border at some point in the future.|
|A jubilant group we were for such an early morning... that's "Swiss Miss" on the top and her hiking partner Luzia, both from Switzerland. Also sitting is Larry Holm "G.T." (Giddy-up Tiger) from Oregon, and that's me anchoring up tight with the monument!.|
|Tony from England took the picture above so here he is with a fist of determination to begin the hike.|
From my journal (April 26th;Day-1)..."Bob had us up at 4:00 a.m. sharp and in just thirty minutes we were rolling down a very twisted highway in the dark morning headed toward Campo. In about an hour we were at the southern terminus of the trail near Campo where we unloaded all the gear that would support us. It was still a quite chilly morning and we joked about how good this would probably feel in just another few hours as the hot desert sun began to rise. At 5:57 a.m. I took the first step down the trail with more than 650 miles of hot desert and high mountain passes to negotiate. Emotions ran high, but I knew that to make it all the way I'd just have to take on one day at a time and at this moment I just had to get started and to begin learning how to deal with the scorching desert heat. Near Campo I somehow missed a critical turn and ended up walking along the road when I realized that I'd missed the trail. After studying my map I backtracked to the border patrol station where a customs officer helped me to get back on course again. Day one and the first hour and I was already lost!...
The sky quickly brightened up as I walked about 50 feet behind the monument to this shabby wall that marks the US/Mexican border. Because of the wall I couldn't actually step upon Mexican soil so I did the next best thing by first licking my left index finger, then I stuck it through a tiny hole into Mexican airspace until I felt the cool morning breeze signify the begining moment of my long journey, then I turned north and began walking.
From my journal (April 26th;Day-1, continued)..."Finally out of Campo I stopped at the second creek (and the last water source until Hauser canyon) for breakfast then was on my way again. Just as I came into Hauser canyon a rattlesnake suddenly slid off an embankment into the trail behind me at only 3 feet away. I looked back thinking that it was just another one of those desert lizzards but it was most definitely a very agitated rattler! It finally slid off the other side of the trail and went on its way leaving me very shook up and from then on my eyes continiously scanned the sides of the trail looking carefully for those very camouflauged serpents...
Here I am about a hundred feet into my hike while taking one last glance back at the border while all the time trying to grasp, process, and understand the significance of this moment and what it took to get here. I was also glad (thanks to Bob Riess) to have gotten a very early morning start and had my mind set on getting to Lake Morena 20 miles north and far away from the border which was an intense area of activity between illegal imigrants and U.S. customs officers.
From my journal (April 26th;Day-1, continued)..."Just as I came into Hauser canyon the border patrol helicopters were flying low. At one point I was sitting on a rock taking care of a shoe string problem when suddenly from around the corner came five Mexican men and women carrying black 30 gallon trash bags full of stuff over their shoulders. This area of the trail is well know for its illegal immigrant activity and I knew that my chances of an encounter were high so I just played it cool. Surprisingly they were all smiling and the first fellow spoke a few words of broken English as he disarmed me by initiating a hand shake. It was a friendly encounter of the brief kind, then they disappeared north on the trail just about as quickly as they had appeared. I continued my hike with more determination than ever to make it 20 miles to Lake Morena State Park on my first day...
|I'm not sure what this sign said, but from the illustrations it appeared that something could just grab out at any moment and make me cry for my moma!!.|
From my journal (April 26th;Day-1, continued)..."Down in the canyon the heat of day was incredible at 91 (F) in the shade with no wind. This was most definitely the hottest weather I've ever hiked in. To top it off there was only a mere trickle of water flow when I finally reached Hauser creek... but there was precious water! After my previous encounter with Mexicans I was still a bit spooked so I found a well hidden spot down stream to cook my meal. Afterwards as I was packing my gear I stood up and stepped in what was a decaying cow patty (el poop-o) in the shallow water beside me. I had wondered what was causing the white film on the slow flowing water but now I knew. I just hope that my water filter is working!
An hour later Larry and Tony show up, then Swiss Miss and Luzia. We all greatly enjoyed one anothers company as we talked and rested under a few shade trees by the creek. We finally begin our climb over the 1,000 foot ridge then down to Lake Morena where a few kindly folks motion me over to where the ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero PCT Kick Off) was forming. It was nice to finally be at the cool blue lake and in the company of many fine hikers."
As I explained with detail in my April 26th journal entry, I had an encounter with five fleeing Mexicans in Hauser Canyon and exactly where U.S. Customs helicopter's were busy from above.