Starting the PCT in my Chi-Chi Rodriguez hat at sunset on May 27, 2016.
I’m not sure if I should call this day 0 or 1. It started at 4 am (1 am Pacific time) and didn’t end until 9 PM – a loooooong 20 hour day. Most hikers travel one day and start the trail the next day or the day after.
Karen dropped me off at 4:45 am at the Jacksonville airport. The baggage check-in took longer than expected and they rushed me to the front after fifteen minutes of waiting. I was hoping I could carry the pack as carry-on luggage, but its just too darned tall to fit when it is fully packed. So I checked the pack as luggage and carried a small food bag with documents and the foam pad. Then the TSA screening line wrapped back at least eight or ten times. It went quickly, though and I got to the gate with plenty of time to spare. They were already boarding so I just walked right onto the plane.
And then the pilot announced that the previous crew reported some issues so there was a maintenance crew working on the plane. We were delayed perhaps 30 to 40 minutes but I still had plenty of time to make my connection in Dallas. During the flight he made up a boatload of time and I think we ended up only about 10 minutes late. I still had well over an hour in Dallas, so I just walked C terminal for most of it. Then the gate announced that one of our flight attendants was sick and a sub was flying in. Then they announced she was at gate D. Then another half hour later she was sick, too, so they were getting another one. Needless to say, two hours later they said we finally had a crew and we could board, and that more bad weather was expected shortly. But we did take off about two hours late and he made up some time, too. Since the flight taking our plane was also two hours late, the cleaning crew began work immediately. When only first class had deplaned, they immediately started gleaning away with a four person crew.
A bad weather day to fly, but I made it to San Diego with just enough time to run errands, but no sightseeing.
There were only two possible buses to get to Campo for the next THREE days because of Memorial Day weekend, so arriving in San Diego late made me quite nervous.
I still had chores to run – I had no stove fuel and no hat. I was also getting hungry, but too full of adrenaline to be hangry. There was not a lot of buffer in the schedule, so I had to hustle.
The pack was waiting for me almost immediately after getting to the baggage pickup so that went smoothly. I repacked things and filled my four water bottles and headed for the bus. The San Diego MTS website said that I could not buy a day pass at the airport but there was a kiosk right next to the information booth. That went quickly, I got on the bus to the downtown station after only waiting about two minutes and got there in about fifteen minutes driving along the waterfront. Getting to the trolley interchange was a piece of cake and less than five minutes later I was on the orange trolley. That ride took a good forty five minutes to the main El Cajon bus terminal.
The excellent trolley in San Diego
I had about an hour and a half to wait for the bus to Campo and still had to run to the Big 5 sporting goods to pick up stove fuel and a hat. The bus that should have been there to go to the mall was late so I found an alternate bus and took that one instead. When I got off the bus, there was a Dicks sporting goods on my side of the road instead of crossing so i went to Dicks instead. Finding the fuel was easy, but finding a hat was not. Dicks has the annoying habit of scattering their hats all over the place. I wanted a straw one but all their men’s straw hats were too big (to fit my head snugly). Why do they only order one size? I even looked at ladies hats, but they were all too flagrantly ladylike. Even asking the staff for help it was not easy. I finally discovered that the best hats are in the golf section. I found a nice baseball hat, visor, and straw hat. I opted for the straw hat so it would protect my ears. I have an umbrella but I might not want to use it all the time so I opted for more protection. It makes me look like Chi-chi Rodriguez.
Two cliff bars later I was on my way but only had half an hour to catch the 3 PM bus for Campo and I still had not eaten lunch so I made a quick stop at Five Guys. I was hoping to hit one of the many great breweries or brewpubs in San Diego but I just did not have the time. The burger was good and the fries taste so great, but the quantities are ridiculous. I ate only half the fries and ditched them because I only had 15 minutes to get back to the bus depot and it’s a ten minute ride. Google transit is quite good and led me straight to the bus stop on the other side of the mall.
When I got to the stop I noticed that the rural bus I needed to catch also stopped at this exact stop. By the schedule it should have been there already but I was hoping it was late. All the real-time bus info and app did not seem to actually be real-time but more of a simulation based on the schedules. The bus to the terminal arrived first, so I got on that one to play it safe. I got to the terminal one minute after the bus was supposed to be there but no bus. It arrived five minutes late. I was really anxious to make this bus since there was only one more bus two hours later and I did not want to waste more time.
A huge weight was lifted when I finally boarded the bus to Campo.
Once boarded, I found out the fare was $10 not $5 but that still seemed reasonable for a two hour bus ride. The bus was packed and two other PCT hikers were on board. One was from Washington state and the other was from Switzerland. As the bus progressed through the outskirts it kept picking up more and more people. I was able to get a seat in the back but there were many who had to stand. Everyone was very polite and younger kids got up when an older person got on. After close to an hour of riding, I was getting nauseous from the curves, being in a hot bus and those damn grease bomb fries. I closed my eyes for ten minutes and when I opened them, the suburbs had vanished and desert mountain countryside was everywhere. It was gorgeous. And then the bus slammed on brakes. There was an accident up ahead where two cars hit head on. It took us a few minutes to get around it, but we did. we later found out that there was a fatality at the accident and that the road had been shut down as soon as the rescue crew arrived on scene. That little part is important later on.
Now that my attention was on the bus ride again, I was able to enjoy the scenery as it whipped by. The driver was really driving the heck out of that bus on the curvy mountain roads. Then ten minutes later he goes screeching off the side of the road. I noticed as he pulled over the engine was no longer running. I could also smell all sorts of clutchy braky smells. The driver said the engine had overheated and shut itself off and that coolant was leaking out of it. They were going to send a replacement bus but it would not arrive for three hours. Heck, the next scheduled bus could get there before that. But it turns out that with the road closed behind us, there might not be another bus… Or a replacement one. After an hour, the driver said they indeed were not sending a replacement bus but a repair truck and then a different bus might pick us up in another three hours.
The bus broke down with 16 miles left to Campo and no traffic for hitching a ride.
The heck with that. Two thirds of the bus had hitched on, and now us (the two other hikers) and the last eight passengers decided to do the same. We were able to get a car to pull over every five minutes but we let the locals take the first rides. We were only 16 miles from our destination but it was a dangerous road to walk so we kept waiting for a hitch. We did get a ride, but only half way.
The driver dropped us off at a small store so we could hopefully get a ride from there. But the problem is that we were now so far down the remote road and the blocked highway allowed even less traffic to grab a hitch. There were simply no cars to hitch from that were going our direction.
We ended up chatting with a guy at the store (and every patron as they came by) but this one guy was just off the wall. He was chatting up a storm and kept trying to convince us that the border was only 400 yds away and we should just start there instead of going the last 9 miles to the real start. He was talking some crazy stuff and as we got closer to him we realized why. He was drunk. So after a half an hour of unsuccessful hitching, this guy finally talked us into the notion that he would just drive us to the border. We never could really figure out where he was going to take us, but he was headed in the right direction and there’s no turns on the way. So we got in a tiny car with a drunk guy (and a fresh quart of Coors) and his dog who was going to drive us down a small twisty mountain road.
As it turned out, where he ended up taking us was exactly where we wanted to go… to the store in Campo. So after a quick thank you to get away from him as quickly as possible, we loaded up and were on our way. The three of us had ridden the bus to together, hitched together, so we might as well hike together.
Hiking along a gravel road towards Mexico.
We had to walk about two miles along the road (a quiet one) to get to the border right as the sun was setting. We spent a good twenty minutes taking pictures for each other and as the sun got lower the pictures got more interesting. There’s something magical about sunset in the desert. Enough light remained so that we could begin our hike northward.
Say hello to Mexico!
Does Donald Trump know there is already a wall between the US and Mexico in some places?
Just enough light to see the border with Mexico.
The journey begins. Canada is a mere 2650 miles ahead.
I had planned on going back to the store and camping at the museum next door that allows hikers to camp for free. I was too tired to deal with reading the maps to look for a camping spot. But we missed the last road back to the store so we hiked on. The first mile is decorated with an impressive marker, so a quick picture was required. It got dark very quickly, so during the second mile we stopped to get them out.
Less than twenty minutes into the hike, we hit our first milestone – 1 mile!
Night hiking by headlamp on the very first day.
After three quick miles, we came to a dry stream bed with campsites so I decided to stop and make camp and the other two went on. They wanted to do about ten miles of night hiking, but I’m more interested in getting rest.
After what amounted to a 20 hour day after getting only five hours of sleep, I didn’t bother to cook dinner – I wanted to sleep.
A hiker we saw pass us going to the border near the one mile marker as we walked north walked by just before I fell asleep. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to meet him again later and hike and camp with him a few times.
It was a good zeroth and first day but I’m looking forward to tomorrow even more.