Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

Southern California

May 14, 2000: I am sitting under an aged black oak in the late afternoon of a hot and dry Southern California day. This oak and nearby Kitchen Creek offered us a respite from the searing sun and dusty trail. This is only Day 2 on the trail but it could easily be Day 100. We have already developed a thorough coating of PCT grime, the only sign of pollution around, and our muscles of prior disuse scream at us in protest.

We flew into San Diego on Sunday morning. Through some miracle we had survived the hectic days leading up to our departure. We had hoped that the last few weeks before starting our big adventure would be filled with training romps on trails near Philadelphia, but the reality was that we spent most of our "training" hours in our PCT HQ handling logistics.

As I reflect on the prologue to our trip from my shady oak enclave, I can't help but feel totally emotionally and physically removed from the process. The reality, as we started our walk yesterday morning at 5:40 a.m. while the sun rose over the eastern hills of Campo at the Mexican Border, was that we had 20.3 miles to cover before sundown. 2,655 miles is too incredible, too expansive, to consider when the pack, all 53 pounds of it, is hoisted on to your back for the first time on the trail. 20.3 seemed more than long enough.

With fresh legs and the tangible goal of a hot shower at Lake Morena Campground, though, we made good time through the blustery early morning, cruising by Campo's border patrol headquarters and then switchbacking through the desert chaparral, occasionally noting the discarded clothing of immigrants attempting to escape the border police. We made 15 miles by early afternoon and took a lunch break at Hauser creek, a seasonal creek whose season appeared to be nearly over. After an exhausting climb up Morena Butte (over 1000 vertical feet), we wove our way down to Lake Morena, an expanse of refreshment within the thirsty hills. It was a long day but immensely satisfying.

Day 2 has not been as productive. We got a later start due to feeling our way slowly through the initial camp-breaking routine and then suffered 10 miles through 90 degree heat and reluctant legs. Our lunch break at Kitchen Creek has stretched into a couple hours and may end up lasting the night. We have been joined by several other weary trekkers—Steve and Celina, recent graduates of the University of Washington slack-packing their way North, as well as Ray, an aspiring thru-hiker, and his dad Chuck, who has joined him for the first few days on the trail. According to this father-son team, Park Rangers are advising hikers not to stop at the next available campsite and water source, Cibbets Flat Campground, because of drug trafficking in the area. This not the sort of trail hazard that we care to deal with at this point—the sun, heat and rattlesnakes are enough, especially during the seminal leg of our journey. So we will rest a little longer by the creek.

Check out Duffy and Angela's gear lists.


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