Seth spent a couple frantic evenings working on finals and tying up loose ends while I unpacked food purchases and puttered about until we could agree on the number and location of food drops along the trail. Ultimately Seth and I all but disappeared into a food-packing frenzy, divvying up bulk foods into 2-person portions for x number of days per package, trying to discern which sections of the trail required meals to be sent ahead and which could be resupplied out of gas stations, yelling back and forth when we got so exhausted that our math became ridiculous, pausing momentarily to swap out one old-school Disney VHS tape for another, and here and there resurfacing for a meal. Eventually we wound up with 5 big drops in remote stops with minor resupply boxes in 12 other areas.
True to form, as with any large project Seth or I have ever undertaken, we worked into the night and straight on ’til morning – departure morning in this case – as though no amount of additional forethought or preparation could have kept us from pulling an all-nighter. At 3am, we swept up the last of our debris, did a final bleary-eyed check to see that nothing was left behind, then clambered back into my father’s van, which in one incarnation or another seems to have ushered me into each new stage of my life, then trundled back along the road to Sioux Falls.
From Sioux Falls we flew circuitously (and ironically) back to Chicago before boarding our final flight to San Diego. Exhausted from packing, stress, and due mostly to a long-standing inability to stay awake on any airplane ever, I slept through the experience entirely and remember only tidbits of a horrible Billy Crystal/Bette Middler movie shown in-flight, and a brief exchange with an exceedingly quirky stewardess who made a point of asking my age in a tactless manner that suggested she thought she was facing an unaccompanied minor who might require some hand-holding (in her defense, my new ridiculous short hair and baseball cap uniform isn’t doing me any favors).
A special shout out goes to Ruth Fromstein, who picked us up from the San Diego airport, gave us a quick and dirty tour of the beautiful San Diego neighborhood where she works, fed us, then let us hijack her car for a final REI fuel-purchasing run.
Finding our way back from REI proved difficult when set-up for an art fair barred us from returning directly to Ruth’s work in Little Italy, but after a few dead ends, and a liberal string of expletives directed at the GPS system, we found our way back in time to hop out and run for the Green Line trolley a few blocks away.
It was all we could do to continuously nudge each other awake leading up to our transfer at the El Cajon Transit Center about an hour down the line, and we were just in time to catch the last 888 bus headed to Lake Morena, so by the time we settled onto a wide open bench at the back of the rickety old rig, it was with a great deal of relief.
There was one other hiker on the bus, and a woman called Nona who boarded directly behind us, slurping a large soft-serve ice cream cone, and sporting well-worn trekking clothes beneath a safety vest with a large maple leaf decal in the center back, a bike helmet donned jauntily atop straw-like blonde-grey hair and a sun worn face, and a pair of hiking boots which had been altered to include an extension of black rubber on the left foot, expanding the footprint of the shoe to a rather hoof-like silhouette. Nona, as we soon discovered, was well versed in PCT lingo, and had in fact hiked the trail years ago. She was now headed to the PCT kickoff party in sort-of a spectator capacity, and immediately began to pick Seth’s brain for the details of our trip. “You have to stay at my place when you get to B.C.,” she kept saying, “if you’re under 50, you sleep on the lawn, but you can still use the shower!”
Every year ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off) celebrates hopeful through-hikers with a bash at Lake Morena, CA. Apparently this year’s turnout was unprecedented, and it showed, with tents and tarps pitched as far as the eye could see. Vendors, previous “classes” of PCT hikers, and Trail Angels converged to start the season off on a high note, and the enthusiasm was palpable. Everyone was excited to talk about their gear preferences, their shoes, and their previous hiking adventures. (I heard Seth say, “oh yeah, way back when I hiked the CDT…,” and, “well, in Alaska search and rescue…,” about a million times.)
Upon arrival we were fed a much appreciated burrito dinner, treated to a viewing of short films created by last years’ through hikers, and allotted a patch of grass for our tarp. By the time my head hit the pillow, I was down for the count.