I never thought my most stressful day on trail would be the day I began the PCT. Only one other day even comes close.
For the previous two days, I had a longer list of things to do than time to do them. As I worked through the tasks on that list, more tasks would get added making the list seem to grow instead of shrink. That coupled with doubts I had about quitting an $80,000 per year job to hike a trail kept my stress levels high.
My high school baseball coach, Coach Johnson, described me as a person with a lot of nervous energy. He's right. I also have an overactive mind. That means that during the day, I stressed out about all the things I needed to do to get ready for the PCT and at night couldn't sleep because my mind wouldn't stop thinking about all the things I needed to do.
I woke up super early on May 10 with the decision to re-pack everything for the flight. Just in time to leave for the airport, I got everything packed well enough for me, but putting my shoes on showed me a problem. Shoes are hugely important to me because the wrong shoes will quickly lead me back to knee and feet problems that plagued my early adulthood. I thought the shoes I ordered for the PCT were simply newer models of the same shoes I used for the last couple years. Instead, these shoes were best described as clown shoes.
Not thinking great, probably from the lack of sleep, I went with them and asked mom to find me some new shoes to send to my second resupply location. I should have grabbed an older pair of shoes for the first 200 miles. I realized that just far enough into the drive that it was too late to turn around.
Once I got on the plane, I managed to put everything out of my mind and my stress dissipated. Dressed like a thru hiker, I even had an empty seat next to me for one of my flights to San Diego. More impressively, I even got a little sleep.
In San Diego, I grab the box I packed all my gear in, unpacked it, and re-packed it in my backpack. I then went to catch the bus. Just before the bus arrived, I saw that I had to purchase my ticket inside the airport. That cost me 15 minutes.
I catch the next bus and that drops me off at a trolley station. On the trolley, this guy keeps asking me for money. I give him a couple dollars, but he won't stop asking for more. All he asks for is another dollar, but if I give him that, he will ask for another. The problem is I already gave him all my small bills.
At my first trolley stop, I go to purchase some Powerade (mostly for the bottles) and some fuel for my alcohol stove. First I go the wrong direction which costs me about 3 minutes. I missed the trolley I need to get to the next trolley stop by 45 seconds. I have to wait another 15 minutes.
Finally, I get to the bus stop where I can catch a bus to Campo near the start of the PCT at 3:02 PM. The bus left at 3:00 PM. The next one doesn't come until 5:45 PM. On the 3:00 bus were a lot of PCT hikers. I was the only one on the 5:45 bus. Now I have to hang out in not the best part of San Diego for almost 3 hours.
I don't like cities. The largest town I've ever lived in is less than 60,000 people. For most of my life, I've lived in a town with about 10% of that. Trying to figure out the transportation system in San Diego and ending up missing the bus by 2 minutes caused my stress levels to rise.
Some PCT hikers may wonder why I didn't just use a trail angel to get to the trail. I take pride in my independence. Despite the fact that it may be more stressful, I tend to try to do things on my own instead of accept the generosity of others. I learned my lesson and next time, I will use a trail angel.
In Campo, I rearrange some things and start hiking to the southern terminus 1.6 miles away. Border Patrol asks me if I'm lost. I hadn't even been there long enough to know where I was at yet, but I say no. At the border near sunset, I call Dad as he requested and take some pictures. I'm all alone unlike the pictures I frequently see where crowds of people pose around the monument. Also, I don't have much time left before I have to hike by headlamp.
Instead of being nervous about night hiking, I found my rhythm. The stress completely went away as I hiked. I knew there was camping about 4.4 miles in, so I went that direction. I had to stop to get some water in Campo making a little detour, but no big deal.
Right as I got close to the campsites, my foot caught a rock and banged my trekking poles off of about 20 different things in the area even though there were only 5 different things within reach. After catching myself, I look up and see a tent followed by hearing a voice say "Hi". I apologize and keep going. A little bit later, I cowboy camp next to the trail and think about how my first ever backpacking trip started out with night hiking, so my first day on my first long distance hike starting with night hiking kind of fits. The stress is gone and replaced by an excitement I can't describe.