Unchained Is Head'n North
Heading west from El Centro, California on Interstate 8 with my friend Alena the moon appeared to hover over our destination of Campo and the PCT. Both Alena and I thought this was an auspicious sign. We arrived at the trailhead around 7:30am, and after a few photos, hugs, and goodbyes I was on my way to Canada.
The first day went pretty much as I had expected. I was energized and able to put in a full 20 miles reaching Lake Moreno by late afternoon. Once I setup my camp I immediately headed to The Malt Shop for one of their famous chocolate shakes, which I downed with great enthusiasm.
The next morning, after a hot bowl of oatmeal, I was on the trail again cruising at a steady pace of about 2.3 miles per hour. I found that at that pace I can hike for 8 to 9 hours without beating up my body too badly.
By the middle of the second day, however, I was beginning to feel hot spots on my feet in places where I never get blisters. In talking with other hikers, they were all experiencing the same thing. In my opinion they were the result of lots of loose rocks on steep downhill stretches. I really had no option but to charge ahead and live with the discomfort until the blisters healed. For the next several days my feet let me know they were not happy campers.
The terrain and vegetation along the trail for the first hundred miles was very different than I had expected. It was what I would call tall brush country with few trees and lots of dense shoulder high bushes. One big advantage was that it allowed for unobstructed views in all directions. Since the trail generally followed high ridge lines, I was able to see the topography both to the east and west. To the east I could see the Imperial Valley hot, arid and flat. To the west there were more mountains covered with dense green brush with a few patches of forests.
Hiking the Trail you quickly realize just how much dedication from organizations and volunteers it takes to build and maintain a major trail like the PCT. The PCT is a premier long distance trail known around the world as one of the Big Three that America has to offer. The other two are the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. An excellent example of the volunteerism is the many “trail angels” who maintain water stations in particularly dry stretches of the trail. Need a ride to a nearby town for supplies or a night sleeping on a real bed? Just stick out your thumb and someone will stop in a few minutes. A great example is Mary, who created a Hiker Oasis on her land that adjoins the trail. The day I was there she had lots of water, a shady spot to rest, and some iced cold lemonade.
Before starting this adventure I had worked on a fitness program with the hopes that I would be able to hike about 20 miles a day, and that is exactly what I have been able to do. I reached Idyllwild, California, which is about 180 miles from the border, in nine days. Other than a couple sore feet, I feel great and continue to be hopeful that I will be able drink a beer or two when I cross the border into Canada later this year.
Lastly, I wanted to explain the title of this post, “Unchained Is Head’n North.” Most through hikers on long distance hikes select trail names or have one assigned to them by the other hikers. Tree Beard, Mango, and Early Bird are some of the hikers I have encountered. After asking for recommendations, taking a vote, and finally flipping a coin, I selected Unchained as my trail name. To me Unchained means I am unbound by many of the constraints of modern life, free to do what I want. My only goal is to keep head’n north.