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Begins: Apr 27, 2012
Date: Thu, Apr 26th, 2012
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Pacific Crest Trail Map
"Are you excited for your trip?"
"Mostly I just don't want to get up at five-something-AM tomorrow morning."
"I know how you feel -- whenever I go on a trip I'm nervous and excited for weeks, and when it comes down to the final day I just feels like a lot of work."
The to-do list steadily shrinks, and finally divides into "done" and "should have done" lists sometime shortly before 3 AM.
Three hours of sleep later I'm taking my last pre-trail shower, watching water run down my legs and wondering when will be the next time it will still look that clear when it reaches the drain.
The flights pass in a haze of semi-consciousness, and then I'm standing by the curb, pack rescued from baggage claim, protected from the sun with my hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. I play the "spot the hiker" game, which is unchallengingly easy, immediately finding 12 Percent, Lori and Brian, who are also waiting for a ride to Frodo and Scout's house.
In a few minutes Nitro shows up in a van with the prearranged yellow pom-pom on the window, and we pile in. "There's something you won't see again for seven hundred miles," Nitro tells us, nodding to the Pacific on our right as she battles California highway traffic.
She takes us to a house with a PCT banner above the front door and a half dozen packs on the front porch. The house is packed with hikers and gear. "It rained yesterday so there were forty-six people sleeping here last night," Nitro tells us. "Tonight most of you can camp in the yard."
I haven't slept in a tent since Baxter State Park, and when I set up my Hexamid in one of the few unclaimed corners of the yard I'm relieved that all the stakes are still in their pouch.
"Oh cool, cuben," a girl named Not-a-Chance says, seeing my pack. "I have the 'Blast', which one is that?" It's a question I haven't contemplated, and it takes me a second before I reply, "I call it 'The Portrait One'."
A hiker named Lucky walks up to inspect my gear. "I like your tent, but I don't know about that pack," he says, shaking his head as he fingers my empty, frameless backpack. "I don't think your going to make it the whole way with that thing." It's a thought that has crossed my mind more than once, and Lucky's skepticism does little to allay my fear.
The yard and house are bustles of activity, and after chatting with a few new people I long for quiet, and take a walk by myself to the grocery store.
Trail culture is sweeter for the days of relatve solitude most hikers have between gatherings, and I have not yet had time to build up the necessary loneliness. Or maybe l'm just tired.
I eat half a loaf of fresh bread on my walk back, and try to find a quite spot to sit, rest, and write. As hikers continue to arrive and I start hearing names I recognize from the guidebook and forums, I feel the reality of the experience set in. It's a strangely melancholy sensation, the infinite possibilities of the unknown collapsing to the single reality of the present.
At dinner forty hikers gather in the yard, eating tacos and chips. My hunger abated from my loaf of bread, I sit on a folding chair, sip an orange soda and watch the assembled crowd. It's a mix of experienced and very experienced hikers, with a small handful of novices mixed in. Having one long distance trail under my belt with the AT, I am near the middle of the bell curve.
I chat with Neon and Onamove, who hike several hundred miles of the PCT last year and are attempting a thru-hike this year. Neon wears a fluorescent yellow t-shirt and shorts, and Onamove has fire hydrant red hair. Their personalities are as bright as their clothing and hair, and after an hour of trading stories, I feel better about the hike.
Tomorrow it is up at dawn, ride out to the Mexican border, and from there, north.
Mexico to Canada has a nice ring to it.