April 18th, 2019.
I say Aloha to my mom and sister and my island man Jake.
I hop on a plane and fly East to San Diego. Land late.
Meet my Couchsurf host, Ryan. Picks me up in his Tesla and puts me up in his beautiful condo. A room to myself.
April 19th, 2019.
Excitement bubbles up, over and over. Glee and giggles escape my smiling mouth. Nerves tingle expectantly. It’s happening. You’re doing it. You’re here. Step one. Or… 100 depending on how you count your steps. A lot of time and preparation have led me to this moment. Researching, daydreaming, buying, testing, planning, prepping. Four months of getting it together to get here.
A last-minute trip to the San Diego REI. The Mecca of outdoor adventure supplies. Everything I’d been looking at online for months, right at my fingertips. Only get what you need, your money has to last. Fuel, Garmin, a lighter, snacks. A woman outside trying to line up her mobile coffee shop trailer to her truck pauses in her efforts to ask me where I’m going. I tell her I’m about to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She applauds my courage, not knowing just how uncourageous I feel, and offers me a free cold brew coffee. My first official Trail Angel. Thank you, Taylor.
Back at the condo, I lay out all of my supplies. Is this really everything I need to survive outside for 6 months? I go over each item, again and again. Check the lists I’ve saved from thru-hikers alumni. Check all of the most important and some of the not so important but how could I live without it boxes.
It’s go time…
Scout and Frodo’s. Beacons I didn’t know I needed and was so thankful to have. They gathered hikers in their home. Primed us in those final moments with comfort food, familial love, experienced wise advise, a warm, safe place to sleep, and an opportunity to connect with our new trail “tramily” before embarking on our wild wonderful journeys into the unknown. They reminded us what was most important – “make wise decisions”, “make sure everything fits into your pack BEFORE you leave in the morning”, “have each other’s backs, “watch out for one another”. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. Sometimes, when we’re vortexed in our excitement, we forget these simple directives.
April 21st, 2019.
We wake up early. Before the sun. Pack in the dark, trying our best to stay quiet. Keep our rising nerves at bay. Eat breakfast and barely taste a thing. I brought along two Cherimoyas from a local Farmer’s Market I had visited the day before. A sweet, tropical thing to connect where I’ve been to where I am and where I’m going. A final ode to my life in Hawaii, and a celebration of my new home, the PCT. I can only manage to get one down though, because my stomach is in knots, so I leave the other behind in a fruit bowl at Scout and Frodo’s. Not knowing that a month later, I’d find out exactly who found and delighted in that odd, delicious little fruit.
We line up outside. Keep quiet, the neighbors are sleeping. Cars and vans pull up. Locals and friends of Scout and Frodo who volunteer their time and money to drive us hikers to Campo. Simply for the love of the trail. For the love of community. I get in a van with a father and son duo who intend to section hike the desert together. I don’t remember their names. The drive feels long. I’m sweating, even though it’s cold outside and the van is comfortable.
Eventually (really, only an hour later), we pull into a sandy dirt expanse amongst hills growing with green desert chaparral. The thin metal US/Mexico border wall stretching in either direction…
We scramble out of the van and into our jackets. The early morning wind is icy and blowing hard. We follow one another up the hill with our heavy packs and the Southern Terminus stands before us, solid and real as the wind and Earth. We all gather up around it, twenty or so of us beginning today, Easter Sunday. I jump into the photo last minute, as I’m distracted struggling to lengthen my trekking poles with freezing fingers. Not sure why I was attempting to do so in that moment but, whatever…
Looking back at this photo – these people – all of whom I had just barely met. Not yet knowing their stories. Not yet knowing how our stories would entwine and unfold. It makes my heart swell and my eyes brim with tears. Friends. Family. Life support on trail. I didn’t know yet that this community would become everything to me. More important than the hike itself. More important than finishing.
The friends I made along the way – the connections I would feel to people I hardly knew, what they would teach me – that would become my purpose here. My reason for leaving Maui, for planning this adventure, for hiking all day every day in pain and wonder. To know – without a shadow of a doubt – that love truly is everything.