I am sitting in the Julian Library as I watch the clouds outside brewing their cool dark brew. It’s only been four days on the trail so far, but only a few hours of sunshine. After a typical hot start in Campo and a farewell from Scout, the rain has been falling and has been over the winter. The results are beautiful, lush green chaparral and brilliant wildflowers along the trail.
Day one back on the trail, felt slightly surreal. It felt like I was home, cliché I know, but I remember almost every corner, every view, every climb and decent. I have barely looked at my maps and I feel more connected to the trail than I ever have. The hard parts are still hard, gravity does not change. Hauser Creek Canyon is still in my mind, PCT hikers “first big challenge.” On a hot day, acclimation to the heat, the climb and the mileage can be daunting. Hiking this in the evening or early morning is advised. I arrived early at Lake Morena on the first day, with some help from some trail magic before the climb out of Hauser.
Immediately hikers began to pour in, some veterans, some newbies. A buzz was in the air and the camaraderie was brimming. Not many stirred in the early morning, so I had the trail to myself for a few hours on day two. A light drizzle of rain woke me and got me going. Most of the day was wet, making for easy hiking but also made it difficult to stop, as the dampness chilled the skin.
Pushing on for another long day to Mt. Laguna, still too early in the season for this small town, there was not much to stop for in the way of food or entertainment. I called it a day at the Laguna Campground to duck out of the storm and prepare for the rainy night ahead. I awoke the next morning to the sound of rain pelting my tent. Realizing it was Thursday and my package was waiting for me at the Julian Post Office, which I planned to get to on Sunday, a rookie mistake. Post offices are closed on Sunday! So I wrung out my wet socks, laced up my soggy shoes and pressed on to get close to scissors crossing to arrive in Julian early Saturday. The clouds were playing a disappearing act, raining off and on most of the day, offering some contrasting views compared to my hike last summer.
I arrived at Rodriguez Road, a popular stopping place for hikers, with plenty of camp spots and a water tank. Many hikers were already set up for the night and I decided to go a bit further than I wanted, but I was rewarded with a great view for my third night on the trail, just a short distance from scissors crossing.
As I pass back a flask of whiskey from a local miner/farmer, I listen as he talks about his land and his life in California and I think about my life when on the trail. Trail life is challenging, unique, beautiful and sometimes frightening. But it is the experiences you have outside of your comfort zone that shape you as a hiker, a traveler and as a person. You learn to trust your instincts, your ability to survive. You learn your limits and your weaknesses, but most importantly your strengths. Even if it’s only for 6 months, it will last a lifetime. I can feel the wave of happiness that I get on the trail tingling in my face and my eyes.
It’s good to be back.