It was a frenzied morning. Natalie from Belgium flew in late the night before and was assigned to be my roommate. I ended up sleeping very little. Around 5 or so, I got up and Natalie said I could turn on the light. I told her I would plug the small light in, but trying to plug it in without being able to see anything was creating more of a disturbance than turning on the overhead light! I took my things out of the room in several trips and went downstairs for breakfast. Frodo had made an egg casserole and French toast and we were strongly encouraged to eat some cantaloupe slices, as it would be our last chance to eat fresh fruit in a long time!. I drank a little coffee, but already felt dehydrated and knew I had to be drinking water. There would be no water in the first 20.6 miles of trail and Frodo was encouraging us to bring 5 liters with us the first day. “The air is so hot and dry, it’s going to suck the water right out of you,” she told Drama Queen, whose eyes grew wide incredulously.
I wanted to eat more, but time was running out. I returned to my room to get my remaining items and Natalie jumped out of her bed to give me a goodbye hug. She won’t be starting until the 24th, most likely. I told her I hoped I would see her again!
I hurriedly stuffed my pack full with all of the stuff sacks, strapped on my sleeping pad (the thing that never fits!) and rushed out to the waiting cars. Nine of us were heading out that morning. I weighed my pack last night and discovered that I have a base weight of 18 pounds and with my 2.5 days of food and 5 liters of water, it came to 34.5 pounds.
I was starting to get a bad headache in the car. I rode with Jan, Drama Queen, Matt, Kim, and Greg. We talked about yoga and rattlesnakes and I tried to close my eyes for a few minutes. It was a 75 minute ride to the border.
When we arrived, there were already several cars in the parking lot and a gaggle of hikers around the monument. Everyone rushed to get their packs from the back of the cars. I looked around at the sand on the ground and wondered where to put my pack down. I didn’t want to get it dirty! The other driver, Jean, said I could keep it in the back. We got out our cameras, waited our turn, then took a group picture.
“Whose camera is this? It’s not working, ” Jan called out as she tried to take a picture with mine. Guess I forgot to put the battery in it!
After the group picture, it was time to take individual pictures. I hurried back to my pack to dig out my camera battery and put it in. Jan instructed me to stand on the opposite side of the monument that I wanted because of the sunlight.
Everyone was slinging on their packs and immediately hitting the trail. What was the hurry? Jan held up the registry and asked if everyone had signed it. I hadn’t but felt there was no time. I asked Drama Queen if he could take a couple more pictures of me. Then he, too, said he had to get getting! Only Ron, from Germany, and I remained.
I felt like I didn’t get the pictures that I wanted- the ones I had imagined for so long- and I didn’t get to take in where I was. We were on the Mexican border, but all I felt was frenzied and rushed. Everyone was in such a hurry to get going!
Ron walked with me. He asked me what my first impression of the trail was. I said it was one of peace- of knowing this is exactly where I want to be. Later, he wanted to know why I chose the gaiters with the heart pattern and why I was out here. He said that I was “open-minded” and that I didn’t care what other people thought of me. He also thought I was “loud”! I told him I’m an introvert and he said, “really?”. I think he thought that because of my laugh. We caught up to Ian and Laura, and then saw Drama Queen on a switchback.
“What up, what up?”
“Yo, yo, yo!” We called out to each other, still in high spirits.
We crossed a little stream and wondered why we were carrying so much water. Drama Queen thought it was a hazing ritual. Later, three people ahead called out, “Poodle Dog Bush!” to us. As we reached the area, we didn’t see anything. “It’s part of the hazing,” I said. (We did end up spotting it- a bush more poisonous than poison oak that will overtake the trail farther north in burned sections).
Ron and I sat on a rock and took our first break about seven and a half miles in, making sure to take our socks off and air out our feet. To our surprise, the sand had penetrated our socks! They were already dirty!
I saw gold dust on my toes, which made me happy. Golden glitter!
I was happy to see that the chocolate in my trail mix was not yet melted. I asked Ron if I should have an English muffin with peanut butter. He said that sounded very dry!
We walked a bit together after we took our break and then he told me to go ahead.
When I saw him again, I asked, “Wie geht’s?”. He responded, asked me the same, then went on ahead. So I walked solo for awhile, which is what I am used to. I passed a young couple that started just before us, and then Kim and Greg.
I took another snack break at one point, and this time, was happy that my chocolate had melted over the nuts in my trail mix. It was delicious! Another couple stopped just above me and thought I was an animal in the woods. I told them that I am an animal!
Later on, I found Ron walking with another girl. He asked how I caught up. “I’m just walking a steady pace.”
We all sat in the shade of a rock for a few minutes before heading into Hauser Canyon and then up the exposed climb. I started first and told them they could catch me. They never did. The climb wasn’t bad at all. In fact, climbs make me happy. They give me a distinct small goal. I looked at my thermometer at the top. It read 95 degrees.
I continued on, heading down towards Lake Morena, which I could see in the distance, below me. I was getting tired and needed another snack break. Ron had wanted to make it there by the time the sun set, but I wanted to get there at least an hour early to set up. I had imagined going for a swim in the lake, but there was no time for that. I arrived at 6:03 and headed for the public building. I was looking for the ranger’s office, knowing that we had to pay $5 to camp. I had no idea where it was, though! I wanted to go back to where the trail dumped us out and wait for the others, but decided to take out my pages, and then study the map of the campground on the board.
I walked over to the office, hot and tired. Non- trail miles are the worst because your mind is not prepared to walk the extra distance. The ranger said I could stay in either of 2 backpacker sites, one close to the trail and the farthest possible site from the office or the other closer to the bathrooms. I chose the one closer to the bathrooms. “Only a little more to walk,” she said. I had no idea where the other hikers were.
I headed to the gazebo and didn’t see anyone I knew. Then, I followed a path to a more remote area in the trees and looked for a space to set up my tent. The first one didn’t work because my stakes couldn’t get through the carpet of tree fallings.
I found another place in front of a rock. Then, I brought my stove, food bag, and water down to one of the tables. No one I knew was around and I felt a bit down. I was tired and it was already getting dark. I hate hurrying to get my chores done before the sun goes down! As I was waiting for my pasta to soften, Kim and Greg came over. I told them where I had set up my tent and asked about Ron. They said he was behind the girl. That seemed unlike him.
I ate my dinner and walked over to the bathrooms to take a shower. Kim had already headed over to do the same and was talking to Ron. It was now 7:30. He had made it.
It took me awhile to find everything in my pack that I needed for my shower. And then, when I was under the water, I couldn’t get the packet of shampoo I had brought open! Where was my knife? No idea…
I finally had to dig out my needle for blisters and stab the plastic several times.
I dried off with my two micro lightweight towels, combed my hair, brushed my teeth, and dried to rinse as much of the dirt out of my socks as possible. The girl who we gad seen walking back to Campo around mile 1 with a guy, had also made it. She now looked distinctly more tired and said she had underestimated that hike. All of us were beat.
I headed back to my campsite in the dark and saw Ian cooking dinner by headlight.
When I reached my tent, I saw someone set up near me. “Who’s that?” I called out.
“How are you?” I called out.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
“I’ll be over in a minute.”
I found him lying on the ground in his sleeping bag. “You didn’t set up your tent?”
“I’m too tired.”
He told me how the girl started up the hill really fast and that he couldn’t keep up. Soon, he was lying on the ground. She came down to see if he was all right. Three minutes later, he had to stop again. He waited for Kim and Greg, but they weren’t coming. He was suffering from heatstroke.
(Kim failed to mention any of this…)
I asked him if he had had anything to eat. He said 2 or 3 hours ago. He was too tired to eat now.
He was going to take a shower in the morning and asked when I was getting up. I said the earlier the better- but I need more time than everyone else. He wanted to start hiking early and take a long mid-day break when it started getting hot after 10am so he didn’t get heatstroke again.
“So, we have a date at 5:30 then,” he said.
“Should I set my iPhone?” I asked.
He said it was nice to see me.
I went back to my tent, looked at my map pages for the next day, and then tried to rest. There was no time to journal or stretch. No rest for the weary. 5:00 was around the corner and it would be time to get to work again!
I barely slept at all. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, but the ground was very hard, and my body was very uncomfortable. The campers were making a lot of noise, as well, and a pack of dogs barked all night.
There are so many more people out here than I expected, which is such a different experience than my Colorado Trail hike, but I love the instantaneous bond that we all share from the minute we meet, and the cameraderie on the trail. I love thru-hiking!