April 20, 2014

Night Hiking and Border Patrol on the PCT

As I stepped on the Pacific Crest Trail on the border of Mexico and California, my blood began flying through my veins. Am I really here doing this?! I couldn't keep my excitement inside, and was expressing my excitement very loudly to 2 strangers who I had gotten a ride from the airport just 2 hours before. They called themselves "Blue Moon" and "Shock Top". They had hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail last year, and wanted to give back to the hiking community. With a happy heart and a full belly from the massive chicken verde burrito they bought me, I jumped out of the car to get my gear ready to go. Blue Moon picked up my bag and said, "boy, that's heavy!" I said, "Oh no! Don't say that! I don't want to be the next Cheryl. I just have a lot of food." As I pulled my 9 bag of food out of my pack, her eyes got huge as she asked, "Are you sure you need all that." Embarrassed I said, "Not now, but I will eventually."  Thinking how stupid I was, I really wanted to leave the food with her, but I didn't want her to have to clean up my mistake, so I told her I'd be fine.

We went over to the trailhead, I signed the book, took some pictures, and headed on my way. I started skipping and singing. It felt like pure freedom away from everything. Just me and the trail for 5 months. Something I've been craving since 2006, while hiking for Multiple Sclerosis.

As I left the border at 6:30pm, the sun was setting, the coyotes were howling, and the birds were singing. Each step I took in the desert sand almost felt like a miracle. Looking back at the past 5 years of my life, and what it took to get to this point, I began to cry. No one will ever know the extent of  mental, physical, and spiritual issues I had to push through. It felt so good to lay down all my frustration about society and the silly games we play against each other. Nature accepts all, and that's what's so incredibly healing.

The sun was almost down, and I walked under a large tree to stopped and admire it. As I was standing there, a humming bird hovered over my head as if to welcome me.

As the trail wound into the darkness, I noticed that border patrol was awfully jumpy. At the border, the jeep kept speeding past me like they were chasing something, but I could never figure out why. I kept thinking I might see someone run past me. At one point, I even ran across these makeshift shoes:

 Later down the trail, a helicopter must have flown over my head at least a dozen times. I figured that was normal, and just kept walking with Lake Moreno in mind.

As the moon rose higher in the night sky, I hardly had to use my headlamp because the trail was completely lit up. 10 miles into the climb, fog started settling down. The air was now freezing my breath as it came out of my mouth. The moon wasn't quite as bright, but the chilly air froze droplets of the spring desert scent that made my nose go wild. It was like I had the most delicious smelling flower right under my nose.

I started my descent into Hauser Creek when the trail turned into a jeep road. At midnight, I watched a car come my way. It was border patrol. They got out of their vehicle and started questioning me about what I was up to. They explained to me that I set off a sensor and they asked to see the bottom of my shoes. They were also curious if I was with other people. It didn't make sense to them that I was hiking alone at midnight, but I honestly didn't know what else to tell them.

After they let me proceed with my hike, 5 minutes later, two guys on four-wheelers came up and questioned my motives as well. I was hiking with my headlight off, but sometimes I would flick it on and off if I ran into a dark area. Perhaps that looked a bit suspicious? I couldn't figure out what was going through their heads. These supposed sensors that I set off were no where to be seen, so I had no idea where that might have happened. They were a little sketched out, but I guess they don't see a lot of PCT female hikers climbing from the border past midnight. I just thought it was interesting they never asked to see my permit.

After answering their questions, I changed the subject and asked them how much further it was to lake Moreno. In that moment, I was sure that I was almost there until they informed me that it was over the gigantic mountain in front of me. I cringed at the beastly switchbacks as they wished me good luck and told me to be safe.

As I hiked past all of the sleeping hikers cowboy camping at Hauser Creek, I wished to be in my cozy bag, but I was still determined to make it up that beast of a mountain in front of me. As I hobbled up the switch backs, I became very sleepy and wanted to pass out on the trail. At one point, I almost convinced myself to crawl up into a little ball on top of a flat rock. I then became very angry at my decision to carry a 40 pound pack. What in the world was I thinking? I kept telling myself, "You're strong, but you're not Houdini."  I just didn't want to end up with an injury on the first day of the hike. Most of all, I needed sleep. I had been up for 22 hours.

At 2:00 am and mile 17.5, I plopped my sleeping bag on the ground and slept for 5 hours in the windy dessert. The sleep wasn't to good, but 7 am was perfect timing to make it 2.5 miles to lake Moreno and ditch my food before it got too hot. This is when I met my first friend on the trail, "Cheese".

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking about night hiking the southern california section.

    Not all who wander in the dark are guilty.