PCT Day 0: Getting There

[Since I’m blogging while hiking this time, not after the fact, I am making a dramatic change from past tense to present tense narration in this blog.]

It’s weird to leave for a backpacking trip without Cyn. We went out last night for a fancy dinner with all the fancy hot fresh foods I won’t have for the next six weeks: roasted asparagus in herbed butter sauce, burrata with arugula and artichokes, seared halibut with chanterelles. Banana cream puffs for desert. I already know I’ll be thinking longingly of that dinner a few hundred miles into my hiking diet of ramen and tuna packets. I rushed around packing my pack. Had already decided not to take my camp shoes, and at the last minute tossed the little square of microfiber towel I’d planned to use for wiping down tent condensation, etc. I’ll just use my bandana. I put all my tiny bottles of liquids in one baggie together for airport security. I’d shipped my trekking poles, tent stakes, umbrella, and pocketknife to a friend in San Diego, so I can take my pack as carry-on and bypass the worries of it being lost or damaged with the checked baggage.

This morning it feels even weirder. I’m stressed that I’ve forgotten something, a stress I always feel on the drive to the airport but never at the trailhead. I say goodbye to Cyn for six weeks — so, so weird. And am off. The security person looks through my pack and later runs to find me at the gate, holding my long-handled spoon. It had fallen out when she’d done her inspection. There are perks to having a tiny home airport.

At my connection in Chicago the flight is full and the gate agents insist that the second half of the boarding group check our bags. For my pack to fit in the overhead, I’m carrying my food bag separately to stow it under my seat. I can’t check that, so am forced to check my pack. I ask if there is any space in the overhead bins, say I’m concerned my pack will be damaged — no space, all full, you must check it. I hand it over, sad and worried. In my seat on the plane, I watch the flight attendant close the half-empty overhead bins in my row, and add a healthy dose of anger and frustration to my anxiety.

I realize on the flight that I’ve left behind my Nuun electrolyte tabs for the first 100 miles. Argh. Disappointment joins the other feelings keeping me company. Another item to purchase in San Diego.

I reread some of Carrot Quinn’s book on the flight, doze, and open my window shade as we are over the Colorado Desert (which is in California, not Colorado), the Salton Sea just disappearing from my view. The desert is vast and imposing, but I can see little tracks of dirt roads and the tiny blur of desert plants down there — I know it is livelier than it looks from up here. I feel a little rush of nervous excitement.

My friend A. kindly scoops me up at the airport and shuttles me around to buy water bottles, replacement Nuun, a lighter. My pack is unharmed so I’ve let go my bad feelings. After a much too short visit, A. drops me in my old neighborhood, which is not much changed. I hang out in my old favorite run-down coffeehouse, eat the same cookie I always ate there. Walk to my old park, watch the dogs, call Cyn. Eat fish tacos at my old neighborhood taco shop. It feels almost regular to be here again, as if I’m not setting off tomorrow morning for a big adventure all by myself.

When my dear friend P. texts in the evening, I take a car to his house. I repack my backpack from appropriate-for-air-travel mode to actually-useful-on-trail mode and realize that two of my four smartwater bottles are still in the car I took. We will stop on the way to Campo to replace them. P. and I stay up to chat, and then just after we say goodnight I realize I don’t have the ziploc with my permit and my maps of the first section. I tear my pack apart again. Either I left it at home or it was lost during the TSA inspection. I panic a bit, but P. generously prints everything anew as I apologize one thousand times, and now it is late, and we leave for the southern terminus at 6:30am, and I am hoping all these little mishaps today aren’t a bad sign. I decide to think of it like a bad dress rehearsal before an amazing opening night, and fall asleep in an instant.

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