In the summer of 2017, while hiking in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, I started seriously thinking about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It took me about nine months to decide for myself that I’d go for it in 2019. And now, more than a year after that decision, it was finally April 18th, the day I’d start the PCT. So exciting! My adventure is finally started!
That morning I was awake at 4 am. Ready to go. Three hours later, my dad and I drove off towards the southern terminus of the PCT. We were on a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego and this was the last stretch. We said our goodbyes and took the necessary pictures.
As I started hiking, it finally hit me that my thru-hike was actually starting. In order to truly make it ‘Mexico to Canada’, I had to touch the metal wall that stands on the border. A stone’s throw from the border stood the first PCT blaze.
My start date turned out to be Dutch Day, as four other Dutch hikers started the same day. That might not seem a lot, but the PCTA only gives out 50 permits a day. So 10% being Dutch is a lot. I passed the other four after just three miles.
The first day was a good day, not too hot, feet still feeling good and running into other hikers every other mile. By early afternoon I walked up to Boomerang and Patches (trail names, I’ll get to that in a bit), two guys who’d met on the Appalachian Trail in 2016. We talked for a while and I ended up hiking with them until camp. Having done 15 miles, we cowboy camped (no tent, just a sleeping bag under the stars) for the night.
The view on the uphill of that morning was majestic from our campsite. We had to get up there to get to Lake Morena, the first town on the trail. But milkshakes and burritos were awaiting us. So the next morning we set out to hike the 1100 feet (330 meters) of elevation over 3.5 miles.
The hike out of Lake Morena was incredible. This was supposed to be the desert, but it felt like a luscious forest of green. I learned quickly from day one and started packing less water. One liter each five miles was more than enough. Sometimes I reached the water source five miles in with just half of my bottle empty.
After 16.6 miles, we settled down at Fred Canyon tent sites, cowboy camping again.
During the first days I’d lost so much salt through sweating that my blue shirt was almost white. Patches called me Tie Dye, as my shirt resembled that, and the name stuck. This was my trail name now.
Trail names are nicknames that almost everyone will adopt during a thru-hike. Something to do with your person that is given to you by another hiker, but you have to accept it before it’s official. Tie Dye felt good to me, although it was based on me sweating a lot of salt. Eight years ago during my internship in Philadelphia, my farewell party was a ‘hippy’ theme. Me and three friends saying goodbye made our own tie dye shirts for the party. So the name brings out good memories to me.
By day three I introduced myself as Tie Dye, as I hiked into my first Trail Magic. This magic is provided by so called Trail Angels, acting in the interest of PCT hikers for the sake of just helping out. Free soda, beers and food (including fresh fruits, which is too heavy to take in your pack, so we don’t eat it regularly making all the better) for any PCT hiker that wanted it! It was the cherry on the cake of that morning’s hike. After a big elevation gain starting straight out of camp, the trail went into a pine forest just before the magic. That scent of pines alone as almost magic, all other hikers I talked to remember that moment.
Fueled by the trail magic, we cowboy camped passed mile 50 in a very windy part of the trail. We were advised to keep our tents in our pack as the wind was too strong. And it was! The temperature dropped to 2 degrees Celsius, but the wind made it feel like below freezing all night. Alarm set at 6 am, but I only got out of my warmish sleeping bag at 7:30 when the sun had started warming me up.
Although I had a late start, day four was the first day I hiked 20+ miles. My feet felt good and the weather was very mild. The wind beat us up during the first few miles, but afterward it settled down, which, combined with the favorable terrain, made for perfect hiking conditions. All day, the views were unbelievable. Stretching as far as the eye could see, the valley floor and snow-topped mountains beyond that gave us a mesmerizing look in the future. We’d be hiking there in less than two weeks time.
Day five was a short one for me. The town of Julian was just six miles on trail and a 12 mile ride away. The ride would be the first time hitchhiking for me. Such a day is what we call a nearo, near zero, Enjoying the food and drinks that town has to offer us hikers, even if we’ve only been out there for a less than a week.
The coming stretch will see me passed Warner Springs and into Idyllwild. Which is where I intend to have my first zero, a day with zero miles hiked on the PCT, and meet the mayor of town. I’ll post an update there! In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep my Instagram up to date. If you’re interested in following my progress live, let me know through there and I can send you a link to my gps tracking site.