Begin the Beginning
This last mile isn’t even trail at all, but road, near a highway, certainly not the kind of scenery that one thinks of when he or she thinks of the PCT. Dirt, sand, cacti, but mostly weeds are everywhere you look. There are a few trees, but this isn’t a forest by any stretch of the imagination. You have never really liked the desert; pine is what you think of when you think of nature.
It’s hot, of course it is, this is the high desert and you are walking around in it in the month of June. The wind that has plagued you for days is all but still, only a slight, hot breeze lingers, so insignificant it cannot muster the strength to cool you down.
Your feet don’t ache, not yet, you haven’t walked that far today, only eight miles. It will probably be a very long time before you walk a mere eight miles again in one day. You realize that you will probably gain back all the weight you have lost on the trail in a matter of a few months.
You are done. Out of money. Done
You come to the overpass of the highway. In one direction is Mojave, thirteen miles west, Tehachapi is 8 miles the opposite way. You are going to neither place. Cars fly by at irrational speeds, trucks lumber along. You can stop here, not cross the highway. Your father will probably find you when he gets here, as the onramp for the highway is right there. You start to cross the freeway as you have become a purist. If you stop here, the next time you start will have to be here. May as well just cross the road along the vehicular bridge, be on the opposing side when you stop, so that you can start there next time.
Ahead you see Mellow Yellow get into a minivan. The driver comes toward you. Some people are great, always willing to give a hiker a ride. “Goin’ to Tehachapi?” asks Mellow Yellow, as he rolls down the window. There is a woman in the driver seat, smiling.
“No, man, I’m going to Mojave. I have someone coming to pick me up,” you say to Mellow Yellow. To the woman, you say, “Thank you so much for stopping. I really appreciate it.” You aren’t going to Mojave, but you don’t really feel like explaining your plans for the day to them.
The van turns around and gets onto the highway, soon to disappear into the distance.
When you get to the opposite side of the highway, you look around, no shade anywhere. So be it, you think. Your father should be here soon. You are not aware at that time that he will be twenty-eight minutes late. You remove your pack, which always feels so good. You take out your water bottle, lighter, cigarettes, journal, and a pen.
After a long drink of water and with your back up against a stop sign, you sit down in the dirt and light a cigarette. Cigarettes don’t taste or feel as good to you in the heat, but it still feels fine because of the length of time that has passed since your last one. You open your journal and begin to write.
You are done. No money.
Soon, a group of hikers that you passed earlier will pass you, and keep on heading north after a brief conversation. Later, Salt Lake will be dropped off after hitching from Tehachapi back to the trail. You will have a longer conversation with him. That will be your last discourse with another hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail in the year of 2017.
You are done.
Gawain: I think I am going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl: We are breaking up.
I don’t know how serious she was about that. At that point in time it seemed that she was threatening to break up with me on a daily basis. Part of me always wanted her to do so. The discussion, like many discussions, occurred on WeChat, a Chinese social media app on my telephone. The reason I had and still have WeChat is because I spent over four years of my life teaching ESL in China. I also quit using Facebook.
Cheryl was Chinese, my third serious Chinese girlfriend in the roughly four years I had spent in China. I was supposed to go back to the States on a temporary basis, but allowed my plans to change rather frequently. Sometimes I was just going to buy a mobile home in a park somewhere, then return to China. Other times I was thinking of Thailand, or Taiwan, or Hong Kong, or even Japan and possibly South Korea. Sometimes I thought about staying in the US. I had eventually decided to let my son decide. If he wanted to live with me, we would stay in the US or go somewhere he felt comfortable. I can understand Cheryl’s frustration. Every few days I would change my plans then notify her. Our relationship was rather disjointed and complex. It wasn’t that unique in its complexity or frustration, anyone who dates someone twenty years his or her junior can tell you that it can be rough at times.
Chinese people, when they begin to start studying English to a rather serious degree, will usually pick an English name to be used. Some of them will pick a common name, some of them will pick an unusual name, some of them will pick a name inspired by something, and some of them will pick a name that sounds similar to their Chinese names but uses English words. Some of them will pick a name for no reason any sane person can comprehend. I had a student named Lucifer at one point because she liked “the story and the character.” I had a male student named Jelly. I have no clue why he chose that name. I had a student name Funnyphone because it sounded like his Chinese name. Titanic was quite popular in China, so I have known many Jacks and Roses. In a rare twist of irony, I was given a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild by a girl named Cheryl.
I was at Carpentaria at the time, well Ventura, well Rincon. I was with my son and my parents. We went there for Christmas. It was the first Christmas I had spent with them in years, and I guess we decided to make it rather untraditional. Many people, including my father, never understood why I uprooted from California to China, seemingly in an instant, allowing the bank to take my home, allowing custody of my son to falter, crack, and collapse, allowing myself to be thrown into a strange and different world than the one I was used to at nearly four decades of age.
On a perfectly chilly night, late in the month of December, in the year of 2016,as I gazed into the flames of a small fire on the beach, as the waves crashed against the rocks barely a few feet away, as I drank beer to excess in a typical fashion, as I was surrounded by my family (one of whom had introduced me to the Pacific Crest Trail two decades earlier), while surrounded by what was once but at different times part of my immediate and nuclear family, after having just finished a book on the subject by someone who had done it, I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I wasn’t going to do it as some vague thing in the future, as that had already happened many times before. In a spontaneous, and possibly irrational and immature gust of inspiration, I decided to do it in a few months.
I did hike some sections of the PCT in 1996. That was the year I had gotten out of the Army. Instead of immediately getting a job, like a responsible person, I opted to not work for six months. I did save up a serious amount of money in the military, enough to buy a car and later put a down payment on a condo. Still, the discipline and highly regimented lifestyle was enough for to decide that my life warranted a break. I stayed with my parents during this time and my father decided to charge me rent. In his mind, a normal human never takes that much time off of work, even after retirement. I suppose he thinks it is okay to stop working after death.
During my long vacation my dad had decided to start section hiking the PCT. My father would never take enough time off work to through-hike the entire thing as that would contradict his work ethic. He began at the beginning, near Campo, California at the border of Mexico, in what I refer to as the vast Southern California desert. Even though it is technically not all desert, you could have fooled me.. My father invited me along, and since I hadn’t been backpacking in years and I had some significant time off, I decided to do it. It was only a three day trip.
Now, I spent most of the first twelve years of my life in Salt Lake City, Utah. My very first experiences with backpacking were in the Uintah mountains. The geography, certainly not the people, was what drove my father to convince my mother, to move to Utah. My first backpack trip occurred at the age of seven years old. It was just an overnight trip and I am not so sure that I enjoyed it. Hiking was a lot of work, but nature… a complete lack of technological monstrosities, the elements, the beauty, the chaotic perfection , those are the things I fell in love with at an early age. I don’t remember my first camping trip, because I was probably too young. But starting at the age of seven, my father would take me backpacking once a year.
Eventually, my mother convinced my father, to return to California. At the age of twelve, I was uprooted from the highly conservative Mormon city of Salt Lake City and thrust into the damn desert of Santa Clarita, California. Two things wedged themselves into my personality in my early childhood, and I have to believe it was because of the time I spent in Utah: I fell in love with rock n’ roll (primarily heavy metal) and nature (primarily pine forests). The former based on a general concept of non-conformity to the standards of which those around me often live, and the latter based primarily on geographical location.
After my parents moved to California, I no longer went backpacking once a year. Still, my father did take me a few times to the Sespe Condor refuge. It’s still kind of in the desert, but there is a beautiful area with plenty of water once you hit the bottom. I also went hiking with friends there a few times when I became a teenager. Unfortunately, people are no longer allowed to hike at that particular spot because the California Condor, an endangerd species has been returned to the wild. There are areas near there, but none as beautiful as the place I used to be able to go to.
So, 1996 rolled around, and my first experience with the PCT, I have to say, was miserable. It was all desert (or desert-like) and I was roughly introduced to the concept of dry camping. Not sleeping anywhere near water. It is still, to this day, not a preferable way to camp. I always get concerned with a lack of water and it puts an emotional stress on me at a time I am attempting to lessen all the stresses of society by leaving it. Well, that’s desert hiking for you.
I did a few other short sections with my father around that time, one was a day hike from Acton to Agua Dulce, and another was an attempt to get a section of the Sierras done, which ended in a disappointment that could have been a disaster. Then, life sort of happened. I was never fond of the desert hiking, but part of me wanted to do the entire trail, all the way to Canada. This thought often lingered in the back of my mind, and would often only come forward when I went camping, or saw a film with beautiful nature cinematography. While living in China, I saw the film, Wild. That basically pushed me to add it to my bucket list, and I seriously have a hard copy of a bucket list. Then, maybe two years after seeing the film, I read the book.
As part of my preparation, I did a lot of reading. I read Ray Jardine’s book. I read Bill Bryson’s attempt at the AT in his book. I read all I could on Wikipedia, skimmed through writing on the PCTA Website. I read all non-equipment parts of Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker. I read bits of blah. I skimmed through an outdated version of the Pacific Crest Trail: California. Books
My father is a huge fan of Colin Fletcher and I believe the man is one of my father’s inspirations for hiking. Since he wrote the book years ago, I wasn’t sure that the equipment sections would be entirely relevant. He, in many ways, is the polar opposite hiker of Ray Jardine. And, as far as philosophies go, I have to say that I lean much more toward Fletcher than I do Jardine. Fletcher was inclined to bring much more gear, having the notion that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Jardine is into much less gear and knocking off as many miles as one can in a day. Jardine attempts to promote safety, but ultimately his highly light-weight approach can get one into some trouble, in my not-so-humble opinion.
I found the author of PCT to be a little contradictory. Ray Jardine seems to be quite arrogant in his approach to hiking, and perhaps his reasoning does have some merit. I certainly encountered many more of his type on the trail than I did those who would follow Fletcher. He states that it doesn’t matter how you hike as long as you enjoy yourself, then proceeds to bash and insult anyone who doesn’t hike like him. He developed this pyramid of hiking and places light-weight hikers at the top and those with more gear at the bottom. He seems to promote being out in the wilderness and enjoying it, then hiking so fast that he can’t stop to enjoy it. He designs and makes a lot of his own equipment and includes diagrams in his book for others to follow. I’m no seamstress, so that didn’t help me out much. Still, I got a few good ideas from him.
After reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, I felt compelled to read more of his books, but haven’t found myself doing it as of the time I write this. He hiked the AT, not the PCT, so there’s that. When I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I felt that I really got to know the author as she lets us in, lets us feel with her, gives us her story before her hike. Bryson’s approach was very different. I felt like I got to know him very little, if at all. However, he does his research. He gives us a history, not just human, but natural. He even lost me when he delved too deeply into geology at one point. We get to know Bryson, but only through the trail, through his opinions, and quite humorously through his wit. We learn nothing of his past, his family. Neither writer is wrong or right. They have different voices and share their experiences in different ways.
Written late summer 2017—in Thailand of all places and I never got around to finishing it.