We survived the 1st week…

May 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

Campo to Warner Springs – 110 miles 8 days

Either we’re accident prone or a dark force is playing against us. Before we even left I managed to get a blister on one foot while walking along the Promenade in Galway and I dropped scissors on the other foot leaving me with a limp, Isabelle knocked her leg on the hostel bed in Los Angeles and we crossed a patch of poison oak to get to our 1st campsite on the trail. It seems a lucky star is also watching over us as none of this prevented us from keeping on.

But I’m afraid we’ve ruined the Swiss reputation in LA. It’s possible to resupply in most towns along the trail but sometimes it’s better or easier to mail yourself food packages. John, a friend we met on the JMT that lives in LA, had agreed to be our mail man – Thanks John! – so we had to prepare the resupply boxes. People in LA certainly thought we were crazy as they could watch us buy a month worth of food – the shopping cart was so full a guy asked Isabelle: “Wow! How many kids?” -, stuff it into our backpacks and haul it across the city to our hostel.

We attended the ADZPCTKO or Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off. There is a small community of past thru-hikers, thru-hikers to be, section hikers and trail angels that revolves around the PCT and that community has its own language I’ll have to explain along the way. Thru-hikers are the ones like us that (try to) do the 2650 miles in one go. Section hikers hike the PCT portion by portion. Trail angels are people that give a hand to hikers, should it be by giving a lift into town to resupply, providing accomodation, much needed showers and laundry facilities or maintaining water caches. And what is a zero day? A zero day is a rest day, a day where you hike zero mile. So every year around the end of April, the best time to start a thru-hike, the PCT community gathers at Lake Morena, near the beginning of the trail, to meet fellow hikers, give/get information on water and snow conditions on the trail and tips to a successful thru-hike, and that’s ADZPCTKO. The organization and what is done for hikers is amazing and it was nice to be among people who understand what you’re about to do but we couldn’t wait to set foot on the trail to really feel a part of that community and shake the feeling of unreality that we were actually doing this.

The 1st of May we got a ride to the border with Mexico. We took the official pictures near the monument marking the trail southern terminus and signed the register: ” The Swiss sisters hit the trail!”, quoting lyrics from the band Carrousel: “Peu importe ou ca nous mene. La route au bout des doigts. Et l’histoire que l’on traine on la reecrira.” [No matter where it leads us. The road at our fingertips. And the story we carry we will rewrite it]. And we took our first step on the trail, followed by many others…

The two main challenges of the hike so far are keeping your feet happy in the heat and carrying liters of water to get through the dry stretches.

With the heat your feet literally boil. Every so often, at each break, you have to take your shoes off to let your feet dry and breathe. Your feet swell and rub against the boots in places they usually don’t, your toes rub against each other and you get blisters in places you never expected. Every evening we go through a close inspection of our feet checking the healing of old blisters and taking care of new ones.

Your backpack weighs about 15 kilos, you’re facing a 32 mile stretch without water (well, there are two water caches on the way but you shouldn’t rely on them as they can be empty) so you load your pack with 10 liters and now you have to haul it up and across the San Felipe Hills… Over the next days your whole body hates you and you question many times your mental sanity for undertaking this trip. But when you reach the 2nd water cache and it’s empty, and you’ve managed to do 18 miles with a heavy pack, you’re happy you have the extra water and you’re proud of how far you’ve hiked.

To Isabelle’s great pleasure we had several encounters with snakes. Some were non venomous but to Isabelle it doesn’t make a difference, especially when it crosses the trail right in front of her boots!

There were also a few rattlesnakes. When we first heard that unmistakable rattle, I stopped dead in my tracks and looked around to locate the beast, I wanted to know where it was before I took the next step. I could feel Isabelle pushing on my pack and telling me to move but I couldn’t see it. So I said with a touch of panic: ” I can’t see it!” and Isabelle’s uneasy voice came in reply: ” I CAN see it! I NEED to go!” leaving no doubt that if I didn’t move she was gonna climb over me to get the hell out of there!

Another time we needed a break and there was this comfy looking log on the side of the trail. So we unloaded our pack, Isabelle sat on the log, I wandered off and it’s when I came back that I saw it. Beside the log, black and white, tiny but suspiciously snake-like. “Hum… Isabelle…” My brain was racing to find a way to break it to her without freaking her out. “I don’t want to worry you… It’s tiny…” And that was it, in no time she was off the log, with her pack on, the break was over.

Another thing of the PCT community is trailnames. You get a new name on the trail, it’s given to you by fellow hikers. So we have come to be known as the Swisters (a hybrid between Swiss and sisters). Isabelle is now Tinker Bell as she carries on her pack a Swiss cow bell, gift from Yllka and Celine to scare bears away 🙂

The landscape changes as we hike. We started walking through chaparral vegetation, expanses of dense low shrubs, dotted by yucca, every plant in bloom, the nights were freezing. Then the vegetation grew more sparse, cacti growing beautiful flowers replaced the shrubs, the nights got warmer before we crossed chaparral again and then wide meadows.

Two nights ago the wind was blowing strong and we woke up to see that the sand that used to be outside was now inside the tent! As Isabelle put it, some mornings are harder than others.

We’re now in Warner Springs trying not to get sucked in the hikers black hole – you see hikers coming in one way but you never see them coming out the other way – that are hot springs, comfy beds, showers… Between 20-30% of hikers quit after the 1st week. In some ways we totally understand them. But there is also something in the way your backpack weighs on your shoulder, in the rythm of your footsteps, in the regular sound of your breathing, in the wide expanses out there, that feels just right.

So see you in a couple of miles! And you’ll have to be patient for pictures.

§ One Response to We survived the 1st week…

  • Céline says:

    Ah enfin des nouvelles, je commençais presque à m’inquiéter 😉
    Toujours autant de plaisir à te lire Aurélie, on s’y croirait… Me réjouis déjà du prochain “post” et des photos !!!
    Pense bcp à vous!

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