Anwen Roberts

Day zero

Saying goodbye was difficult.

Getting to San Diego was quick and easy, considering the distance I was covering in only an afternoon. The weather was beautiful the whole way, with cumulus clouds bigger than mountains crowding the sky and reminding me of the terrain below that I will spend the next five months crossing on foot.

I didn’t fill a destination address on the customs form. The border agent gave me some major side-eye when I explained why. He asked why I would spend five months bring homeless. Have I done it before? Was I meeting up with anyone? “You look nervous,” he said. “It’s kind of a big thing,” I mumbled vaguely. He stamped me through, visibly unimpressed and probably more than a little suspicious.

I got in to San Diego around eleven p.m. and was picked up at the airport by Scout, a trail angel and former PCT thru-hiker. Scout and Frodo have been hosting PCT hikers for ten years, converting their beautiful home into a thru-hiker hostel every spring and providing rides to the southern terminus. They don’t accept payment or donations. They are genuinely good and generous people.

Since my arrival was so late I was offered a sleeping spot inside on the living room floor. I lay on my side under my quilt, staring up out of the big bay window and watching airplanes and satellites for what felt like hours until I drifted off.

I woke up at five a.m. for the second night in a row, full of weird and incongruous feelings of excitement, nervousness, inadequacy and depression. People started filling up the kitchen, quietly at first, but as they sat to eat I listened in on their hushed conversations and jokes. They soon left the house to catch the morning’s ride to the trailhead. They would be a day ahead of me on the trail. I wondered if I would catch up, or if I’d even last long enough to meet them. I lay still on my mattress, thinking about their positive atmosphere as they ate breakfast and of my own clouded emotions and how it takes a special kind of person to walk two and a half thousand miles, and that I’m not even sure if I can walk a hundred.

I pulled myself out of bed around six thirty for breakfast. Another hiker joined me and introduced herself. She was from Germany, younger than me, and had come to the US to solo hike the PCT which she had started earlier this week. Unfortunately, she had only made 26 miles before receiving news that her grandmother had been hospitalized. She would fly out later today to be join her family back in Germany.

In the afternoon I joined a hiker from Italy for a trip to the supermarket. He is seventy four, turning seventy five on the trail, he said, on Independence Day. He talked about all the hiking he had done through Europe, and the Appalachian Trail a few years ago. His pack weighs over forty five pounds without food and water, he told me. He’s going to take his time on the trail.

By the time dinner was served, the number of people staying at the house rose from just a few to nearly thirty. It was reassuring to hear some of my own fears and concerns being expressed around the room, knowing that I’m not the only inexperienced hiker, or that my overstuffed and heavy pack was still ten or fifteen pounds lighter than some others’.

Falling asleep outside through the cold and mosquitoes was a struggle. I hope that it will get easier over the next five months.

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