I attended the ADZPCTKO, otherwise known as the kick off, where 600 people gathered to send off this year's batch of thru hikers and attend workshops and have reunions with old friends. It was a very nice time. I enjoyed everything about it.
I am glad, however, that I did not attend kick off before my hike last year. I don't think my hike would have had the same inner quality of personal discovery if 600 people had be there at the beginning giving me advice and making it seem like a big party. I remember being surprised how many nice people I met on the way having expected the hike to be a solitary walk in the wilderness. The kick off would have taken away that pleasant surprise.
After the kick off, a group of us went to hike the section of trail southbound from Devil's Slide to Highway 74. In our group we had one section hiker (Tony TrailHacker), one thru from 2007 (Not A Moose), two thrus from 2008 (Cuddles and Laces), one from this year (Pi who I thought was Pie the whole time) and me.
We planned for an early start, but some in our group were late. We got a late start and drove to the highway to arrange our car shuttle. While hiding the key, one in our group wedged wood splinters deep into his thumb. So we drove to the hospital in Palm Springs.
He kept apologizing for ruining our hike, but we actually had a great time going to Palm Springs. We got to see parts of the trail (from afar) again, drive through Cabazon, share stories about the trail the whole way and finally, set up a tarp on the hospital lawn which was hugely entertaining.
After the thumb injury was taken care of, we drove back to Idyllwild and stayed at the campground. There were three thru hikers there and Tom from the Internet cafe at Kennedy Meadows cooked us some burgers and fish with wine. We had a nice time sharing stories.
Finally in the morning we packed up and headed for the trail. Our thumb injury person decided not to do the hike, so he drove our car down to the trailhead at Highway 74 for us, which saved us a huge amount of driving at the end. We appreciated this greatly because at the end of the hike, we ended up driving one person to Lake Morena and another to Pasadena anyway. Not having to clean up the car shuttle with a trip to Idyllwild meant we got home before midnight.
The hike itself was wonderful. We climbed up Devil's Slide and avoided having our permits checked by volunteer rangers. At the saddle we rested briefly and then stepped onto the PCT. Not A Moose exclaimed, "I'm home!" Yes, that's how it felt. I exclaimed, "It feels good to be back on the trail." It was really nice to be with people who know how this feels. I hoped Tony could see that I'm not so crazy after all. The trail is home when you have lived on it for so long. It's where we all want to be. None of us ever really stops thinking about it.
Shortly, the trail turned to snow and we walked on snow for several miles.
As always, the stories and hype about the snow was all lies. Yes, there was a lot of snow and yes some of it could be considered mildly treacherous, but even this big scaredy cat was never scared. All the anxiety I felt last year about the supposed dangerous ice axe-required conditions on Apache Peak simply never materialized. Laces, Cuddles and Not A Moose advise everyone to ignore all heavy-handed warnings about scary things on the trail. The boogy-man around the corner never appears. They should know since they finished the whole trail.
Did you hear that: The big scary boogy-man around the corner never appears! Ignore all dire warnings! Don't give up! Do not skip! You will be fine.
The trail was simply amazing. It was so beautiful. At one point Tony turned to me to say that this was prettier than the Sierras and so much closer to our home. He wants to plan a trip in the area again either with a friend of ours who has attempted a thru several times or with another friend of ours who needs to have his tendency for enormous pack weights punished out of him. Fuller Ridge ought to cure him.
While hiking from Devil's Slide to Highway 74, I felt like I got a good taste of the whole So Cal section of the trail. Just like how my Honey Burt's Bees lip balm fragrance brings back all the emotions and memories of my experience last year, the combination of the snow and high mountains, granitic boulders, long descents, ridge-walking, precipitous cliffs, lack of camping, cattle trough water sources, transition zones, ravine cha-cha and pointless switchbacks winding around to nowhere brought it all back. Wonderful!
We stopped for water at Tunnel spring, a lovely cattle trough with cold clear water that had a slightly sulfer smell. Aquamira took care of the taste.
While resting at the saddle above the spring, Laces asked how I was feeling about my coming hike. I admitted to questioning my commitment at times. And certainly I was questioning my fitness. These two days were a lot of work. I'm not in thru-hiker condition anymore. But I live in Santa Barbara and have spent time with people who have a lot of money. They can buy anything they want. I know that there is nothing in this world that they could buy and no place that they could fly to on their private jets that could make me happier than how I feel when I drink my fill of sulfery cattle water or find a sheltered, warm spot out of the cold wind. It's when hiking the trail that those small happinesses magnify. I feel like I've found the secret to happiness. The source of true wealth.
Going SoBo we met so many hikers on their way. The journey is still fresh and new for them. The energy and big smiles they all had were so infectious. You could feel it. The life-changing journey, the coming alive of following a dream was reflected in their eyes. No wonder so many people want to get involved in the trail even if they cannot hike it. They all want a taste of that radical aliveness.