The clock is counting down before I set off once again on the Pacific Crest Trail. That mystical place that calls on me and pulls at my heart strings. It is Friday night and we decide to go to Olive Garden, you know to carb load. Our experience is less than spectacular. I am unable to finish my pasta and the desert was, well, frozen solid. We left disappointed at our meal but I was excited on what was to come the next day. Shortly after getting home and doing one final check it was time to get some rest, tomorrow would be brutal. Then at midnight I awoke feeling ill. This could not be, I could not go down for an illness. I tried to get some more sleep, but it was here and there and with little rest.
Saturday morning is here and it is time to get going. I was not feeling 100% but confident it would not hinder my journey. Arriving at the PCT I felt a sense of purpose, a meaning to this journey I was about to continue. As the pack settled on my hips and shoulders it was time. Then with one step the Trek4PTSD was back on the trail, back on the PCT and back to sending awareness for PTSD and mental illness. Overjoyed does not begin to describe the feelings going through me.
As I set off, once again, on the PCT the day was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold, the sun beating down enough to remind you it was there and the trail welcomed me like an old friend. As Hwy 74 disappeared beyond the winding trail I wondered what the next two days had in store for me, who would I meet. During the last mile on the road, we saw a few hikers, would I run into them again?
At first, my pace was great at roughly 2.5 miles per hour. If I was able to maintain that pace, I could easily make my goal for the day. Then I heard voices, well more like shouts of joy. I wondered if they could be the 3 hikers I had seen on the road, but they didn’t seem like the kind to yell that way. As my pace began to slow, I could hear them getting closer. The hikers were not the ones I had seen but others that must of camped just short of Hwy 74. These 2 individuals were the most lively, friendly, warm and happy hikers I had ever met. Tony and Choy were their names. Tony is from Hong Kong while Choy is from South Korea. Their English was a bit rough and I am not sure if they both spoke the same language. Regardless of this barrier, they seem to communicate with each other relatively well and they did not allow it to impede their communication with other hikers. They passed me and continued on. Not too long after that the 3 hikers I had seen on the trail passed me by and went their way.
Roughly six miles into the hike it was pushing mid-day. I had reached the first spot for water on the trail. This meant ditching my pack and “slack-packing” the third of a mile off trail to get water. This was a steep descent to the spring. Once I arrived at the spring I drank all the water I had taken down with me and proceeded to fill my “dirty” water bag and filter the water. The cool water was refreshing and now comes the daunting task of making my way back up the trail to where I left my pack. There I met back up with my two friends from Asia as well as two young ladies, one from Boston and one from England. I sat around for about a half hour talking with those who passed by, my two friends and the two ladies. At some point my two Asian friends set down the trail to get water. In the meantime, a young man from Denmark arrived and had his lunch. He too set down the trail and came back up. Upon his arrival we asked if he had seen Tony and Choy since it had been so long since we last saw them. To our surprise, he had not. The conclusion was that they took a different path and should be back soon. I set off not knowing the faith of these two happy, go lucky guys.
After setting off from my short break, the going began to get rougher. The trail began to get steeper and higher. By now I was over a mile above sea level and climbing. Every few hundred yards were met with a short break, sometimes shorter distance and longer break. My long and tiring ascent meant that hikers I had barely met during lunch were now passing me by. And then, to my surprise, came Tony and Choy. Their wrong turn getting to the spring had earned them the trail names of Missing 1 and Missing 2 respectfully. They made it possible for me pick up the pace if just for a little bit. For that short while my pain was alleviated. But as quickly as they caught up with me, they were off again. I wondered if I would see them again, maybe at camp that night. As my pace slowed I doubted that I would ever see them again and my chance to capture their enthusiasm in a photo had gone with them as well.
The day was getting late and the trail was still steep. With that the thought of finding a camp site was foremost in my mind and I wanted to see if I could catch up to Tony and Choy. I could see the sun beginning to set and the downhill helped me speed up to find camp. Then, as I turned the corner I saw two tents next to a boulder. My concern was that there would be no space and it was well founded. The two individuals, Paul a Britt from Australia and the other gentlemen who’s details I cannot remember, said that there was no room but to check on the other side of the boulder. There was another hiker who was South Bound on the other side of the boulder. There was just enough room for my tent and with no rain in sight I did not put up my rainfly.
As I set up camp I had realized that I had eaten very little that day and was not really hungry. However, knowing that I had to replenish calories, I made dinner while I got ready to call it a day. I cold see Palm Springs, Ca below as the sun set, I could not help but gaze in wonder how beautiful the lite up city looked. I tried to eat, but could not finish my food. I wondered if the dinner the previous night was the reason for my lack of appetite. As I finished my evening meal, I turned in for the night.
The night was not kind to me. I tossed and turned most of the night, not to mention that I woke up half a dozen times to go to the bathroom. This seems to be a problem for me on the trail since I have no need to relieve myself during the day and it all hits me at night. Every time I awoke my legs cramped up and I could barely walk straight. This was not a good sign for the next day. I took pleasure in the view down the mountain of the city lights while I made my way to where I needed to go and upon my return I could see the stars above me while I drifted away into sleep.
Sunday morning came with a beautiful sunrise. My legs, which I was sure would be in knots by morning, were fresh and ready. I boiled some water and dug in my food bag for what would be breakfast. But once again, no appetite. I could not drink my coffee or eat my breakfast. With that realization, I broke camp and began heading down the mountain. I knew that in less than a mile I would have to begin another grueling ascent, something I was not looking forward to.
As I made my way up the final mountain I knew that once I crested it the rest of my hike would be down hill. Originally, the plan was to hike the detour all the way to Idyllwild, Ca. But sometime the previous day I had made the decision that if I was not on the PCT, that there was no reason to be out specially if it was a makeshift trail to get PCT through hikers the ability to bypass the 8 mile fire closure. This decision made the day seem a lot better, no need to rush to make it to town and then drive the two hours to get home. I needed time to recover that evening.
As the 2 mile ascent continued, my body grew weaker by the minute. Almost two thirds of the way up, Paul and his hiking buddy caught up with me and I did my best to keep up with them. Their pace was too fast for me and they quickly vanished up the trail and switchbacks. Then, I reached the top. From here I could see to the east Palm Springs and the Palm Desert, and to the west Lake Hemet and San Diego County. Paul and his buddy had taken a break and I passed them by. Just a few hundred yards past the two of them was the fire closure and what would be the end of the PCT for this trip. The view was so wonderful that I tried to go live on Twitter and Facebook, but the signal was too weak. I was barely able to call my wife to tell here when and where to pick me up. As I was on the phone, Paul and his companion headed on down the detour.
After wrapping up my phone call and taking some pictures, I looked down on Lake Hemet and pondered the 7 mile 4000 ft descent that was in front of me. I stepped off the PCT and headed down the trail to my extraction point. Along the way I would pass Paul and his friend, then they would pass me once again. The descent was uneventful and I was doing 2.5 plus miles per hour. At times the steep descent would be painful but bearable. Five miles later I reached the end of the trail and onto a surface street. The hard pavement would send my feet into pain unlike anything I had experienced on the trail. Then the last three quarters of a mile I was joined by Mark from Sweden. We chatted a bit about the way things are in his country, the hiking/kayak trails and his hopes of finishing the PCT. He continued on the detour while I made it back towards Hwy 74 and Lake Hemet. Suddenly I hear someone yell my name, it was Paul. They had spoken to the park ranger and the rangers father was going to give them a ride into Idyllwild.
I finally made it to Hwy 74, dropped my pack, took off my boots and put on my camp shoes as I waited for my ride. As I sat by the side of the road I felt sad that I had not seen Tony and Choy before I went home. There are some people on the trail that you are immediately drawn to, these were my two for this trip. I was sad that I would not see them again and that I would only have my memories of them to serve as a reminder. How much I wish I had seen them one last time. Just as I was emptying my mind and relaxing by the side of the road I see two hikers making their way around the curve back towards the trail, they were coming my way. Once they came into full view I recognized the big blue backpack. I could not contain my excitement and yelled out “TONY, CHOY”. Upon realizing it was me they yelled back the best way they could, my name, “RAUL!”. For a couple of minutes we talked the best we could and took the pictures I longed to have. And as with any selfie, they had to take their own as well. We hugged, shook hands and went our different ways. It was the perfect sendoff for my weekend trip.
Once I was picked up by my wife and son, we headed home but not before getting some Epson salts and a big greasy burger from Calr’s Jr. We made our way home and I took a long bath to calm my aching muscles. It was now time to prepare for the next trip…how long could I stay out and how long could I go.
One thing I thought about during this trip was how much the trail and mental illness are alike. They are both a journey that will have difficult sections that will make you want to quit. However, along the way you will find that there are people who love and support you on your journey and will do what it takes to make it a success. There are people who know that you are on a difficult journey and will help you with supplies and support along the way. And most important is those on a similar journey who will lift your spirits when you are down and who know what it is that you are going through. They will help you in any way they can while they walk alongside of you. There are many times on this journey that you will want to quit, but if you stick with it the beauty of the next sunrise will be your reward.
NEVER QUIT FOR TOMORROW A SUNRISE IS WAITING FOR YOU!