My mind is drifting through a fog as it registers that the sound I hear are birds singing. My eyes are closed tight and I try to open them and I can’t. They are just still so heavy with sleep. As the singing becomes clearer and clearer, I think, “OH NO! GET UP! IT”S TIME TO HIKE.” I start to really wake up, and as I push my hands down on what I think is my inflatable sleeping pad, I realize I am on my mattress in bed back in Minnesota. I’m no longer on the PCT trail. I don’t have to force myself to open my eyelids that seem at this moment frozen shut. I can enjoy the moment, the birds are singing in the early morning light. The singing is an indication that winter’s long grasp on our landscape is starting to slip away.
These sounds take me back to a little over a month ago when I was out on the PCT. The evening of March 2, 2020 brought the song of frogs in the evening and bird song in the morning. To think that I hadn’t heard frogs or birds singing for nine months. It amazes me how I can forget certain sounds of nature, especially when those sounds are so beautiful to the ears. When I hear them, memories of years prior rush in. Just like bird songs. People may wonder why I continually head to the trails? My answer to this question, would be to immerse myself in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of everything around me while I am out there. I can’t seem to satisfy my fascination of nature.
As I hiked up the trail, I could just feel all the weight of winter just lift off my shoulders. It was incredible. I just wanted to bottle it all up, for those cold, wet winter days of my future. I tried to imagine and memorize every detail. Therefore, I was carrying one camera and my iphone which were constantly being put to my right eye as I discovered more and more (unknown to me) plants with every step I took. At the rate of picture taking, I figured it would take me years to cover the length of this trail.
Because most of the plants were low to the ground those first days, it wasn’t long before my right knee started to give me trouble. I was squatting and bending over a lot. By the 1:30 pm on my first day, my knee was having an issue. I had to quit bending over and when I realized I was walking stiff leg, I sat down and had lunch and Vitamin I. It helped to take a break. I hadn’t planned to hike 16 miles that first day, but my thoughts were, I would have less than 5 the next day and I could rest my knee the rest of the second day. That extra push on the very first day, caused me to have a knee issue that would last the rest of my time on trail.
When I got to camp on day 2, I text my sister-in-law Beth, a physical therapist, for some much needed advise on how to tape my knee with KT Tape. It helped tremendously. My day 3 plan was to slackpack from Lake Morena to Kitchen Creek Rd., to get the weight of the pack off of my knee, which was a 10 mile stretch. I got up at 7 am, had my oatmeal and coffee breakfast. Taped my knee gobbled down some Vitamin I and I headed around Lake Morena. It was 8 am. The terrain was a lot easier than I expected. I think I had the Appalachian Trail in my mind. The AT is grueling those first days. This was like a walk in the park and the temps were ideal at high 40’s to low 50’s and the sun. Oh that sun. Who could complain.
I so enjoyed this beautiful day. I only saw 5 hikers all day. Tripod, from San Diego, and I struck up a few conversations as we passed each other throughout the day and when I was half and hour from Kitchen Creek Road, I sat down in the shade for lunch. Tripod was behind me and as he passed by me without seeing me, I said hello. He turned and stopped. The first thing he said to me is, “Do you know you are sitting in a great spot for snakes?” I just about jumped up as I started to look around when he started to chuckle. “UGH!” I then chuckled too as I realized he was teasing me. Let me just say I have a healthy fear of rattlesnakes. He then joined me on the ground and we had a pleasant lunch.
We parted ways as I finished my lunch and in a short time I was at Kitchen Creek Rd. The trail crossed the road and continued on, but this was my pick-up point. I found a rock to sit on and waited for Tom. It was 1 pm. Tom had taken our trailer to Mount Laguna to the Burnt Rancheria Campground. It was going to be cooler there because the elevation there is 5970. While I sat and waited, I talked to a road construction worker named Fred. He told me that 3 illegals had died this winter from hypothermia, not far from here. As I looked up at the terrain from the elevation of 3999 where I was at, I tried to imagine such a horrible end to their lives. It was hard to imagine on this beautiful sunny day. Fred lived near Campo and he told me how in the past 10 years, life around the border had changed significantly. He has had to make multiple calls to the Border Patrol at night for illegal aliens trespassing on his property.
Fred then went on to tell me about a 150 pound mountain lion that had been hit by a vehicle in the area. He asked me if I was afraid. I told him I was trying to be aware of my surroundings. He then went on to say that the population of the cats was getting out of hand and that a debate about hunting with a lottery draw was being discussed. The cat he mentioned is on display in the office he works out of. He lifted up his hand and spread out his fingers and said the cat’s paw was the size of his hand. How he expressed his emotions during the story about the cat, showed me he wouldn’t want to be in my hiking boots and come across such a cat. A pleasant time passed talking to Fred about the area and his life.
Eventually, Tom arrived and we headed up the mountain to Mount Laguna. The rest of the day was spent with Tom metal detecting and I of course taking pictures. To say my knee didn’t hurt every evening would be a lie, but it did help to be done with the trail before the day was half over. The slackpacking would be doing my knee good.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” – Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg