After our first zero day, spent in the small town of Julian, a large desert storm began to bear down on the trail. A thick, cold fog enveloped the town, which was some miles away from the trail and at a higher elevation than Scissors Crossing, a popular trail junction. We hitched out with a local and descended into a desert valley, leaving the clouds and cool temperatures behind.
There were three of us, Indiana and myself, and another hiker, Walking Home, aptly named because her hometown was just a 45 minute drive from the PCT’s Northern Terminus. We got along great, but I felt bad that she had been third wheeling for the past few days so I fiddled with my pack and told her to go on ahead of us.
The trail from Scissors Crossing didn’t hesitate to start ascending, and we climbed up to the ridge line within 2-3 miles. The wind picked up the higher we climbed until it was nearly a constant 20-30 mph with 45 mph gusts.
The trail itself was extremely narrow at this point, and wound in and out of the range, with a mountain to one side and a steep drop to the other. Luckily, the wind was blowing us into the slopes, not the valleys.
We stopped to break at a small campsite and ran into Walking Home again. She’d already been on the trail for two weeks, hampered by persistent foot injuries. She plopped down next to us on a rock and took out her foot massager ball, which she used on her injury whenever she took a break. Probably a good idea.
The wind was so loud, the three of us sat in mostly silence and watched a huge storm front press in over us. A dark gray mass of cloud loomed over the landscape like one of the alien space ships from Independence Day.
We all set out together and walked more of the ridge lines, this time on the edge of the mountain range, and exposed more than ever to the wind. The trail wound in and out of the faces, giving us some shelter from the wind on the inside and a barrage of wind along the outside. Huge gusts welcomed whenever we turned a corner, usually pushing me over until I could get a good footing.
After a few hours, the dark clouds passed over and dispersed into the valleys on the other side of the range and the winds died down. Walking Home found a nice campsite in a valley about 9 miles from town, and we pressed on for a few more miles until we found something of use along the ridge.
Though winds are fun to walk through, a natural roller coaster ride, I remembered how much I was scared of them that night. Apparently the storm hadn’t passed, just the front of it, and the winds returned with lots of rain in the night. The flapping of the rain fly against the tent and the sideways sloping of the poles terrified me and I lay awake through the worst of it.
“It’s so windyyyyyy, I don’t like itttt…” I whined to Nikita.
“Just go to sleep,” he moaned.
The next morning we woke up late, snoozing over two hours past when we wanted to. As we sleepily packed everything away inside the tent, we noticed puddles of water underneath our pads. The combination of wind and rain during the night had ripped off the rain fly on one side and disturbed our tent pad on the ground, pushing water through the bottom seams of our tent.
As we sopped up the water with one ultralight pack towel and a few bandanas, I kept asking how all the water got inside. If a desert rainstorm could do this to our tent, I wondered how we would ever survive the trail in Washington state.
A slow drizzle started to fall as we packed up the tent and rainfly, which were already quite wet, and I worried about our expensive down quilt, still wet and flimsy in places. We got out our rain jackets and waterproof pack covers- far earlier than we ever though we’d need them- and hit the trail.
The conditions seemed to get wetter with each mile. We passed two other hikers throughout the day and exchanged brief unpleasantries about the weather before moving on, too wet and miserable to make acquaintances.
The rain picked up in the afternoon and we walked on, soaked. Suddenly up ahead, in the inside of the switchback was a small laminated paper sign stapled to a wooden post and held up by a pile of rocks. On the trail next to it was the number “100” pieced together with small white rocks pressed into the dirt.
In all caps the sign read:
“CONGRATS” (I hate unnecessary punctuation)
FIRST 100 MILES
26 MORE TIMES
26 more times. We would do this same distance over again, 26 more times until we reached the end of the trail in Canada.
“Let’s take a photo!”
Nikita stopped and looked around, hesitant and annoyed. “With what?”
“Your camera. Get it out!”
“No, I’m not getting it out right now.” He absolutely hated the rain and the day had made him cranky and anxious.
“Come on, this is important. I want a picture of me with the sign.”
“Can we just go?”
I pouted. “No. I want a picture. Fine, I’ll take it myself.” I got out my iPhone and looked for a good angle. “Get close to the sign.”
“Ugh,” he moaned, getting impatient.
“Just get close to it! We need this!”
“Fine!” He took a few steps toward the sign and leaned over slightly.
It would have to do, I snapped a photo and we moved on.
So we hit 100 miles. I expected our first milestone to be different. More fanfare. Instead we barely had time to appreciate it.
My blistered toes were so sore, my rain jacket was freezing cold on my shoulders, and my lightweight pants were soaked and plastered to the front of my legs. This sucks, I thought.
Shortly after we approached the road and came to a small camping area just before, not even questioning whether or not we should stop for a break.
“Let’s just stop here,” Nikita said. I could tell he was over it. The hiker we had passed a few times before was already there, setting up his tent a few yards away.
Nikita found the water nearby and we settled on a flat patch to set up our tent, just a few feet away from where we had put down our packs. As soon as we unloaded our gear to set up, the rain picked up again. Cursing up a storm, we hurried through the motions, hardly any faster than usual because our fingers were nearly frozen and barely workable.
The young hiker who had passed us in the early morning showed up, putting his pack down and looking around, I’m sure assessing whether or not he wanted to stop like the rest of us. He did.
No one said much of anything to each other. We were all too wet to care.
Nikita and I left the wettest items outside and crawled inside the still damp tent, spirits low. I set up our pads and quilt and we crawled inside it, shivering. It took forever to get warm.
Both of us passed out around 4 pm, and woke up again at 8pm long enough to eat some tortillas before falling back to sleep.
The next day was much better, as is usually the case on the trail.
Funnily enough, the two hikers that we met that day on the trail became part of our hiking group for the next several hundred miles. In Big Bear, almost 200 miles after, we talked about the trail and that nasty, wet day.
Even in retrospect, we bonded over the shared experience and having survived it. It had sucked for each of us, and we had all lied inside our equally wet tents that afternoon, wondering why we ever wanted to do this, and wanting to quit. Wanting to quit at mile 100.
Experience trumps mileage on the PCT, every time.