We wake 30 minutes past the alarm we set, which never went off. We pack up. I shove all of my extra little things into my hip belt and Fanny pack pockets, and walk down the motel stairs in the dark to our car. I get shotgun and we drive past the shopping center and onto the highway. We listen to “the only classical rock station in San Diego”. The sun is rising and the drive is familiar. I’m nervous. I navigate us to Campo, the sun rising pale orange above fields and ranches and hills covered in green chaparral and studded with granite.
We get briefly turned around in Campo and then we’re driving along the dirt road to the monument. We pass two hikers walking, one with an impressive mane and beard of silver hair.
And then there’s the border wall, corrugated, rusted metal sheeting patched with paint and marked with graffiti. My mom pulls into the parking spots, white sand crunching under our tires. And then I’m out, buckling my fanny pack on and my pack. I lengthen my trekking poles as I head up the washed out path to the monument. I feel like crying. After all I’ve been through this last year I’m here again.
We sign the logbook- there are only two other names down for today so far, one is an ATer. We take a multitude of pictures, the sun shining into us and making us squint, I’m feeling tired and a bit crabby for a bit, and then we walk back down on the PCT. I hug my mom and brother goodbye.
And then Drippy and I walk. We’re about the same speed. The one mile marker. We find a heavy Coleman brand sandal on the trail and pick it up to carry to Morena. Scout and Frodo’s cars come by to drop hikers off at the monument, I see Scout in one. We just beat the crowd! Then walking up and around green bouldery hills, and over train tracks at the 3 mile mark.
We meet the guy with the beard we saw while driving in, an ATer named Oldtimer. It’s warm but not too hot, not as hot as last year, when the breeze couldn’t even alleviate the heat. The burn is greener than last year, and there are more flowers, too. Drippy rolls his ankle and I get ahead, clearing the first big climb onto the bushy plateau. I’m on a roll, and stay ahead. Slowly the Scout and Frodo crowd catch up to me: there’s a dad and young daughter, Mike and Maddie; she’s 17, and peppy and cheerful with a small blue MLD pack. And Sangria and Four Cheese, LASHers doing a section up to Julian. And Taco, who we saw walking with Oldtimer that morning.
My foot is feeling incredible. It’s like the PCT is working some kind of magic on it that has taken the pain and discomfort of my training hikes away. As I descend into Hauser Creek on the road, my feet are achey and sore, but in a normal way, like how they felt last year on the brutally steep descent.
I settle down in the shade with Mike and Maddie and a ATer who’s going to Julian as well named Stretch. She had her fractured sesamoid bone removed and bunion surgery in November, and we commiserate about feet troubles together. Hikers trickle in and Drippy comes- he rolled his ankle again and fell into a bush, ouch- and the shade has moved. We go to another spot with some more hikers. Ziploc comes and I give him a big hug, and I listen to everyone talk and it’s good.
We don’t want to camp in Hauser so after a while we get up and start on the hill- we’re going up another mile or so, and Stretch might join us.
I’m hiking in front of Ziploc when I see a rattlesnake moving to my left. “Rattlesnake!” I quickly back up and maneuver behind Ziploc. It’s pretty big and is just chilling out, so we move around him and wait to tell the hiker behind us. He’s gray and speckled with white dots like stars, and very pretty.
I crest the ridge and find Ziploc and Stretch in a big flat area with some camping spots. I move around a bit to find a spot to cowboy. There’s a lot of cat holes and TP and unburied feces in the back, but I find a clean spot and set up. It’s still bright out and hot, so we sit and talk. Drippy comes in later. The trail’s kicking his butt today so he’s taking it slow. I cook a Mary Janes’ Naked Burrito and hug it to my chest as it cooks in its pouch. The sun is finally lowering- Oldtimer comes up and joins us.
The sun sets a glowing orange ball in the crook of the canyon far off. I stand and watch it and eat my chips. One by one we settle down into our beds.
Today was a good day. I felt good and in shape, and most importantly my foot was kicking ass. It still doesn’t feel real that I’m back and I don’t trust my foot’s sudden turnaround, I really don’t, but I like it a lot. I hope it decides to stay that way. I would like that a very whole lot.