Writer's Block

Location: Big Bear Lake, CA

PCT Mile: 266 

The trail seems to have wiped my mind blank...and with it went my previous narrative voice! I am struggling to write a single cohesive story just yet, so for now, enjoy sound bytes from the first week of thru-hiking. I mix grammatical tenses, sentence fragments, and personal pronouns--in many ways, perhaps it is the ideal anecdotal structure for thru-hiking. Time will tell!

Day 1: Surreal


March 19th, 2017. 6:25 am, 200 yards north of the US/Mexico border: "Hi. Yes, Officer...we're looking for the PCT, can you point us in the direction of the starting monument?"

Bemused border patrol agent: "It's right behind you."

Oops. Navigation FAIL. Off to a solid start. Canada here we come??

It stood at the top of a hill, stark against the sunrise. The iconic silhouette couldn't possibly be real. And yet, there it was. And there we were.


Day 2: Ailments


Most beginning hikers worry about blisters, stress fractures, twisted ankles, and extremely sore muscles. Deciding those were all rather blasé injuries, my body instead settled on...tennis (hiker's?) elbow. A combination of ill-fitted hiking poles and a slightly spirited hiking pole owner left my right elbow in agony.

We. JAB. Are. STAB. Going. CLACK. To. CRASH. Canada.

Alrighty then...Ailments, and adjustments. But first: CHILL OUT.

Day 3: Strong.

I feel strong. And it is a false strength. My metabolism, muscles, and mind have not possibly adjusted to this new life yet. Temporarily adapted, maybe, but not adjusted. It is this false strength that can drive people off the trail early with overuse injuries as they push themselves beyond their body's capabilities. Patience, good judgement, and conservative decisions will be the name of the game for a while.

First out of camp this morning at 6:30 am. A section hiker camped nearby was just getting out of their tent and resounded a groggy, but impressed, "Whoa!"  Yes, we're walking. We're walking at 6:30 am. Again. This is so strange.


Early morning hiking is awesome-- beautiful breezy walks in the shade, contouring around the mid-lines of hills, occasionally cutting down and dropping back into valleys. Ridge, valley. Ridge, valley. Water is flowing rather abundantly this year, hills are green, and temperatures are low.

It's not so bad--welcome to the desert!


Day 4: Ice and Snow and Hail, Oh My!

Day 4 dawned with 40 mph gusts and rain. Tents were soaked and partially iced and eyes sleepy, having been up most of the night tossing and turning as rain flys fought to do their job. What's worse? The Pacific Crest Trail had decided to be extra "Cresty" for the next 10+ miles-- exposed ridge walks would have been beautiful in the weather of the past few days, but in 45 degree rain/wind, it would be miserable, and possibly dangerous.

We packed up and headed out during a sunny and calm weather window around noon. And then it started hailing sideways.

Welcome to the desert.

Day 5: Dark

In an apparent mental state of recovery from the previous day's ordeal, my mind did not preserve any recollection of this day. Looking at my topographic maps has not elicited any memories either. The dark desert cold will do that.

Day 6: 20-Miler

IT IS POSSIBLE. Completed my first 20-mile day today and it did wonders for morale. I'm going to go collapse now.

Hiker humor. 

Hiker humor. 

Day 7: Becoming a Thru-Hiker

Though I said I wouldn't be operating on a seven-day week, it just so happens that my first resupply (and first day off) comes seven days in to this journey.

Eagle Rock near Warner Springs, CA. 

Eagle Rock near Warner Springs, CA. 

The day-long approach into town was cruisey-- wide open, rolling, verdant valleys, grass rippling in the breeze. Day hikers milled about, and after being immediately stopped and questioned about thru-hiking by multiple groups, it became incredulously clear: I must look (smell?) like a thru-hiker.

Shade break! 

Shade break! 

With each group I talk to, I feel more qualified and sure of my answers to the same myriad of questions. I'm only approaching Mile 105 on this 2660-mile slog through the wilderness. And yet for the wide-eyed people in front of me--that is somehow enough. Intent and execution, which should be at opposite ends of the spectrum here, have somehow found an intersection in their minds, if not in mine. And that is fun to encounter, to the extent that it keeps at bay the doubts that will continue to linger for several more weeks or even months.

"Are you going all the way to Canada?"

I'm going to try.

Approaching the extreme top and edge of a ridge, I look back at the large expanse of valleys and hills I've traversed over the past several days.  I'm about to descend into a new, unseen area. (I'm also huffing and puffing and inhaling a Clif Bar in this moment, but somehow that just seems to detract from the story here).

"Are you going all the way to Canada?"

Well, that's the plan.

A brand of melancholy I have only associated with moving hits me. It feels like moving, having come to know this valley, this home, step by step, for days. I will "move" hundreds of times over the next four and a half months. People will "move" in and out of my realm too, some lingering for one hi/bye as we pass each other headed opposite ways on trail, others trekking beside me for up to hundreds of miles. Some part of the essence of thru-hiking is contained in this shifting of terrain and people and in this movement through "trail" and "not trail." Time will tell.


"Are you going all the way to Canada?"


Natalie Raia6 Comments