This Is No Desert!

March 22, 2018

The hike begins! I could hardly wait to see southwestern desert with cactus, rattlesnakes, sand, and rocks!

We left San Diego via the 7:30 a.m. trolley ($2.50 per person), which took us to the edge of the city, the El Cajon Transit Center. There we wandered for several minutes, trying to make sense of all the bus stops. Suddenly, I noticed a young man grinning at me. As I smiled back, I saw that he and his companion both had hiker backpacks. The young man, seeing he had caught my attention, gestured us over. “This is it,” he said. “You’re looking for the MTS Rural bus to Campo, right?” And so we met our first two PCT hikers, Lost Dog and Texas Teacher.

Lost Dog, Texas Teacher, and Jay on the bus to Campo!

We just had enough time to use the restroom (50 cents per person) and the bus arrived. The driver was very patient while we juggled packs and money ($10.00 per person). “Hiking the PCT, eh? You’ll be riding all the way to Campo, then.”

Two hours on the bus gave us plenty of time to get acquainted with the other hikers. Lost Dog described himself as a PCT enthusiast. He had hiked most of Oregon and Washington, and this year was set to check off a 350 mile swath of the southern California PCT. Texas Teacher had just finished teaching for eight months in Hong Kong. “I need to breathe some clean air and see a whole lot of wilderness right now,” he told us. “This hike should help me remember what is important in our world.”

We arrived at Campo mid-morning, making a beeline from the bus to the convenience store for a quick treat of chocolate milk. Then it was time to hoist our packs and hike two miles south to the PCT monument marking the southern terminus.

Texas Teacher, being young and long of leg, quickly out-distanced the rest of us. I was still south bound when he came trotting north, having already signed in at the monument.

“It was nice meeting you,” I smiled. “At the rate you’re going, I’ll probably never see you again!”

“Oh!” Texas Teacher paused mid-stride. “Well, God bless!” Then he was gone, full of anticipation to begin his big adventure.

At the monument, Jay and I met Phantom, a PCTA volunteer. We chatted for a few minutes, signed the trail journal, had our picture taken, and started walking north at 11:30 a.m.

We begin!

The day was cloudy and cool, a great temperature for hiking in the desert. As we walked, we saw blue ceanothus in bloom, sending out an intense scent. Pink manzanita bells attracted bees. Fire engine red leguminosae vines climbed among the trees and bushes. Yucca buds stood tall, ready to burst into huge pompoms of white blossoms. The trail climbed up, curving above a green valley with a small lake on one end. As the clouds let loose a few sprinkles, I sighed with happiness to be surrounded by so much beauty.

Blue ceanothus
Manzanita in bloom.

“This is awesome!” I told Jay.

“Yes,” he laughed. “But it sure ain’t no desert!”

Green, green, green!

We hiked for several hours, enjoying the scenery.

One thousandth of the way to Canada!

As evening approached, the trail took us on top of a ridge, with a cold wind whipping across the bushes. We passed Lost Dog wrestling the wind for possession of his tent. Two other hikers were also setting up tents, but it felt too exposed for our comfort.

Finally the trail dipped to the sheltered side of the ridge, leaving the wind whistling above us. I eyed the clouds across the valley as we searched for a flat sheltered spot. Was that really rain under those clouds? Just before the clouds descended, we found the perfect site, a tent-sized circle carved out of the surrounding bushes, with white sand as the ground cover. The tent went up, the rain came down, and we dove inside, happy to lay in dry comfort while water streamed off our tent, soaking into the sand. As I fell asleep to the lullaby of drumming raindrops, I had to agree with Jay. This is no desert!