Why are you going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? A short story to answer one of the most asked questions.
The day everything changed was not how I would have imagined it. I turned and opened my eyes, a quick glance out the window promised a sunny day. When my head propped back on the pillow I started yawning and stretching my legs. I grabbed my phone turning to the other side of the bed and noticed, it was already 10:30am. Like most other weekends I put on my pants, took my keys and headed out on the street.
There are three Starbucks about the same distance from my apartment, but over time I started to favor the one at Fox Plaza. It’s the biggest of the three and allows me to sit down and read if I want to. That morning I wasn’t too much focused on reading. While walking over I had the idea of making this my “Half-marathon Challenge Day”.
A few weeks prior I spent a whole afternoon walking around San Francisco. From Civic Center to Alamo Square and further north to Baker Street and Chrissy Fields. I was walking along the little harbor and the beach over to Golden Gate Bridge. Feeling a little adventurous I took the stairs up and the trail to the other side. Still feeling pretty good I decided to walk home through the Presidio with a quick stop Golden Gate Park.
My Garmin watch recorded the route, a good 12 miles in total. “What an accomplishment.” I thought being really proud of myself. During the week I talked to some people at the office about it and showed them some pictures. I can’t remember who it was, but someone pointed out to me that I almost walked a half-marathon. That, of course, was reason enough for me to start thinking about doing it for real and hiking at least 14 miles the next time.
“Today is the day.” I said to myself while sipping on my coffee. I took out my phone and opened Google Maps. Roughly knowing which route I was going to take, I thought about it a lot lately. First stop Golden Gate Park then the bridge and over to the Marin Headlands. The light house out there was next and then quickly back to Sausalito so I could take the ferry back to San Francisco. I calculated a total of 20 miles for this trip taking 5 hours if I could keep my pace of 4 miles an hour like last time.
The feeling of excitement started rising in my body when I asked for a refill. I picked up the coffee, added some cream and left. On the way home I popped into Walgreens for a couple of waters. I would just refill the 1 liter bottle I still had at home In addition. Two and a half liters should be more than enough, I figured. As soon as I got back I quickly grabbed my backpack, put the water and a wind breaker inside and changed my clothes. Earbuds connected and music on. As a last touch I put on my sunglasses, jumped into my Nike running shoes and went out the door.
It was around noon when I left and it only took me an hour before I posted the first picture of the waterfall in Golden Gate Park on Snapchat. It showed my speed at a perfect 3.6 miles per hour, taking a picture while walking arguably slowed me down a little bit. At just about the same time very subtle but noticeable I felt my hip starting to ache. Not painful just yet but I felt something was going on.
Finally Golden Gate Bridge in sight a few miles down the road. To update my almost non existent Snapchat following I took another picture. This time I captioned it “2. milestone GG bridge”.
I never knew how much of a challenge it could be to walk across this bridge. The last time I got this frustrated with tourists was back when I lived in Hollywood and had to dodge people suddenly stopping and taking pictures of the stars on the sidewalk. All I wanted, was to get to the other side and keep my tempo, but there was no chance with the amount of strollers in front of me. Imagining lanes I switched from one side to the other trying not to bump into anyone. With some luck and great coordination I made it across only losing mere minutes.
Everything started to hurt while hiking the incline up to Hawk Hill, but thankfully not everything at the same time. Off and on I could still feel my hip. Now my feet started burning as well. Stopping wasn’t an option having this tight of a schedule. So I sucked it up and moved on.
On the other side of Hawk Hill I finally hit my half way point at 11 miles and stopped for a short break. My first cigarette since I started on this hike. The sun was burning down and there was no shade in sight so I continued walking moments later. Over the last few miles my left foot started to feel weird. It felt almost like my sock was chafing on the ball of my foot. Just to make sure I took off my shoe and pulled up the sock properly. Sadly it didn’t help so I decided to just ignore it.
A few miles down the road I looked at my watch, it was starting to get late and in order for me to get to the ferry I needed to either speed up even more or cut something. While I would have loved to see the light house I made the decision to change my route and headed towards the trails in the headlands. So far I was still hiking on the paved roads.
The map I had put on my Garmin watch seemed to be easy hike as long as there were streets to follow but how did it fair with trails? The first issue arose with figuring out how to get on the trail. With a display the height of about two of my fingers and a width of one and a half, the resolution is fairly limited. So I totally missed the entry to the trail and ended up on a big parking lot.
Not having had any food started to take a toll on me. So when I saw the bench at a different trail head I just had to take a break. No reception, and no idea how to read my watch correctly I was faced with a decision. Either I walk along the street back to Sausalito, or I take my chances with the trail and try to find my way back to the line it showed on my watch. After a good twenty minute break I took my chances and started off on the trail.
Constantly focused on my watch I realized I walked further and further away from the line I was supposed to be on. So when the trail finally turned parallel to the line a gush of relieve ran through my body. Shortly after I noticed a trail fork ahead, one of them finally heading towards the line on my watch. “That’s it” I thought and headed straight towards it. I finally got back to my original trail.
Deep in my thoughts I was trekking along. At first thinking about my mom and my sister, both of them were in Israel at the time. My relationship with them had become estranged especially since I moved thousands of miles away. While I would regularly call my mom we never really talked about anything meaningful. She would tell me about her latest trips and how the rest of the family was doing. And I would tell her a little bit about work and how I was doing. Those phone calls were even less exciting than when I first moved and made her my accountability person on my weight loss.
But while I was walking along I thought of them and started to wonder if they were still in Israel. My mind turned dark and I feared they might have been taken. Thoughts in my head started to go crazy and I came up with rescue scenarios and how I would have to take off and rescue them. Not long after I started to fear for my immediate safety and imagined bobcats attacking me.
All over sudden I was alone on the trail. Up until an hour ago I was surrounded by people but I haven’t seen single person on this trail since then. Wondering if I was still on the right path I kept on checking my watch every few minutes. Slowly but surely it started to get dark. The sun was still lighting up the horizon and it was definitely still enough to see. But I had to hurry. My phone was still without reception and there was no way to verify my where I was. Based on my watch I was on the right track but how much further did I have to go?
It was very comforting when I made it to the top and heard the first human being in what I thought was hours. From up there I could also see the lights of the city and knew I was on my way back home. But I had to get to the ferry first. So I made my way through the woods, natural stairs down to the street.
My lower core hurt with every step and all I could do to ease the pain a little was applying pressure. It must have looked so funny and I probably would have laughed about myself but instead I just winced. Back in civilization my phone finally got signal and quickly I checked the ferry schedule to see I had 15 minutes to make it down to the dock. It took everything I had left in me to speed up and make the ferry back home.
At the very last minute, I boarded the ferry and even got a seat, boxed in by bicycles but happy. On one hand it was the most soothing seat on the other hand I barely was able to keep it together. From head to toe my whole body started revolting. A grueling 5 and a half hour cardio workout was the last thing my body expected.
Agonizing pain that’s what I remember about the Sunday after. I did not get out of bed all day, because I was simply not able to move. It hurt too much. I switched on the computer and tried to fall asleep again while spacing out on Netflix.
Monday wasn’t much better but I had to go to work so I picked myself up and hobbled to the bathroom for a shower. The throbbing pain, a constant reminder of walking 18+ miles, with every step I took. A sense of accomplishment came over me and I held my head high while limping into the office. At lunch time I went to Walgreens to get some patches for my blisters. But when I took off my sock to stick on the Compeed patch, I realized it was one big blister covering the ball of my foot.
Still it was an exhilarating feeling to master my mind, my body and pull off something I had never imagined. Longer and more difficult, was the premise for my next goal and while I started to research hiking boots I found a video on YouTube. Homemade Wanderlust explained why she switched from hiking boots to trail runners. She started out hiking the Appalachian Trail in boots and switch over to trail runners because plantar fasciitis (heel pain). Hearing about the AT intrigued me.
Over the next few weeks I started looking into the AT and shared my findings with friends and co-workers. I watched the movie “A Walk in the Woods” and felt a strong urge to make this my next project. Hiking the full length of 2160 miles. Shortly after I started delving into all the information I could find about the AT, a friend told me about the Pacific Crest Trail. Not only longer but also more scenic and closer to home was a promising. Still uncommitted the fascination of hiking 2650 miles started to grab a strong hold of me. While I was in Austria over Christmas I talked to my family about it and got a lot of support.
By the time I got back to San Francisco my decision was made, I was going to hike the PCT. And ever since then everything just seems to be falling into place. I embarked on my Walk of Growth!
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