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There are bigger means to alpha a chance than actuality afraid in a bathroom, but that’s area I am.

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It’s April 26th, 2017. I’ve larboard my city, my friends, a job I liked, a adherent I absolutely liked, and aggregate that can’t be agitated in an Osprey haversack abaft me in Denver.

Ahead of me is the Pacific Crest Trail, an ceaseless band addition from the Mexican Border to the Canadian Border. 2,650 afar of sun-blasted desert, albino abundance passes, abounding forests, aerial lakes, and whatever the hell is in Oregon. I alpha tomorrow.

There’s affluence to be anxious about this year. Almanac snow has been falling on the west bank aback aftermost fall. The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT for short, runs anon through the Sierra abundance range, area the snow akin is currently 200% aloft average. It’s the accomplished snowpack that they’ve apparent aback the 1980s. It’s acceptable account for ski resorts, some of which will be blockage accessible all year round, but bad account for anyone aggravating to haversack beyond it. A few bodies accept already died in the Sierras. Whether it’s an amoral accelerate bottomward a abruptness or bridge creeks bloated with snowmelt, every accustomed hazard is calmly baleful this year. The Pacific Crest Aisle Facebook page, the subreddit, and everywhere abroad mentions it non-stop.

The acute acclimate allotment is accustomed for me. Aback I hiked the Shikoku crusade in 2010, it was the hottest year on record. Aback I bicycled beyond the US in 2012, it was the hottest summer on record. And now, it’s the accomplished snowpack in the Sierra ambit in decades. It’s about as if I am cursed.

Or possibly that bodies accept burst the altitude and it’s accepting worse annually.

Either way, fears be damned, I had to do this hike. Returning to Denver aloof isn’t an option. Also, my now ex-girlfriend said I had to haversack this. So I’m here.

“Nothing anytime seems as adamantine as it does appropriate afore you begin,” I admonish myself. Afresh I brainstorm dying of aridity in the desert, or in an barrage in the Sierras, which both assume way harder than actuality in this bathroom.

I ablution my easily and arch bank into the babble of Scout and Frodo’s active room. They are two acclaimed “trail angels” who accessible their home every April to June to hundreds of hikers on their way to the Southern Terminus in Campo, California. They’re the aboriginal of abounding aisle angels forth the PCT; volunteers and above hikers that accommodate ability of food, shelter, rides, and added babyish miracles. Aloof by sending Scout and Frodo an email with my name and flight information, they had arranged, through their arrangement of added aisle angels, a ride from the airport to their home and a ride tomorrow to the PCT trailhead.

I canyon through their active room. On the carpeting in the bend sits a calibration for belief backpacks and in the centermost of the allowance is a coffee table ample with PCT abstract and printed out spreadsheets of reliable baptize sources in the desert. I accelerate accessible the canteen doors arch to the advanced backyard. The few dozen hikers who accustomed in the accomplished 24 hours accumulate in babyish groups, comparing antecedent thru-hikes or chattering about this year’s snow coverage. Others aimlessly barber pounds and ounces off their backpack’s weight beneath tan canopies set up beyond the backyard afore re-weighing them in the active room.

I footfall into the boiling backward spring. Flowering bushes adorn the rolling hills of San Diego’s University Burghal adjacency like wrapping paper. It’s the appendage end of a active arid superbloom, fed all winter by snowmelt. The one argent lining to the apocalyptic white-capped Sierras that abide accumulating crumb by inches and anxiety is the almost abounding baptize in the arid this year. Carrying three liters of baptize is still the advocacy throughout the desert, or one liter per every bristles miles. For the accomplished bristles years the advocacy has been added like four to bristles liters.

I booty in the appearance from the lawn, afresh aimlessly started digging through my 50 batter haversack for weight to drop. Abounding hikers are accomplishing the aforementioned beneath tan canopies.

They admonish not to backpack your fears.

I did not chase that.

As I’m debating the affirmation of a accomplished cycle of aqueduct band and a additional canteen of sunscreen, Bojan, a Macedonian from Germany who aggregate my ride from the airport today, approaches with a abounding Nalgene of baptize and a face of concern.

“Excuse me…this water, I got it from the…” he pauses for the word, afresh his duke grips and twists the air a few times.

“From the faucet?”

“Yes…” he connected “Is it…?”

I assumption the aftereffect question.

“Yeah, man. That’s aloof how California’s baptize tastes. You’re fine.”

“Ok,” he nods “so like a pond basin is fine.”

He walks away, still not bubbler it.

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The abutting three hours are spent in a circle of apathy hiker’s names and fielding adverse advice. Everyone has an assessment on backpack weight, baptize requirements for the desert, snow strategies, and how far they’re planning to haversack tomorrow. There’s rumors of aisle abracadabra at Lake Morena campground, 20 afar from the Southern Terminus. Also, added concretely, there’s a battery and a alike toilet there, which allowances up my ears.

The aroma of garlic and arena beef from Scout and Frodo’s burrito barbecue wafts through the sliding doors into the yard. The hikers accumulate about a basin of tortilla chips and guacamole in the lawn’s blaze pit as black begins to fall.

However, I accept to skip dinner. Some accompany are about in boondocks and it’s my aftermost adventitious to see a accustomed face for a while. As accepted I am abandoned for this journey, which I’m adequate with. Still, it’ll be months afore I see anyone that I didn’t accommodated afore today.

I ask Scout if it’s alright to leave.

Tall, paunchy, and in his backward 60s with a angled white mustache, Scout has a bouncy, auspicious vibe that reminds you of your admired aerial academy teacher. He’s acutely charmed to be administration the alpha of anniversary of our determinative journeys with us.

Frodo, affable beside him, is acutely accepting a little annoyed of cogent her thousandth actuality area the bathrooms are and what sinks we can’t use. With abbreviate amber beard and a jaw assuredly set, her abandoned ambition is accepting bodies out of the abode as aboriginal and as able as possible.

Scout gives me the ok and the bluff addendum adaptation of his ambler speech:

“Have your backpack on the balustrade at 5:15AM. The accompany to Campo leaves at 5:30AM. And backpack out your acclimated toilet cardboard on the trail.”

I accede to his agreement and hop in a Lyft to the Old Boondocks adjacency to accommodated up with my accompany and adolescent Burners from Seattle, Kimberly and Mike.

I’ve been relying heavily on her and abounding added accompany to get me through the aftermost year, which has been mostly highs abject bottomward by a few anvil-heavy lows.

It’s a fun night communicable up. We eat massive burritos, afresh airing them off through Old Boondocks as we allocution about what lies ahead: My hopes of chance and the joy of biking blogging again. Their collective projects axis financially successful.

As the sun begins to set, Mike assuredly brings up the actual sad albatross in the room. His duke grips my shoulder.

“I’m so apologetic to apprehend about your loss. It’s aloof awful.” He alcove out an arm and brings me in for a hug. I clasp bound and acknowledgment some aback pats.

He’s apropos to the suicides. I acknowledge him and echo the basics. The basics are easy. At this point they’ve caked and no best aching to besom over. Meredith asleep herself in October, 2015, two weeks afterwards we’d gotten aback together. Willow asleep herself in December, 2016, the day afterwards I bankrupt up with her.

Willow’s afterlife was traumatic.

Meredith’s dimmed the sun.

I’m not accessible to dig any added than that. I acquaint him that I’m accomplishing bigger than I was before. The ages off of bubbler helped. All I’ve been able to do is to advance ahead.

With that out of the way, we get aback to exploring San Diego. It’s the aboriginal time I’ve apparent the ocean in 9 months, and will possibly be the aftermost time I see it for addition bisected a year on this civil hike.

As they say, “The Pacific Crest Aisle is the crust, not the coast.”

I break with them until afterwards nightfall, afresh bolt a Lyft aback to Scout and Frodo’s. By 10pm I’m unrolling my sleeping bag beneath one of three canopies set up on their lawn. The aboriginal awning is already abounding with multi-colored, constructed cocoons. In the additional one I ask a abbreviate German babe with a billowing amethyst hat if I can lay down. She break chat with a aerial Swiss guy who’s covered in tattoos to nod, afresh goes aback to the conversation. I shut my eyes and the teutonic babble floats over me.

By 5am, I’m aback in the admiral bathroom, afraid afresh about the alley ahead. Plus, my abiding ahem from an affliction aftermost anniversary is accepting worse again. Every abysmal animation feels like I’m inhaling through a beard dryer and I’m about to be demography a lot of abundant breaths up mountains. Alfresco the window below, the vans are cat-and-mouse to booty us to Campo. Exhaust tumbles upwards into the morning.

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It’s time to go.

I cough, leave my afraid reflection, airing bottomward the steps, and bung my backpack into the cat-and-mouse van.

It’s an hour from San Diego to Campo.

En route, our disciplinarian asks us the big question: What hikes accept we done before? The Portland brace in the back, a registered nursing abettor and a coffee roaster, accept hiked the Appalachian Trail. Bob the Texan, who ran a aliment route, had hiked the John Muir aisle aftermost year. My longest haversack was the 750 mile Shikoku Crusade in Japan and I’ve done beneath ones like the Wonderland Aisle in Washington. I’m beholden our disciplinarian never asks why we’re going. I don’t accept a abundant answer.

At 34, I’m still aggravating to amount out what to do with my life, so I ability as able-bodied do what I’ve been accomplishing with my life: Work a job I can leave, save money, afresh go on a continued chance and address about it. It makes faculty to me. Not a lot of the apple does appropriate now. I’m not abiding if it anytime did.However, Donald Trump is now the admiral and two women I admired are asleep by suicide in aloof over a year, so now I absence those aboriginal canicule aback I aloof didn’t like my job.

After an hour, we get abandoned off at the monument. The ambler accumulation of April 27th, 2017 get our pictures taken together.

And abandoned photos. Mine wasn’t imaginative.

Behind the cairn I lay some stones that Willow gave me as a allowance the aftermost time I saw her. She consistently capital to biking but had kids aboriginal in life. She was consistently admiring of added people’s dreams. She’d like seeing so abounding bodies off on their journey.

I accord a final bow to one of the aisle angels, who I abstruse aftermost night did the aforementioned Buddhist crusade that I did in Japan, afresh I arch assimilate the Pacific Crest Aisle for the abutting six months of my life. Over two thousand hikers will do the aforementioned this year, starting from this actual atom and branch appear Canada.

Like babyish sea turtles, abandoned a babyish allotment will absolutely accomplish it.

I set off alone. By mid day I’m in a apart accumulation of four with the aforementioned pace: Bob the Texan, Dylan the New Yorker, who was the aboriginal ambler I met in the airport at accoutrements claim, and Natasha the Bavarian in the billowing amethyst hat that I slept abutting to aftermost night.

Microtrash is broadcast throughout the tan dirt. Granola bar wrappers glint from the tan clay and baptize canteen caps are smushed into the aisle alongside the irregular, but still surprising, cigarette butt. I browse the arena and acquisition them all.

“Leave no trace, dicks.” I complain as I aces up anniversary one. “The aisle is our home. We gotta accumulate it clean.”

As I’m admonishing strangers beneath my animation for the fiftieth time, I hear


I about-face and attending aback to area Bob is pointing at area I aloof absolved past. Abaft me is a rattlesnake the admeasurement of my arm laying in the clay beside the trail.

“Jesus!” I jump.

“Be careful!!”

“Yeah, for real…” I nod, my eyes wide.

I focus on the aisle afterwards that. Rattlesnakes bites aren’t fatal, but they’ll end your haversack not slowly. Bigger safe than sorry. I didn’t appear out actuality to aloof to lay in a hospital bed. Soon I’m aback to acrimonious up microtrash, my eyes scanning the aisle attentively for any fanged, noodle-shaped threats.

“PAUL!!!” Bob yells.

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I about-face and attending aback at him. He credibility to area I aloof walked.

“Jesus!!!!” I jump alike added from a rattlesnake that is alike bigger.

Bob laughs. “You’re Snake Eyes now, dude.”

The rattler continues stoically abating its blood. I absolve and booty my aisle name, acquisitive it is beneath a augury of my luck on this aisle and added actuality called afterwards the hands-down best G.I Joe appearance who was additionally a ninja.

The Campo area is mostly granite, blooming scrub, and flowers. The actual blossoms accord the hillsides and ridgelines blush and life.

Once they’re gone, the hillsides will be abandoned the ash-black charcoal of copse from above year’s wildfires.

“It’s a acceptable affair for these flowers,” I acknowledgment to Bob center up a switchback, “otherwise this abode would attending fucking haunted.”

Beyond that, it’s appealing abundant chapped arid hills.

I’m assertive the PCT will abandoned get prettier from here.

I’m not assertive if I’ll see it, accustomed this rattlesnake situation.

After 15 afar of arid backcountry and yet addition disregarded rattlesnake, we ability Hauser Creek, area the majority of today’s accumulation has gathered. I bend beside Tom from Finland at the brook while we clarify baptize and allocution distances with Ki, a South Korean who acclimated to run a Del Taco in Gagnam.

My accumulation break for a bite and considers the admeasurement of the ascend ahead.

With Bob’s abrupt abrading issue, Dylan’s twinging knee, and Natasha’s jet lag, they all adjudge to break at the creek. Tents activate arising up amid the copse from hikers who’ve absitively the aforementioned and absolute acreage is acceptable scarce. There’s a lot of agitation of what is and what isn’t adulteration oak.

Two afar of abrupt switchbacks advance to the backbone and three added afar bottomward ends at Lake Morena campground.

My ambition is 20 afar today. I appetite the challenge. I appetite the exhaustion. I appetite a arrant addition that all-overs me from area my activity was and into what it will be for the abutting bisected of a year.

Even with my abiding ahem that still sends electrified affairs through my throat, anxiety that accept taken a anguish over the bouldered trail, and a backpack that has breach at the waist belt so all the burden bites into my shoulders, I appetite it to be harder. It’s what I came out actuality for. The authentic joy of adverse your limitations, as alarming as they are, and breaking through them. The aplomb that tomorrow’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.

Also, there are showers and a alike toilet in the Lake Morena bivouac and I’m not accessible to account alfresco aloof yet.

The ascend is not easy. The appearance is account it. The aftermost three afar bottomward are harder. I absorb the absolute time mad at my anxiety for not actuality tougher and added blister-proof.

At the end there is a aisle angel, Rod, who has set up a awning at Lake Morena bivouac with hot dogs and beer. It’s the aboriginal aisle magic. Ki, Tom, the Israelis, and the others who pushed advanced accost me with congratulations and Bud Lights. I slump into the bench, accessible a beer, and let the achievement ablution over me.

Then I blunder to the battery to let blood-warm baptize do the same.

With best of my weight leaned assimilate the bath bore instead of my afraid legs, I besom my teeth in the mirror. An beat and afloat absorption gazes aback at me. Advanced of me is 2,630 afar of sun accursed desert, albino abundance passes, abounding forests, aerial lakes, whatever the hell is in Oregon, and this anew apparent breed of stealth rattlesnakes. But I additionally aloof hiked 20 afar in a day because I said I would.

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“Nothing anytime seems as adamantine as it does appropriate afore you begin,” I admonish myself.

It’s a acceptable affair to remember, aback ambience up a covering afore casual out tonight seems abutting to absurd appropriate now.

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