Normally, my alarm clock, currently set to the song “Africa,” never makes it past the subtle intro before I wake up, but this particular morning, There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do/ I bless the rains down in Africa jolted me from my dream. Soon, Jo (my mom) and I were sitting in our rental convertible, our day packs in the trunk, the roof down and appreciating San Diego’s early morning sunshine. We were heading to ~77miles from the Mexican border on the Pacific Crest Trail to see if we could catch the end of the wildflower bloom. The night before, someone had told us it happened a week ago and there was likely nothing to see, yet we were hopeful and counting on some late bloomers to decorate the trail.
You’ve always been crazy, this is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself. ~Thelma & Louise
Driving down winding roads, the radio alternating between hearty choruses we could sing along to and sizzling static, I yelled out directions over the wind from the open top of the convertible. Jo turned to me and smiled, Danielle, we are Thelma and Louising it! I looked at her quite confused. No way, you have never seen that? She was surprised. It’s these two girls who get into trouble and cannot prove they are innocent so live life on the run in a convertible, encountering exciting adventures as they go, she generously explained to me. Oh, I said smiling, I guess I will have to watch it. Other than the fact that we were two girls in a convertible and going on what could be seen as an adventure, a short day-hike, I really did not see the similarities. We had found cheap plane tickets to San Diego and took the extra bed in my dad’s hotel room while he attended a conference, so no fancy trouble-making for us to start our adventure quite unlike Thelma and Louise’s story as I am told. Anyway, here we were and Jo’s main goal was to have some fun and mine was to get a sneak preview of the PCT before hiking it in May. So, for today we are Thelma and Louise.
Let’s keep goin’! What d’you mean? …Go. ~Thelma & Louise
About 17 miles from the town of Julian at Scissor Crossing we met up with the PCT and turned heading North. It was an uphill climb we had read would bring us over 700 feet of elevation gain in two miles, but the bends of the switchbacks and easy tread made it feel nothing of the sort. It felt rather like a walk in the park, but unlike any park in San Francisco, desert wildflowers and plants lined the edges of the trail. With the temperatures around the mid 60s Fahrenheit it was much more pleasant than I had imagined desert hiking would be. Not long after starting the trail we ran into our first thru-hiker. He was about 7 or 8 days from the start of his hike and was planning on hiking to Canada. He said that so far all the water sources were running, even ones listed in resources as sometimes dry, which is great news for hiking the desert section (DO NOT depend on this information when planning your hike, be sure you have enough water). A lot may change though before I reach those same sources about a month later. He joked, you might catch me on the trail if I hike really slow. We all smiled and then continued our hikes.
I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now? ~Thelma & Louise
We were in continuous awe of the flowers and the landscape, but struggled to come up with any of their names. There’s another pink one and Oh! Look at that yellow, we yelled instead. As we walked, tails of lizards streaked out of sight across the trail before we could see them, but a Darkling beetle was not so fast and we got to watch its sleek black body navigate the rocky ground in its quest for shade. We too, eventually followed suit and stopped for lunch in a shady spot, but not before Jo had checked all the rock crevasses for rattlesnakes. As we were eating, the wind
picked up, which made the temperatures even more pleasant. We decided to keep hiking past our original planned turn around point because it was so nice, but eventually it was time to turn back. Turning back meant taking photos, as we had made an agreement not to take more than a couple photos on the way up as to not slow us down. Unfortunately, the wind made keeping the camera from shaking more challenging and catching the wildflowers in stillness was rare.
The trail was full of life, most likely thanks to all the heavy snows and rain fall this year, but not everything was so lucky. Amid the vibrant colors, cacti teeming with stored water, gorged succulents and supple wildflowers whipping in the wind, were the skeletons of those less fortunate. I had never seen a skeleton of a cacti before, so it was quite cool to see and elucidated some of how cacti get their structure. The skeletons seemed so fragile unlike their sturdy, spiked living counterparts. Making our way down the last hill, our convertible was visible below us. We passed two more hikers, also men and a touch less friendly than the first, but we reasoned it was because it was getting late in the day and all of us had places further along the trail to be. Rounding our last switch back, we made our way over to the car. I still wanted to check out the Southern Terminus, where I will start my hike about a month from now, before it got dark.
You said you and me was gonna get outta town and, for once, just really let our hair down. Well, darlin’, look out, ’cause my hair is comin’ down! ~ Thelma & Louise
We drove the longer way passing through the trail town of Julian, a possible resupply point for me during my hike. A boy stood on the ladder outside of a sizable grocery store tethering up a sign saying, We Welcome PCT Hikers. Other places just touted their fresh pies and good beers, which seemed it would be equally inviting to the hikers. Then we turned south and began heading for Mexico. At this point we had plugged Jo’s phone into the car and had replaced the hit-or-miss radio with songs she did not even know she owned. We sang as loud as we could and still could not hear ourselves because of the wind, as (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and Bridge Over Troubled Water flew through the speakers.
You get what you settle for. ~Thelma & Louise
After pulling into a gas station beside a border patrol truck in Campo, we headed down the now dirt roads to the border. Jo turns to look at me with a smile that reads half excitement and half anxiety. I turn down the music a bit to hear her say with a half laugh, You know we can’t take this car to Mexico. It’s not in the rental agreement? I ask and we both laugh and secretly wonder if it would be possible to accidentally cross over into Mexico. In a couple more turns we have our answer. No, it was not.
Despite all this talk of building a wall between the United States and Mexico, where we stood there already was a wall. Admittedly it was not three-feet thick, but a wall it was. We stood looking at the wall that stretched as far as we could see and realizing that this might be the last bit of time without an even greater barrier between these two countries. It was hard to not think of all the other divisions between people that have filled this year.
Here we had come to see the start of the PCT, a trail often described as a vehicle of escape from things happening in the world. Though we PCT hikers may not realize it, we hike alongside, immigrants and while people fuss over and worry about PCT hikers trekking through the desert, these immigrants are usually far less resourced. Though we PCT hikers may not realize it, we trek our way through property battles and land-use feuds. Though we PCT hikers may not realize it, every inch of this trail and every living thing on it is being affected by the changes our climate is experiencing due to human activity.
I turned my back to the border and walked to the PCT Southern Terminus, realizing for the first time that the PCT does not have to be an escape from what is happening, but instead a chance to notice it.
You’re not gonna give up on me, are ya? ~ Thelma & Louise
Seeing the marker of the PCT Southern Terminus, was perhaps unreasonably exciting. It is nothing more than some cement pillars with information written on them and a trail register. This however, is where I will be starting my hike and I could already sense how giddy I will feel.
We met a hiker who is planning on hiking to Kennedy Meadows. He was even more of a window into the nervous excitement of the first day as he chatted to us with a conversation clip that seemed to be about double his normal speed. We walked down the trail a bit and when we came back he was sorting through his entire bag to find something. Jo looked at me, it’s crucial to be organized she reminded me. It may be important to note that despite going on this trip with my mom, she does not “officially approve” of my decision to hike the PCT. It is rather comical though because she tries so hard not to support it, but loves to help people so ends up giving me suggestions anyway. I think she will come around. As one of my best friends aptly put it, Danielle, your parents are horrible! They are SO supportive, they are just always two months late to get onboard with anything!
Deciding to hike the PCT and starting my preparations has not exactly been smooth sailing for me either. I was sure I was going to do it, then had doubts and then got my permit and recommitted to doing it. I keep getting caught up in worries about doing things the “right way” or the “best way” and wondering whether I can do it. Other days, whether I feel strong, sure of my decisions or happy after a training hike I am confident. On this particular day, the trail seemed so beautiful, so friendly, and so important I felt ready to go. Never mind, that I do not yet have my pack, sleeping mat, raincoat or food.
Another hiker was just getting ready to start off. I watched him as he accidentally tried zipping the wrong leg of his zip off bottoms onto the wrong side of his shorts. I can do this, I thought to myself.
These are just people going on a long walk and I am a person who loves to walk.
No matter what happens, I’m glad I came with you. ~ Thelma & Louise
- Thank you so much for the trip Jo and for the amazing hike! I will surely remember it at mile 77 and think back to our beautiful day full of wildflowers.
- Want to do our hike? Check it out at: San Diego Reader: San Felipe Hills.