The First Days

(Originally titled “The First 20”, but there isn’t any cell phone coverage at mile 20.  Well, except for Jen’s cheapie pre-paid phone, which is working like a champ).

We started our thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) just after 7am on Sunday, April 12th, 2015.


The trail was going to be a challenge straight from the start.  It would be 20 miles to the next reliable water source.  Since we weren’t going to make it there the first day, we would have to carry extra water.  We started off with 7 liters each (about 15.5lbs), which made the packs even heavier than they would normally be.

Thankfully it was a cool, dry morning. Perfect for hiking. Quite a few others showed up at the trailhead and many others passed us through the day.  We didn’t keep track of how many, but we saw a couple of dozen.  That’s quite a few less than the 50 permits issued for the day.

It was a day of slow going, working up and down the hills, in and out of the shade.  The temperature approached 80, but it never felt too hot, especially when the breeze kicked in.


It was an afternoon of looking at flowers, plants and rocks. We saw a rock formation that reminded us of the migration scene in the movie “Ice Age”, which prompted the song that the vultures sang over the long line of animals – “food, glorious food”. That prompted a snack break.

At our breaks we change out our socks and look over our feet.  Even just a few miles in, some folks were already having foot issues. But we’re good, thanks to our combination of wool toe socks (Injinji for Bill, Smartwool for Jen) under a thin pair of wool Darn Tough socks.

Darn Tough is one of our very generous sponsors for this hike.

One of our favorite moments of the day was cresting a ridgeline and getting the cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean (some 40 miles west of here) in our face.  Not for the cooling effect, but for the sudden blast of sweetness from the field of blooming lilacs.  It was so good that it stopped us in our tracks.  A few good whiffs and the wind shifted, so we moved on, only to be surprised a few more times in the next mile or two.

We got into camp about an hour before sunrise, which was enough time to quietly set up.  Space was limited as others had already staked out their spot and we’re asleep.  It was a long day for everyone.

But the one thing looming over us was the first climb, which we got to stare at as we descended into our campsite.  It’s in this picture, starting lower right and climbing along those switchbacks.


Day 1 – 15.3 miles.

Day 2 started a bit slow for us. We just didn’t have our routine together yet. That, along with the knowledge that we had a short 5-mile day ahead of us took the urgency out of the morning. So by the time we got on that climb, it was fully in the sun.  Although it was a cool morning, the sun was still beating down.

Even Lake Morena is suffering.  The ranger tells me that it’s at 3.5% capacity right now.


We got into Lake Morena a little bit before noon, found a shady campsite, got everything set up and started relaxing.

Why such a short day?  Letting our bodies adapt to what we’re doing.  Many hikers make it to Lake Morena the first day.  They may have different goals or a tighter timeline.  But even on our schedule, we’ll make it onto the mountains by the end of May, which is a few weeks earlier than we should be if this year’s snowfall had been normal.

We call a day like this a “nero”.  It’s not a zero day, where we don’t get any miles in, but a day short enough in the overall sense that it’s nearly zero.  Nero’s are handy for rest days like this or keeping resupply stops cheaper.

On those days we’ll camp a few miles out of town, hike in to resupply and do errands, then hike a few miles out of town to camp for the night.  Cheaper than a hotel room and it keeps us moving forward.

Our average for this week is 10 miles per day (mpd) [16kmpd].  Next week it will be just under 12 mpd (19kmpd). We’ll slowly be ramping up our daily mileage until we are averaging 21 mpd (35 kmpd) going into the mountains.

The most important thing we can be doing right now is focusing on recovery and making sure we are well hydrated. Sure, we could try hammering out 20 miles each day, but our bodies wouldn’t have a chance to recover and adapt. That’s one thing I learned during my many years of running, riding and triathlon shenanigans.  So for now we stay focused on this process.  There will be plenty of time in Northern California, Oregon and Washington to crank out those 25-30 mpd weeks.

Until then, we’ll stick with Jen’s mantra – “Slow and steady wins the race”.

Day 2 – 4.7 miles.


6 thoughts on “The First Days”

  1. So happy to hear how you all are doing. Inspiring! Have hiked, but never stayed overnight on a trail. We plan to this summer in Colorado. Building up for PCT? Maybe. We will see. Be safe and keep us all posted! Thank you!

  2. Keep it going. I’ve wanted to hike the AT for years but I’m chicken. Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells. I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures.

    1. No need to be chicken. There are huge support groups, on and off the trail, physical and virtual.

      But even if that’s too daunting, weekend and section hikes are just as good.

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