Mountain Valley Retreat is attending ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero PCT Kick Off). Chery is teaching yoga there and they generously offer to give me a ride. It feels like taking a road trip with friends.
The Kick Off kicks off on a dark note. As I set up my tent in the Lake Morena campground, a SAR helicopter is plucking someone from the hillside. I later learn it was the body of a 19 year old that died from dehydration. The hike is filled with the possibility of danger. It’s unnerving to be so close to this tragedy. That night I have messed-up dreams.
Kick Off is an opportunity to meet fellow hikers, attend talks about snow/water reports and overuse injuries and watch a hiker short film festival, among other things. Select gear vendors also set up booths giving hikers a chance to purchase last minute items. Some hikers decide to get whole new kits. I had started out with a super nifty 16.5oz cuben fiber pack. It claimed to handle loads up to 30 lbs., but my experience was that it pooped out after carrying 22lbs. With all the water I have to carry, 22 lbs. is easily surpassed. So, I have my trusty ULA circuit pack mailed to me. Immediately, the fit is better. There’s a new bounce in my step. ULA have a booth set up at the Kick Off and I bring my pack over to them to ask about an adjustment. They think I need a new pack with different, lady-friendly straps. They hand me one off the table and direct me to transfer my gear into it. I do that and then shoulder it. They adjust it, look at the fit and say “looks good – there you go!” I’m confused. I try to pay. They say “no, it’s more important to us that your ULA pack fits right and feels good.” Now that is some customer service! I feel like I’ve stepped into some alternate universe where people truly care about each other.
Later that night the wind picks up. It’s cold. Then the rain starts. I duck into my tent early, burrowing into my sleeping bag. I assume what I like to call the “snorkel snout” position – pulling the hood tight so that there’s only a hole for me to breath. I feel the warmth returning to my limbs. It beings to pour, with gusts of wind up to 70 mph. I wake at 3am to the sounds of “shit!” then tak, tak, tak “shit!” tak, tak, tak, “shit!” tak, tak, tak as hikers crawl out of their collapsing tents to drive stakes back into the sandy, wet ground. “Let this not happen to me” I think and then WHOOMP! A blast of wind and one of my stakes is ripped from the ground. I dress and go outside. It’s a funny scene of headlamps coming from all directions. People are scampering after run-away tents and those who have given up stream into the campground’s bathroom.
The ground is too wet to hold my stake. I look around. There are no rocks. Then I notice a case of Rolling Rock sitting on the picnic table. Rock enough. I grab it and fit it around the stake. It holds and I retreat back into my tent. The tension is out of the tarp now, so the trekking poles that hold up the tent are just swaying – not really doing their job. I feel like I’m in a dingy made of Jell-O. I sit in my sleeping bag holding the stakes, creating the architecture the tent is lacking. I don’t want to retreat to the bathroom. “I don’t want to be a bathroom person” I repeat to myself as I try to keep my tent from collapsing. Little by little, the wind lets up and I fall asleep. It’s still pouring and windy when I wake. I crawl outside my bedraggled Jell-O ship/wobble tent and survey the wreckage. There are many other casualties, but we’re sailing on in the early morning rain.