Days 0-3 | mile 41.7 Mount Laguna

After being picked up from the train station by Betty (after midnight), Jono and I are each given a place to stay and driven to Scout and Frodo’s* the next morning. That evening, I’m honored to have a pack shakedown from Scout himself (with a preliminary round from Peppa*). I drop over two pounds in pack weight and am eager to mail it home to my tripod, another stuff sack, and a few books as soon as I can. After a few days on trail one can feel nearly every ounce of weight. I’ll be cutting off any extra length from my pack straps as soon as I can borrow some scissors. The next morning we are driven to the Southern Terminus monument which is right near the border. Around 20 of us crowd around the monument. 

After photos I decide I don’t want to hang around and start out. The first thing I see is a rabbit which makes the trail seem magical. I didn’t realize that the “desert” wasn’t a desert at all but part of the Laguna Mountains, a habitat with lots of chaparral. It’s very green, with plenty of wildflowers and animal activity, especially because of the high amount of rainfall this year. 

The first day is pretty brutal. The temperature rises to 87 and there is rarely any wind. I feel like I’m in a sauna. But it’s gorgeous. At one point I see a French man who had started at the border with us, easily recognizeable by his French red pack. I take a moment to think up a sentence to say to him in French, practicing it under my breath for good measure. After a hello, I go, “C’est magnifique!” and gesture around. We are nearing the top of a small mountain and I think it’s beautiful. He sighs and after a long pause says “it’s hot”. After about a mile of reflecting upon this interaction, I decide that not only did he reject my accent, but I also remember that he lives in the Alps. On a mountain, in the Alps. That makes any of this scenery pale in comparison. At one point, I decide to stop in a patch of shade to take a nap. Thiscauses me to arrive at Hauser Creek much later than the rest of the group, who are setting up camp there. I’ve skipped the hottest part of the day and that’s all that matters. I decide to hike on from the creek and up the mountain to Lake Morena, aka the 20 mile mark. Jono comes with, leading the way, and I’m thankful for his company. Before reaching the top of the 1,200 foot climb, the sun sets, and it’s another 4 miles in the dark to Lake Morena.

What in tarnation?

Day 2 

The next morning we both meet a Scottish trail angel (and veteran thru hiker) named Sherpa* passing out drinks and such at the campground. I take a beer. He takes us to the sign (below) and sends us on our way. 

Jono usually leads the way and I lose sight of him, then I’ll see him in a patch of shade and join him, or hike on, only to stop soon because rest is contagious. Shade is magnetic. This leapfrogging affect happens with most of the people who started from the border on the same day. It’s nice to have friendly faces (and encouraging notes). Life is simple. Over the course of about an hour, about 10 of us take a long break under an overpass for its shade and proximity to water. This is where Jono earns his trail name, Nirvana. It’s the first trail naming I’ve witnessed (see footnotes). He earns it because of his features similar to Kurt Cobain and his laid-back, possibly-enlightened personality. The overpass doesn’t detract from the beauty of the cottonwood forest around.



I only do about 8 miles today, because it’s hot and I’m eager to get to the waterfalls. They are marked on the water report along with the term “swimming hole”. The trail down is sketchy after a long day and clumsy feet, but it’s worth it. It’s beautiful and refreshing. I cowboy camp for the first time, and only wake up to one spider on my mat, along with plenty of dew on my sleeping bag. 

View of swimming.

Ryan arrived first, and got to spend more time basking in the sun.
Ryan and Nirvana
Day 3 mile 41.47

Camped at the Burnt Rancheria campground in Mount Laguna. The name is fitting. My ears are sunburnt. My lips are sunburnt and chapped. My feet have countless blisters that I’m trying my best to drain, dry out, then tape over for walking.

Much- needed trail encouragement left by a fellow traveler.

 I was about 4 miles away from my end goal today when my gait started to alter from the blisters. With a mile to go my feet began to feel like lead, and with half a mile to go everything felt like lead. It still does. It took me about a hour to do that mile. After that, there was a mile roundtrip road walk into the small town of Mount Laguna. I visited the Post Office and the General Store. The first, to send my items nixed by Scout’s shakedown (day 0). The second, to peek in the hiker box*, where someone left dried mangoes and some awesome trail mix, and to buy some more food. I’m enjoying every minute of this, but I really cannot wait for my trail legs.

A hummingbird moth, lit by cellphone light.
A good froggo, lit by two headlamps.

* hikers, and those that help them achieve their goal (commonly called “trail angels”) receive nicknames that usually have a great backstory and make remembering names far easier. Scout and Frodo live in San Diego and will host around 900 thru hikers this year.

A pack shakedown means: someone with either more experience, or an “ultralight” (think: minimalist thru-hiking) mindset will help you decide what weight you really need to be carrying on you back. Postage scales are encouraged.

Hiker boxes are at nearly every town or large campground, and are where hikers can forever ditch that mashed potato mix they’ve been hauling around. Or that extra bandana. In turn, hikers are welcome to take anything they find in them. It’s a good way to pick up some food when on a budget.


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