Waking up in my tent I felt the familiar pit in my stomach like before every backcountry hiking trip. But this was kinda different. I can’t do this. I’m not sure I want to do this, what if something goes wrong, breaks, hurts……When did I become this person. Oh yeah it came with my cancer diagnosis. Side effects: Fear and self-doubt.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. After my surgery I didn’t do much of anything. What could I do? What was I supposed to do? So I spent days dreaming about getting back to hiking and my life in general. Knowing I needed to start out slow I latched onto an old idea of hiking the Trans Catalina Trail.
The trail runs along Catalina Island, which is 22 miles off the coast of Southern California. (trail distance 38.5 miles), Planning and getting there is an adventure in itself, and part of why I’ve always put it off. There are reservations for campsites and a 60-90 minute boat ride via the Catalina Express. (oh and if you happen to mess up and book your campsite on the wrong day they charge you $9.00 to cancel! Tourist trap.) After getting thoroughly ripped off it was time to pull together some gear.
My pack, shoes and sleeping system is alway at the ready, cuz you never know. But I needed to get some new trekking poles and I had to borrow a tent from a friend. I was gonna purchase a new tent but the fearful,doubting voice in my head was all “what if it goes badly, you never backpack again and you’re stuck with a tent you’ll never use again”. I was listening to the voice.
So on Monday I drove up to Dana Point to catch the ferry. By the time I got on the afternoon ferry lugging my heavy pack I was tired and slept the whole boat ride. After a quick bite to eat (two bites of a grilled cheese, I can’t eat much in one setting anymore. This was a concern knowing the calories I’d burn hiking) I walked sweating to the first campsite. Finding my spot quickly, I threw up my tent, crawled in as if I could hide. It was still light out.
The pit in my stomach only highlighted my lack of appetite. Oh well, I popped my meds (a new addition to my gear list). I packed early/quickly before I talked myself into going right back to the ferry. The climbing started straight away. It really sucked when people started passing me. The voice in my head was singing a different tune “no worries, we have all day”. I drank more water….if I couldn’t bring myself to eat at least I could be hydrated.
There was a lot of, well, stopping and resting. It’s an exposed trail with endless ups and downs. I wasn’t moving much faster than the first buffalo I saw on a hilltop. Super happy to finally make my campsite (Backpackers can stay at four campgrounds along the way, each with bathrooms and running water.) I tried to force down a dehydrated meal, but it didn’t go down well. Eventually I just ended up eating ramen with two flavor packs. I needed the salt desperately for the cramps in my legs.
Sure it’s been awhile since I did a multiday hike. But you would have thought this was my first time. Waking to a thick layer of fog and cool drizzle it dawned on me I didn’t even pack a rain jacket or even long sleeves! But I live in the desert, whats rain? Looking at the elevation for the day I said screw it, popped my meds and I started hiking in the drizzle. The drizzle soon ended but the overcast sky made for a much cooler hike! A very nice ranger gifted me some water, I needed it. Later, at one point I rounded a corner, I came upon two bison one coming right towards me, one lolling on the hillside. I stopped. The buffalo, with huge a head, shaggy beard and sharp horns, stared at me. I took some steps back. There is currently a herd of about 160 on the island. Having hunted bison, back in my hunting phase, I wasn’t too scared.
Expecting to get into Two Harbors after 5, fueled by Skittles I made it by 3pm! Yah me! But I was hella tired and some how missed the campsite by a 1/4 mile.
As I dragged myself to the local store I heard someone call in my direction. Odd. I turned and a you guy approached. He told me he followed me on IG and had hiked the PCT. I rarely meet people like that. Our chat was short, but his kind words and generosity meant so much. Thanks Branden. In an era of diversity inclusion and rasied tensions more people have helped me than tried to hurt me. That has been my outdoor experience.
I would have love to beach camp at Parson’s Landing, but everyone does and it was full. So I did some eplorative hiking and then beat it back to catch the shuttle boat then hop on the ferry. All in all It is was a tough challenging time but that is how we grow the most. My faith (in my abilities) was not completely restored and many adaptations are necessary to hike in my current state. But I’m not giving up or giving in. The fear, doubt and cancer will not win.