There are few things that make me wish I had planned an extra day in San Diego more than looking out the airplane window and seeing a pirate ship in the harbor. Alas, I had people to meet, so I added ship commandeering to my list of things to do when I go to Comic Con (someday!!) and headed out to navigate the San Diego terminal.
I had packed my clothes and sleeping bag in a ratty blue tote that I’d meant to give to goodwill. That way, the rest of my things could go in my checked luggage. When I landed in San Diego, I had about fifteen minutes to grab my checked bag, figure out which terminal I was in, and get to “a dog walk with a surrounding hedge,” according to the email from Bob Ries, Trail Angel Extraordinaire.
Bob spends several months each year picking hikers up from the airport, driving them to REI, hosting them in his home and RV, and taking them to the trailhead to start their hike. Basically, he’s brilliant. My friend Wendy had contacted him a few months earlier, and he had graciously allowed us to start with him, which was amazing.
I was, of course, a bit nervous about climbing into a car with someone I’d never met, but the overwhelming amount of people online who had had good experiences made me think he was probably legit. Plus, both of my friends that I was starting with had been with him for a full day before I got there, without any problems. Either he was who he said he was, or there was a massive internet conspiracy against me.
Turns out, he’s just a really nice guy. And he got me out of driving in San Diego, which was a huge blessing. We spent the afternoon going through our packs, trying to cut ounces in preparation for the next day’s hike. I decided to leave half my rope, and some toothpaste. Everything else was definitely essential. Several other hikers were there as well: Yocean, from Taiwan; Miguel, from Mexico; Willem, from Belgium; and my two partners who I’d met on Facebook months ago, but had only just met in real life, Wendy and Jasmine.
We went to dinner at Scout and Frodo’s. They are more ridiculously generous people, hosting dozens of hikers a night and feeding us all dinner. And they do all of this without accepting any donations. They fed us chips and asparagus dip, burritos, and chocolate cake. I was so nervous for the next day I could hardly finish my dinner, and didn’t bother with the cake. As my friends know, if I’m passing on chocolate, I’m having dune serious nerves.
On the way back to Bob’s, we all voted to get to the trail as close to first light as possible. “Perfect,” Bob said, “we leave at 5:15.” Back at his house, we spent another hour going through our packs, shoving six liters of water into them, and getting to know one another before going to bed.
I slept about two hours. I was nervous, I was sharing a bed (I never sleep well sharing beds), and I had Taylor Swift songs stuck in my head. And not soothing T-Swizzle songs either, like “Teardrops on my Guitar.” No, it was “Blank Space.” Catchy, but not conducive to sleep.
And yet, around 4:45, I pulled myself out of bed ready to rock. We had a quiet ride to the monument at Campo, California. We’d added a couple people–an American named Clint and an Australian who I honestly didn’t see once we got to the trailhead. We took pictures at the trailhead, then took then because it was too dark the first time. I will always treasure those photos as the last time my backpacking gear will ever be clean.