Before I get to the hike itself, let me give a little background on exactly how I ended up on this hike to begin with. At some point leading up to my 2021 CDT hike I came across Thru-r. Thru-r was created by a thru hiker (“Cheer”) who at that time had completed the PCT (she has since completed the CDT, and is hiking the AT this year) and wanted a way to extend the community found on trail into “normal life.” Leading up to my CDT hike, Thru-r was a great way to hear stories and advice from people who had completed thru hikes, and after my CDT hike it has been a great way to keep in touch with fellow thru hikers.
In late 2022, Cheer announced she was going to organize a group hike of the Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) for Thru-r members. Normally my two backpacking trips for the year would be in the Rockies (one with my brother and one solo), and participating in the TCT hike would mean cutting my solo Rocky Mountain backpacking trip, but the TCT hike seemed like it would be a lot of fun, so I went ahead and signed up for it. And thus how I ended up on Catalina Island on Apr. 1 to hike the TCT with a group of 9 other people. It was my first hike in California, and my first time (excluding the CDT) backpacking with anybody other than my brother.
On the last night of the trip, we all sat around a campfire and one conversation we had was about our rose (highlight), thorn (worst moment/struggle), and bud (what we were looking forward to post-trip) from the trip. (Thanks Nomen for starting this convo!) As I have spent some time processing this trip, that feels like a good way to cover the trip in this post, so I’ll use that same format for this blog to talk about the hike.
Cacti: On two different occasions I ended up getting some cactus spines in me (first time in my leg and the second time in both feet).
Nose: The weather was a bit on the cool side during the trip (generally in the 50s the whole time), and my nose tends to run when I’m outside in those temperatures. This trip was no exception. I had a runny nose the majority of the time I was out there, and by the end of the trip my nose was raw from blowing it/wiping it so many times.
Budget: I knew going into the hike that I would likely end up quite a bit over budget for the trip (I underestimated what it would cost), so I tried to save some money where I could, which meant I skipped eating some restaurant meals along the trail. It was a bit depressing to be eating a trail meal knowing I could be eating a restaurant meal.
Personal time vs social time: As an introvert, being social takes a lot out of me. The bigger the group, the harder it is. This trip was no exception. I really wanted to connect with and get to know the people on the trip, and I really enjoyed hiking and having a conversation with one or two other people. But when the whole group got together, I typically didn’t contribute much to the conversation. It was a bit of a struggle for me to try and find the balance between being social and getting in some alone time. I was always a bit worried when I was seeking some alone time that it would come across the wrong way to the group.
CDT Decision: While I still say that getting off the CDT around the halfway mark was the right decision at the time, being around other thru hikers often makes me struggle with that decision. On the one had, during this trip, there was praise for people knowing when it’s time to call it quits and get off trail. However, on the other hand, there was conversation about not quitting on a bad day and needing mental toughness and grit to finish a thru hike. These sorts of conversations always get me to wondering whether I made the right call to get off trail or I just didn’t have the mental toughness and grit to keep going when it got tough.
Campgrounds: Every night of the trip we camped in campgrounds with potable water and bathrooms. It was so nice to not have to filter water, to not have to dig cat holes, and to have toilet paper available to blow my nose.
Blackjack the cat: On the second day of the trip we stopped for a little while at the airport on the island (which has a restaurant). I love cats, and as I was walking up to the patio, Blackjack (the resident cat) walked up and let me pet her. There were a couple other times while we were there I got to pet her as well. This was one of the places where I skipped a restaurant meal and had a trail meal instead, which was hard, but while it was depressing to miss out on a breakfast burrito, it was a big morale boost to get some kitty loves.
Weather: With how crazy the weather had been in California leading up to the trip, I was a bit worried about what the weather would be like during the trip. Outside of one really windy day and being a bit on the cool side when not hiking, the weather turned out fantastic and was great for taking pictures. All the rain before our trip had also greened up the vegetation and I’m sure contributed to the abundant wildflowers.
Scenery: Just about the entire trail was really scenic. There were very few stretches where there wasn’t some sort of awesome view. The vegetation was green and there were wildflowers everywhere, which I don’t think is typical. I felt like I was stopping to take pictures all the time (thankfully I had time for it). Where I typically go hiking, there is often some hiking to be done before getting to the really scenic parts, but this trail was very scenic from start to finish.
People: Without the people, this still would have been a cool hike, but the group I hiked with made it an even more memorable experience. Conversations while hiking, at camp, and around the campfire. Knowing what each other had been through on thru hikes. Jokes/conversations that only thru hikers will get. Struggling through difficult climbs together. Playing bocce ball and Apples to Apples. It was a very eclectic group of people, but an amazing group of humans who all had a love of hiking/backpacking that bonded us. It was a “tramily” (trail family) right from the start. It has always been a struggle for me to find friends and social groups where I feel like I belong and fit in, but, for the most part, I felt like I fit into this group right from the start.
Documentation: Having so many people along for the hike resulted in a lot of documentation through pictures and videos. Some people were taking more videos, some people focused on pictures of people and moments, and myself focused more on the artistic shots. We set up a google photo album after the trip was over, and it has been awesome looking through everyone’s pictures and videos, and being able to download those to keep as momentos from the trip.
Friendships: I’m pretty bummed I don’t live close to anybody who was on the hike, but I’m hopeful that friendships made during the trip will last and that I’ll be able to cross paths with some of them again, whether that be while hiking, doing trail magic, traveling through, etc. I’m awful at keeping in touch, but hopefully I can stay somewhat in touch with everybody going forward. This is one way that social media is helpful!
Local Thru Hikers: I found out that one of the hikers from the group (“Excel”) hiked with a couple people from Fayetteville on the PCT. I know of at least two other thru hikers in the local area, so I would like to see if I can get everybody together, and just maybe start a little NWA “tramily.”
One thought on “Trans-Catalina Trail: Thorns, Roses, & Buds”
Thanks for sharing, Brent.