The adventure has begun. It hit me as I sprinted through the Philly airport with a post office-box-turned-carry-on in one hand and arrived at a deserted Gate A19. A lone man stood behind the ticket desk.
“San Diego?” he asked.
“Just left,” he said, tilting his head toward a window.
I stared out as the plane eased away from the terminal. It was a hundred yards away, but it might as well have been on the moon.
A storm crossing the northeast had thrown the U.S. Airways network into disarray. Back at their main terminal, stranded passengers clogged the aisles. The line for customer service overflowed with tired, angry people and moved so slowly that I believed it was going backwards. The phone lines returned an endless busy signal.
After an hour, I reached the front and put on the best smile I could find.
“How does Vegas sound?” the clerk asked me.
And that is how I found myself staring out of a window at the bright lights of the Strip. The manic glow of the city stood out against the black night of the desert around it. Three years of law school had wrung a piece of my soul from me and I needed solitude and starry skies to feel whole again. I needed it enough to risk leaving school a month before classes ended in my last semester on the hope that I could study an old outline and fly back for finals before continuing the trail. It was the only timing that worked.
The Pacific Crest has a tight window of opportunity. Start just early enough to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains in central California as spring melts the snow up high. Finish in northern Washington before winter comes again and buries the trail underneath it.
That’s why Vegas sounded better than Philly, even if it wasn’t San Diego. It was closer and time was everything. I won $0.75 in a slot machine.
Tired and weary, I arrived in San Diego at 1:30 am. I watched the baggage carousel grind to a halt and felt the silence in the air. My bag was gone along with all my equipment.
I staggered wearily to the baggage claim office, filled out a form, and handed it to the clerk.
“Any idea where it could be?” I asked.
The clerk shook her head and shrugged.
“Anywhere between here and New Haven,” she said.
And the adventure continues.