The Start of a New PCT Thru-ride

by Gillian Larson | posted: April 19, 2022
Gillian and Takoda at the monument marking the southern terminus of the PCT, April 13, 2022, for the start of her third PCT thru-ride

Another Beginning

So, here I am in Campo, CA, again at the southern terminus of the PCT, about to begin another attempt at a Mexico-to-Canada journey. It all feels so familiar, and yet brand new. I can't believe that it's been six years since my last PCT thru-ride adventure, and all the things that have changed since then. I have a whole new team of horses, with the exception of Takoda, who was with me the last time around. But then he was relying on my amazing mare Shyla to take the lead, and now he is the seasoned pro, and all my other horses will hopefully be learning from him. I am definitely counting on him to tackle some of the biggest challenges that I know lie ahead, especially when we get to the northern Cascades in Washington (assuming we get that far). Nothing is ever a given on a trip like this, and anything can happen to derail "the best laid plans of mice and men" (or riders and horses!)

A Rough Start

And speaking of things that can go wrong . . . we almost didn't make to this point at all, or at least not on schedule, as we were just over an hour from home when we lost a wheel from our trailer! My mom was driving the truck with the camper on it, while we had a three horse trailer behind, loaded with gear and hay and water, on our way to Camp Lockett in Campo, where we were going to spend the night before heading to the monument in the morning to start our ride. We had taken the trailer in for some needed repairs the week before, which included some electrical wiring fixes, new wheel studs on one wheel, and new equalizers for the suspension. But something obviously wasn't done right, as the wheel with the new studs loosened and came off, completely shearing off those studs and damaging a U-bolt connected to the leaf springs in the process.

My disabled trailer after the wheel came off

We were totally immobilized on the side of the road, with no way to attach a spare tire since the studs were gone, and I wasn't even sure it was safe to off-load the horses if we managed to get another rig to come get us. It was definitely a moment of panic, when I was grateful that nothing worse had happened and that we were all safe, but when all the months of planning and preparation seemed about to go up in smoke.

Help on the Way

But my mother called the repair shop, and to their credit they launched into overdrive rescue mode to get us back in operation. They sent a guy with a floor jack, a new hub with studs, a new wheel and tire, and a U-bolt kit to reattach the suspension, and right there on the side of the highway, with the horses in the trailer, he got to work.

My highway hero, rescuing the PCT mission that hadn't even started yet!

Back in Action

We were back on the road after about a 4-hour delay, but considering everything that could have happened--but didn't--it felt like a win in the long run. I am just incredibly grateful that the shop stepped up and took responsibility for this and managed to fix the problem, which looked pretty grim when it first happened. Also glad that it happened when and where it did--while we could get the help we needed.

The rest of the drive to Camp Lockett was long (especially as we took a slower inland route to avoid driving through afternoon traffic in L.A.) but uneventful; we didn't arrive until about 10 p.m., but the facilities were great and we got the horses settled quickly and everyone had a peaceful night before we headed for the monument in the morning. Here's what things looked like in the light of day:

Where we stayed at Camp Lockett

A 26-mile Day

After dropping Takoda and me at the start of the trail, my mom went back to pick up Newt and Zahra, then drove to our planned camp for that night, at Boulder Oaks equestrian campground, about 26 trail miles ahead, where I would join her after today's ride. It ended up being a good start, despite the very scary events that almost ended it before it began!

And a Trip Down Memory Lane

Of course, the whole day took me back to my previous PCT thru-ride journeys, and I couldn't help but compare today to past thru-ride adventures. The very first time I attempted this trail was in 2014, when I didn't have a clue about what lay ahead. But thanks to my two incredible horses, Shyla and Takoda, somehow we made it, despite all the challenges and the mistakes I made along the way. It feels so much better this time to know that I am more prepared and aware of what my equine partners will need in order to cope with all the difficulties that lie ahead. I am able to anticipate their nutritional requirements and to be sure they have the right hoof protection for the wear and tear of long miles and rocky terrain. I know how to choose my camp sites and where to cache water or take a rest day to let them recover. When I look back at how naive I was on my first thru-ride, it is hard to believe that we actually made it. I have learned so much since then, but I am certain the trail still has much to teach me . . .

Gillian and Takoda at the start of their first PCT thru-ride in 2014

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