Words and photos by Grant Puckett.
It had been a long time since I’d spent time with my younger brother. With him running a nonprofit in Haiti and me being a freelance photographer in California, it’d been challenging to get our schedules to line up. Both of us are adventurous spirits attracted to challenge and had been talking about many different trip options. We settled on the idea of backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail a few months ago, an experience for us to share after being separated by distance, time and our polar-opposite lives.
May 1, 4:30am: By the time my brother and I boarded the Catalina Express and pushed off the coast near Long Beach, California, the sun was just peeking over the city, waving us adieu and bon voyage.
The small island town of Avalon sits at the edge of Catalina Island like the emerald city, designed for paradise and day drinking, and was a peculiar sight while quiet and asleep. We quickly found our way to the yellow dirt road taking us away from it.
“We covered everything from alien life to what we’re grateful for to which super power was best. Our talking fell off as each step demanded more and more of our energy.”
Our first major milestone came when we crested the first peak and were able to see both sides of the island, each met by endless oceans. In those early miles, we still had energy to hold conversation, and covered everything from alien life to what we’re grateful for to which super power was the best. Slowly, our talking fell off as the sun grew hotter and each step demanded more and more of our energy.
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We felt we were doing well enough until two ladies, each in their sixties, passed us with haste and took away any pride we had left.
If the incredible heights —and wildly athletic grandmas — weren’t enough to make us feel small, early into the afternoon we ran into the first wild bison of the trip. Apparently, the beasts were brought to the island for a silent film nearly a century ago, and today they rule the mountains, tougher than anyone on the island. Except for maybe those ladies.
“If the incredible heights and wildly athletic grandmas weren’t enough to make us feel small, early into the afternoon we ran into the first wild bison of the trip.”
After getting severely lost and feasting on a lunch of peanut-butter tacos, our campsite for the night was a welcome sight. We assembled our tent under a tree (seemingly the only shade on the island) and didn’t move until sunset. There was a small hill blocking the sunset, and atop it we sat on rocks, listened to stand-up comics and watched the sky fade from blue to yellow then orange, and the sun fade into infinity.
May 2, 7 a.m.: We groggily crawled out of our tent this morning and came face to face with a herd of bison, probably 40 or more. Baffled at the sight, we snapped a few photos and packed up all our stuff for day two.
We pounded through seven miles then stopped at a little harbor for lunch and a swim. Something about the lack of excitement while walking makes you want to do something that will make your adrenaline pump. So, we leaped from of a precariously high cliff into the bay before gearing up for the last five difficult miles of the day. The final mile before Two Harbors was a tough one, battling our delirious minds to take on the final daunting hills. Night two ended much the same as night one, only tonight we were lulled to rest by the therapeutic lapping of water against the shore.
May 3, 8 p.m.: As I write this, my legs feel like jelly, but like jelly that someone got really upset at and beat with a hammer. We started the day by charging phones in Two Harbors, mostly for an excuse to procrastinate our start. The portion of the Trans-Catalina Trail we completed today was at once the most demanding and the most beautiful. From Two Harbors, we trudged three miles straight into the sky. At noon, we stood at the highest point on the island, far above the sparse cloud cover and paradise beaches. We felt incredible until seconds later, when we discovered that going down the other side would prove even steeper. Hank suggested, “Whoever falls first does the dishes tonight, deal?” Later, I cleaned the dishes.
“As I write this, my legs feel like jelly, but like jelly that someone got really upset at and beat with a hammer.”
We heard talk that our campsite at Parson’s Landing (PL1) was everyone’s favorite. For sure, it was by far the more secluded and beautiful option, though an evil squirrel dwelt there in the depths of the rocks and emerged only to take our food and poke holes in our water. Some amateur rock climbing was done as we watched the sun sink into the Pacific.
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May 4, 6 p.m.: We took the morning easy on ourselves, hiking the road back to the harbor. It lasted for just seven flat miles, completing our forty-five-mile trek. We celebrated the TCT with bison burgers and fish tacos at the best and only restaurant in Two Harbors. A final nap on the beach, waiting for the boat, marked an impeccable end to our island adventure.