By any seasoned backpacker’s measure, the 38.5-mile-long Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) on California’s Santa Catalina Island is a luxurious experience. Managed by the Catalina Conservancy, the trail is well-marked and immaculately kept. When most of the nation’s trails are under snow and ice, the TCT remains a year-round destination. Backpackers are required to camp at designated campgrounds along the trail, dictating each day’s itinerary and minimum mileage. Each campsite is equipped with potable water, toilets, trash cans, fire pits, picnic tables, and critter boxes. Cell service is strong throughout the island. Even a few restaurants dot the trail. But none of these little luxuries prepared us for the rigors of a Catalina thru-hike.
My fiancé and I were supposed to get married in October 2020, but like so many other couples, we canceled our wedding ceremony. Instead, we got outside. The Trans-Catalina Trail was one of several outdoor dreams that we checked off our list over the next year to quiet the heartache of postponing our marriage. Though only an easy ferry ride away from the mainland, it was far and away the highlight.
The island was first home to numerous Indigenous peoples, including the Tongva tribe of the Los Angeles Basin. They called the island “Pimu” and used it as a trading post for thousands of years before European colonizers arrived in the 16th century and decimated the Indigenous population. The Europeans renamed the land after their Saint Catherine, and Santa Catalina is the name that we know the island by today.
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