February 3, 2017:
Working at a beer taphouse, I talk to hundreds of people on a daily basis and have come to know some of them quite well. So when they ask me what’s new I now have a much more exciting response then “I think I forgot to brush my teeth today.” After I tell them about my upcoming plan to hike the PCT and they tell me I am crazy, they usually ask what exactly I am doing to prepare for it. And that got me thinking, what am I doing to prepare for this 2,650 mile journey?
Well, the truth is, probably not what everyone thinks I am. I hike, run, snowshoe, and exercise on a pretty much daily basis so I am not too concerned about the physical hardships of hiking the trail. With my job and my lifestyle I spend almost all day on my feet anyways, so I think that will give a huge advantage over people who are coming from sedentary jobs. Most people who hike the PCT average around 20 miles per day which allows them to complete the whole thing in about five months. Of course some of those days are 30 milers, some are only 10 when you encounter snow or steep terrain, and some days are 0 milers (commonly referred to as ‘zeroes’) when you take a day off in town to rest. So am I out hiking 20 miles a day on the weekend? No. I think part of the fun of the trail is seeing how your body adapts and grows over time, so I plan to start my hike in good physical condition but allow my trail legs to slowly develop.
So the rest of my preparation is basically reading lots of blogs and researching gear. I spend hours reading PCT blogs, it’s kind of ridiculous actually. I almost feel bad when my boyfriend texts me from work, asking what I have been up to all day, and my response is “um…reading?” It gets me very excited to start hiking and it also provides a lot of insight into what people are eating on the trail, which gear is necessary, and advice on how to hike certain sections. The gear part is not so fun for me. I absolutely hate shopping. I wish someone would just say here is exactly what you need and I could just hike. But there are so many different options so I research a lot of what does and doesn’t work for past hikers and try not to blow all my money on the best gear out there. I luckily already have a good tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. The one other big gear item is the backpack. I already have one but feel it is a little too big to be comfortable wearing for that long. So I think I am going to opt for a 48 liter one instead of my 65 liter. After that I just have to buy clothes and shoes pretty much.
My boyfriend’s mom was so kind to give me a book for Christmas called Pacific Crest Trials. It is a psychological and emotional guide to hiking the trail. Surprisingly, most people who do not complete the whole trail don’t quit because of the physical demands or the cold, heat, or hunger. Most quit because their mind quits. Spending days and days alone with nothing to do but hike gives you a lot of time to think. About your past. What you did right, what you did wrong. It gives you a lot of time to think about the future. And it can give you a lot of time to worry and regret if you allow it to. I think spending time alone is so important to be able to process these types of thoughts and I had a lot of time to do so when I was backpacking through Thailand. But with our distraction-ridden world today, it is easy to escape your thoughts and dreams and memories with the help of a little screen. This book gave a great synopsis of all the different emotions one will experience while hiking the trail and how to be ready for them and manage them. I am very thankful for this sweet gift and feel like it will aid me a lot when the going gets rough (pun intended).
As far as food goes, five months of 20 mile days hiking means I am going to be eating A LOT of food. The old school way of hiking the PCT was to spend months before you started buying lots of food, figuring out how much you were gonna eat per day, and prepping boxes to send ahead to different post offices and campgrounds along the trail. After reading multiple blogs, most people agree that this is very time consuming and stressful. Your food needs are never what you expect so sometimes the boxes end up with too much food and sometimes with not enough. And once you start hiking you end up hating most of the food you preshipped. Luckily there are lots of towns close by to the trail so most people just hike/hitchhike off the trail every 3-8ish days to resupply. And then for the few areas that will not have grocery stores along the way, you can just prepare and ship boxes to those areas before you hit them while you are in town. This way you can start and get a feel for what food works and doesn’t work for you and change your diet as you go.
I think one thing that really excites me about hiking this trail is the possibility of all the unknown. There are so many things that I cannot plan for or predict the outcome of, and I will have to adjust and make decisions on the go. I love surprises and hate knowing how things will turn out and this hike will be the ultimate test of that. After spending a long time in Thailand a couple years ago, I learned that the less I planned and the more I went with the flow, and let others help me and let situations work themselves out, the happier I was and the more I learned and experienced. Letting go of control can be a hard thing, but it usually allows us to grow and do things we might not normally get a chance to do.
So as a wrap, my preparation involves continuing to live my life here at home before I go, spend as much time with my friends and family, continue to work out and be active, be inspired by lots of PCT blogs, hopefully make some gear-shopping decisions soon, and dream about all the excitement this summer is going to bring.