Hi, I have some followers now (and have discovered how to make the first letter HUGE)! I don’t anticipating writing that frequently in the next four months, as I’m not quickly accumulating experiences worth writing about, but I’ll occasionally give you updates on the prep process.
I have a logo!
The keener observers will notice (assuming I’ve clicked “save” enough times in enough places) that my page now sports an awesome new logo, inspired by but not identical to the official PCT logo. In case you haven’t (or I’ve failed to properly upload it), it looks like this:
This is a creation of my good friend Marisa in Portland, OR, and I can’t thank her enough for it (Thanks Meeeeza!). In return, I will spend the day of her wedding hiking through the sun-scorched Southern California desert, thinking of nothing but the pleasantly damp, cool air of hers and Derek’s event in Oregon.
Planning thus far
It’s a little presumptious to expect you to come all this way just to read about modifications to my nascent website, so I’ll add to that and describe a bit of what’s gone into to preparing for my PCT hike up to this point, and what I expect to need to do in the coming months. Of course, without having put this to the test, I really can’t yet say whether my level of preparation is over- or underkill.
Long-term life planning
I’ve been planning to do the hike for several years now, at least as early as summer 2013, when I remember articulating the concept to my cousin Caitlin. My plan at that point was to go to grad school (which was about to start), pay off loans, save up some money, accumulate gear, and then go. I’ve now done the first 3.75 of those 5 things, so I think I’m doing alright.
It’s definitely not necessary to plan 6 years in advance, but most employers don’t love the concept of you leaving for 5-6 months, so people often fit the hike around major structural breaks in their lives: graduation, retirement, quitting a job, a big move. I’d planned for it to fit around the latter two items of the above list, and did in fact put in my notice at work, but for a couple of reasons changed my mind and agreed to an unpaid leave of absence instead (it was a rollercoaster of emotions in my office that week).
Anyway, I’m grateful that I’ve got all of that big stuff more or less in line, and glad that the rest of my life is simple enough that I can put it on hold for half a year. I can’t imagine how people with children manage it (if they do even).
Getting gear and trying it out
Over the last year and a bit, I’ve slowly accumulated most of the gear I’m going to take out with me (another post on that, I’m sure). I went up Kilimanjaro with a few friends in September 2017 and used that as an excuse to invest in some nice warm hiking clothes.
However, I’ve mostly had stuff sent to my mother’s house in California (while I live in the UK), so I haven’t had much chance to hike with it. My first (and only) big test for my gear was last summer, when I hiked for three days along the PCT with my brother and four of my friends, from Donner Pass to Upper Salmon Lake, where my extended family owns and operates a lakeside summer resort. (Pics from that hike below).
That was a grueling trek (basically PCT pace of c. 20mi/32km/0.032Mm per day, but with no chance to ramp up to it), but it was a good opportunity to see whether I liked walking that far (I did, my feet didn’t), and also an excuse to get some trail-ready gear together. In advance of that, I bought me a new backpack (the Osprey Exos 58), a new tent (the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Platinum), a new sleeping pad (Neoair X-lite short), and some cooking supplies (stove, gas, pot, spork) and decided I was happy with all of them, even if their names are impossible to say or remember. At that point, my gear was probably half complete, but I’m glad I was able to get at least that much in the bag (haha) so I no longer have to stress about it.
The process of buying the right gear is, of course, time consuming. Because you don’t bring a lot with you, and because you carry every single thing you do bring, it’s very important to maximize the ratio of function to weight. Fortunately, that means that there are a whole lot of reviews and recommendations out there from other long-distance hikers.
Christmas gifts this year were very PCT-focused, so I’m now probably 80% of the way there, but haven’t tried out any of the new stuff, so I may still need to make adjustments on the fly when I get out there.
I won’t spend too much time on this because it’s really not that exciting, but these days I’m sorting out permits. The big one is the PCT long-distance permit, which is technically not required, but basically gets you out of needing other permits in national parks and wilderness areas along the way. The catch is that the PCT Association (PCTA) only releases 50 per start day (to prevent hundreds of people starting on the most popular days), and due to the increasing popularity of the trail due to the book/film Wild!, it’s now pretty tough to get a start date in April, as is preferred. (I verifiably wanted to do the trail before the film came out in 2014, and maybe before the book came out in 2012, so Reese Witherspoon can go get mauled by a bear, and Cheryl Strayed maybe can too.)
Anyway, for that reason plus constraints on my leave of absence, we’re scheduled to start on the 11th of May. I’m hoping we can move that up 3-4 days, but in any case, we’ll want to carry a pretty good pace to catch up to the ideal window.
I also have to get a permit to enter Canada via the trail. That should be straightforward – just need to scan a couple of things and email it to them.
Various relevant skills
Two big ones here:
When thru-hiking the PCT, you’ll inevitably do some snow travel in the High Sierra, and maybe also in Northern Washington. As I won’t have my skis with me, I wanted to get some training on how to hike through snow. So my friend Marissa (not the logo one, and in any case, spelled differently) and I did a winter skills training course in the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland last Easter weekend. I now know how to avoid avalanches, walk with crampons and an ice axe, kick and/or chop steps, and self arrest.
And the other thing I haven’t done yet. I’m probably going to do some sort of wilderness first aid training, as there’s a good chance that something will go wrong with somebody at some point, and it can’t hurt to be prepared.
Getting in shape!
I haven’t technically started doing this yet, and there’s a school of thought that says you should just try to pack on as much fat as you can to give you fuel later on, but I think I should strengthen my legs/cardio before I start so I can do longer distances earlier on. I’m planning to enter in a half marathon sometime in March/April, maybe in Wales. I’ve done full marathons before, but I think that verges on over-working your body so I don’t think that gives myself the best chance of completing the hike. Plus, training for a full marathon totally takes over your life of 3-4 months, and I don’t want to give up my life for that long.
After that, I might do a few days of walking into work (about 10km) with a pack on in order to strengthen my back/core. I think I’ll need to wait until it’s light that early, or else I’ll have no hope of actually doing it.
So what else do I have to do?
Not much, unless there’s something big I’m missing. I’ve got a bit more gear to buy, including a new phone; I need to sort out food for my first few days on the trail (including my first re-supply box); I need to do some visa/immigration stuff for the UK; I need to get travel insurance; I need to go to the doctor to make sure I’m not going to die on the trail. I think that’s about it, but I’m sure something else will jump out at me.
Anyway, hope you’ve enjoyed reading all of that. Any questions??