Tag Archives: pct

Rab Neutrino 600 sleeping bag review

Material: Pertex Quantum shell, 800 fill power down

Weight: 37oz (+3.5oz if using included dry-bag stuff sack)

Features: Draft collar and hood draw cords, trapezoidal baffles, small pocket near head, YKK zippers

Temperature rating: Comfort = -5c, Limit = -12c, Extreme = -31c

Cost: $420


 

I’m not sure why this piece of gear escaped review for so long seeing as I use sleeping bags frequently.  If you have followed this blog at all, you may have noticed that I have reviewed multiple pieces of gear from UK manufacturer Rab.  As I’ve mentioned before, they make great products at reasonable prices.

Before discussing the design features of the Neutrino 600, lets discuss the temperature rating system Rab uses for their sleeping bags.  Without getting into too much detail, this system is called EN 13537 (Wiki article), and it breaks each bag down by providing 4 different temperature ratings – Upper Limit, Comfort, Lower Limit, and Extreme.  The Comfort rating is going to be the most useful number for anyone planning on using their sleeping bag for a normal night of sleep.  When you get into the Lower Limit and Extreme ratings, there are certain assumptions about sleep position, duration of sleep, and possibility of cold-weather injury (all things most of us do need want to concern ourselves with).  I’ll get back to temp ratings and my personal experience after discussing some of the design features.

Right out of the box, this sleeping bag seemed well designed.  The Neutrino 600 lofted up very nicely within a short amount of time, looking almost exactly like the picture on Rab’s website.  The baffles function well so far, keeping the down evenly distributed and where it belongs.  There is a nice little pocket near the hood for your lip balm or car keys or whatever small item you care to store there.  The draft collar is large enough to actually be functional, especially when you cinch it down with the elastic drawcord.  The hood also has an elastic drawcord to keep it close to your head.  There is a small velcro tab to keep the bag from unzipping during sleep.  Small nylon tabs on the foot of this bag make hanging it up in your closet easier (storing you sleeping bag UNCOMPRESSED is vital for proper loft and product function).

My field test of the Neutrino 600 was a 5 day 4 night fall (or was it winter) backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Northern Colorado.  Temperature ranged from 60F during the day to low teens at night.  Elevations ranged from approximately 9500ft to 12000ft+.  In addition to the Neutrino 600, I used a Silk, mummy-style sleeping bag liner and wore at a minimum, socks,  pants, base layer top, and fleece top during sleep.

Staying warm during some nasty weather at Lost Tribe Lakes

Considering the fact that temperatures were slightly below the comfort rating every night, I was pleased with the warmth of the Neutrino.  It should be noted that I was using a 4-season tent which completely cut all wind and insulated a small amount.  I was able to sleep comfortably (although I did wake regularly – more a personal condition regardless of warmth).  Since I was using this bag closer to the lower limit rating, I opted to put a synthetic jacket over the foot of the bag (which came up to my knees) as well as drape my down jacket over my chest on 2 of the 4 nights.  The Neutrino didn’t feel too confined but did feel snug, especially around the feet.  The draft collar and hood functioned well without covering my mouth and nose or restricting my breathing and also sealing in a good amount of heat.  Condensation formed every night near my mouth where my breath contacted the outside of the sleeping bag – something I have experienced with ALL sleeping bags in colder temperatures.  Even with the below freezing temperatures at night, the Neutrino did absorb a bit of moisture.  This was remedied with a warming fire and sun exposure when the opportunity existed.

Overall I was happy with the Neutrino 600’s performance.  Rab’s temperature ratings seem to be fairly accurate for me.  The design features of this sleeping bag are functional and useful.  Some more water resistance in the shell material would be nice considering this is a down bag.  I feel this sleeping bag is above average in my overall experience and I would definitely recommend it.  If there are any design features I have not addressed or questions you have, please leave a comment and I will be happy to respond!

Hiking goes on hold for the season

Beads of sweat roll down the side of my beverage, collecting on the New Belgium coaster.  A slight breeze of artificial, cool air hits my left ankle while I sit on leather.  Needless to say, I am not on the PCT.  That corridor of continuous change.  The beautiful and wondrous sanctuary for travelers and those seeking adventure continues to exist in what feels like an alternate reality just to the North-West.  The contrast of Los Angeles, the smog and noise is a polar opposite.  My former company continue exercising an existence of simplicity and utility while this boiling ass-fault (get it…) sprawl is filled with hoards of designer clothed zombies, stumbling in all directions with shopping bags full of excess.

I left the trail for financial reasons.  I began hiking this season, not knowing if I would be able to afford to make the trip all the way to Canada.  Spoiler alert, I ran out of money before making it there.  I’m not upset, nor am I bitter towards those that are continuing on without me.  I am filled with inspiration and awe from my experience.  I only hiked about 800 miles of the 2600+ miles of trail that exists.  If you ever get on the trail, you will learn quickly what I have come to understand intimately; the experience is the journey.  Maybe you don’t have to hike the trail to make this assumption.

My journey ended in one of the most remarkable experiences of selflessness and kindness that I have experienced in my life.  Snooze (Megan) and I finished hiking at Vermillion Valley Resort, an oasis of civilization in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  From VVR we hitched into the small resort town of Mono Hot Springs where we soaked and enjoyed a night of camping.  The next morning, beautiful cardboard sign in hand, we packed our bags and sat outside the Forest Service campground, thumbing for a ride.  Within an hour of sitting down, a white pickup slowed down and a kind traveler said that if we were still there when he finished eating lunch, he would gladly drive us to Fresno.  We smiled and told him we’d be there.

Within an hour the familiar truck came rolling back towards us and we quickly jumped to our feet to throw our bags in the bed.  Buck was a clean-dressed, friendly guy in his 50’s.  With almost questionable enthusiasm, he said he would be more then happy to drive us to Fresno (2+ hours East).  Upon jumping into the truck we all struck up conversation immediately and knew we were in good company.  Buck had been coming up to Mono Hot Springs since he was a young man to go fishing.  His wife had given him the ok to take a small vacation and relive some of his fishing glory days so he made the love drive up into the mountains.  Although the fishing was questionable, he had a pleasant visit.  Buck asked about the ins and outs of hiking on the JMT/PCT, told us about his adventures hitch hiking across the country as a teenager, and recalled fondly the kindness and open-hearted nature of those on the road.  He said he had such a positive experience traveling when he was younger, that he wanted to give back by helping us on our way.  We liked Buck a lot.

Eventually we rolled into the city of Fresno and arrived in front of a dilapidated building in what seemed to be a sketchy part of town.  This was the Greyhound bus station where we would catch a cheap and uncomfortable bus ride the rest of the way to Los Angeles.  Before we could offer Buck some gas money, he was practically forcing a folded bill into my hand.  We refused for a minute, making quite the scene which eventually compelled me to grab his offering.  We explained that we couldn’t take any money from him, he had already driven out of his way.  Could we give this back and give YOU some gas money we suggested.  Buck wouldn’t have it, saying that our company was payment enough and that we knew we were ‘good people’.  Pay it forward he said.  We tried to get his contact info but he was reluctant saying he didn’t want us to mail him any money back.  We stood there amazed at his generosity and after a brief hug and exchange of smiles, Buck was back on the road.  Opening my hand, I found $40, bus fare for Snooze and I to get to LA.  This is real trail magic folks.

After purchasing our tickets, we walked through a deserted hispanic part of town, searching for food.  The streets were empty and all the businesses closed, a very strange scene for a city.  Eventually we were able to get something to eat and returned to the bus station.  Our ride to LA was what you might expect for a bus – long and cramped.  The WIFI that the poster in the station glorified was next to useless and neither of the 120 volt outlets that were advertised worked consistently.

Getting into downtown at 11pm, we waited on torturous metal benches until my Dad whisked us away to Studio City.  Snooze and I spent the next few days catching up on much needed sleep, watching terrible day-time television, and indulging in restaurant food.  Gotta love ‘real life’.  We both longed for the trail, the simplicity of adhering to the schedule of the sun.  The monotony of walking for hours.  This strange and impermanent existence had become so normal to us, it was unsettling to change it.  But change it we must – Megan had to get back to Connecticut for her Sister’s High School graduation and I needed a job.  We parted ways at LAX, heads still full of fresh memories from our JMT adventure.


 

So that brings us to the present.  I’m here, living with my Dad in LA, looking for a job.  Oh how fun the real world is.  Find a job so I can pay my bills so my credit score isn’t totally fuct (too late).  Get a job so I can make my car payment and student loan payment.  But hopefully the job I find can be more then just a means to an income – hopefully it can be enjoyable.  Do you have a job for me?

Dirtbag World

I’ve been sitting in the small cafe now for about an hour.  The staff mill about behind the counter, refilling refrigerated coolers and food prep stations.  Chris is reading the LA Times which I have already thumbed through.  I read an article about the impacts of recreational marijuana legalization on states bordering Colorado as well as a few other paragraphs from different news stories.  A mudslide in Colorado, a psychotic killer in Southern California, a promise from the President to Veterens, etc., etc., and so forth, and so on.  I put the paper down and begin writing this blog article.  A few minutes later Choop walks in the door, high-fiving Chris.  The two just met yesterday, just as Chris and myself met this past week.  One minute we were total strangers, the next all sharing living and sleeping quarters in the tiny town of Lone Pine, California.  Is my world really the same world I was reading about only 20 minutes ago in the newspaper?

I glance up at the flat screen looming in my periphery, images of Katy, Jennifer, and other beautiful celebrities flash across the screen before and add for some terrible movie involving who-knows-what.  It’s all very distracting and it’s very common.  Have you ever taken note of how many flashing panels of moronic nonsense fill YOUR periphery?  In a society that is shocked by violent outbursts fueled by sexual frustration, is it so hard to see the media shoving violence and sex in your face every chance they get?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly disturbed and saddened by the recent tragedy that took place in SoCal and I feel for those poor people who were affected.

But trail life is different.  I’ve hiked roughly 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this season so far and I foresee myself making it to Yosemite Valley, maybe further before I have to return to ‘real life’.  But wait, the trail life IS my real life.  *Ring Ring* My cell phone screen comes to life and my Father is on the other end telling me that I need to figure out the registration on my car.  It expires in two months…ahhh, the REAL world is calling.

Back to the issue at hand.  I’ve been sleeping in the back yard of a friend I made less then a week ago, with two other friends I met in the woods.  The house we were welcomed into remains unlocked so we can come and go as we please, use the kitchen, take a shower, whatever we need.  This is my reality right now.  It’s this beautiful alternate-reality I have talked about previously.  It’s the community of like minded individuals who value relationships, travel, experience.  They remain undistracted by all the bullshit that’s flashed in front of our faces like a steak in front of hungry dogs.  We don’t bite or even lunge.  Our satisfaction is found in the aerie crags, the evening conversations over a beer, the afternoon dip in an icy mountain stream.  It’s true, our lives are touched by all that pervades society.  Divorce, suicide, loss, and sadness.  In the open-natured hearts of the characters I’ve meet we’ve discussed all of these issues.  A sort of therapy session exists out here that you don’t pay for in dollars but instead earn in sweat.  

Now I’m glancing up at a commercial for furniture – NO INTEREST, LOW MONTHLY PAYMENTS, BUY NOW!  It reminds me of the impermanence of our existence.  We accumulate stuff for the purpose of…what exactly, I’m not sure.  We can’t take it with us to the next life.  My experience is that the more crap you own, the less freedom you can easily find.  Less then a year ago I gave away my furniture, sold my beloved blender, packed all the rest of my life into my Subaru and submitted to the call to go West.  It was a good decision.

And with impermanence in mind, I realize that these friends, these dirtbag, homeless, traveling friends will continue their journeys.  We are here for only a short moment, the intersection of four people’s dreams and adventures converging at this special in time and place.  Maybe this is the only adventure we will share together or maybe our trajectories will cross again, it’s uncertain.  What is certain is the beauty of this existence – this adventure together.  It’s far from a ‘typical’ lifestyle, but from what I see flashing across the TV screen right now, I’m glad that we are experiencing something different.

Thoughts and ideas on the PCT: Lone Pine, California

Friends!  Family!  Acquaintances, hiker trash, travelers, walkers of all continents, hello!  I’ve been looking for an opportunity to sit down and write for quite some time now, a difficult prospect given my current lifestyle.  Walking along the PCT, the last thing I find myself wanting to do is sit

Just outside Big Bear City.

Just outside Big Bear City.

down and write although my head is filled with stories and ideas.  There are worthwhile, interesting adventures around every corner, certainly worthy of my time for reflection.  In this world of technology and modern conveniences you might think it would happen easily, but no!  When you are walking 20 miles a day, life becomes simplified – wake, eat, walk, eat, sleep, repeat.

Here I am in Lone Pine, California, taking a break from my long walk North.  I have covered some 700 miles by foot and find myself resting in this wonderful town on the edge of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains.  The massive granite monolith that is Mt. Whitney, among many other prominent peaks, stare down at us eager travelers.  It’s as if they say, “come to this high wild place, bring only your sense of adventure”.  We marvel at their beauty, we are drawn in like moths to a light.  Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states and it’s not even on our immediate route but we are drawn to it.  Before I elaborate on my current location and what lies ahead, I will get a little abstract.

Banana Boat trying to get us a ride out of Lake Isabella, quite challenging.

Banana Boat trying to get us a ride out of Lake Isabella, quite challenging.

Let’s address the idea of trail time – it’s a kind of time travel, alternate reality situation.  I was in Idyllwild roughly a month ago.  The terrain and time covered by foot since then has given me a sense of great distances that have been lost to modern modes of travel.  It’s possible to cover large distances by car, train, or airplane in a single day.  Traveling by foot however quickly transports us back to a time when the world was a BIG place.  All of a sudden 20 miles has a much different feel – it’s not an easy distance to cover, at first.  The hiker who is new to long-distance travel will quickly find that with determination and hard work, walking 30, 40, maybe even 50 miles in a single day is attainable.  But don’t worry, the world is still a big place within the limits of walking.

Idyllwild was a great mountain town and I enjoyed the cool air and breezes there for two days.

In the pavilion at kick off, waiting out the rain.

In the pavilion at kick off, waiting out the rain.

Continuing North, I headed up over San Jacinto peak and then down Fuller Ridge into White Water, CA.  There I stayed with Ziggy and the Bear, wonderfully elderly trail angels who greeted us with cold drinks and open hearts.  My first big eat-a-thon at the Morongo casino was a welcome adventure before getting a ride with our friend Sandizzle back down to Lake Morena State Park for ADZPCTKO, the annual PCT kick off event.  Backtracking the miles we had hiked from Lake Morena jolted us back to ‘small world’ as we moved at incredible speeds thanks to good old ‘Merican fossil fuel.

Kick Off was enjoyable but I think my favorite part of the event was seeing all the ultralight gear put to the test as a low pressure system moved through, bringing with it torrential rain and wind gusts up to the 50s.  A $500 cuben fiber tent might weight 1 pound, but does it hold up in

Eating some lunch with Banana Boat and C-Lion

Eating some lunch with Banana Boat and C-Lion

these blustery conditions?  I will admit, that evening when the weather was the worst, I awoke at 3am to my tent walls deflecting the wind and rain.  As I lay there awake, two of my tent stakes simultaneously pulled out of the ground and my tarp collapsed on my face.  Scrambling for my headlamp and rain shell, I jumped out of my former fortress in an attempt to re-pitch my house.  I worked as fast as possible, the whole time thinking in my head, ‘don’t let your down bag get wet’.  Although I got soaked in the process, all my gear that was under my tarp stayed dry and within about 20 minutes I was sleeping once again.

Me reclining by the 1/4 distance marker.

Me reclining by the 1/4 distance marker.

Making our way back to the trail from kickoff proved more difficult then I originally anticipated.

Resting after 6000 feet of climbing.

Resting after 6000 feet of climbing.

The ride board that was supposed to help us hikers hook up with people who might drive us to our desired destinations was not as useful as expected.  I had come to kickoff with Roi, Sarit, and Arctic but I found myself driving North with a different group of hikers.  I was sad to leave my friends but the opportunity of an open seat in a car could not be passed up.  I took one more partial day off when I got back to Ziggy and the Bear’s house before sprinting North, covering 98 miles in 3 days.

From White Water I began the long climb to Big Bear, another small mountain town in SoCal.  It was during this stretch that I reconnected with my friend Borealis who was also down at kick off.  The two of us enjoyed an evening of camping together before the 6000 foot climb.  I had an afternoon resupplying in Big Bear where I met a lovely trail angel named Alicia who offered to drive me back to the trail.

From Big Bear the trail jogged West and took us towards Silverwood Lake State Park and then down to Cajon Pass.  My Dad and his Partner drove up from LA to meet me at this major road crossing and had lunch together before they took me to purchase more food.  I was excited and

Near Swarthout Canyon, just passed Cajon Pass.

Near Swarthout Canyon, just passed Cajon Pass.

dreading the next section of the trail – the biggest climb on the PCT, from Cajon Pass to Wrightwood, over 7000 feet in one single push.  Wrightwood was AWESOME.  One of my hiking friends, C-Lion has some friends that live there who welcomed us into their home.  Steve and Shannon fed us baby back ribs, tacos and beer.  They brought us to their local country club for a relaxing afternoon.  They made us feel like family and we will be forever grateful for their kindness and generosity.

We were apprehensive to leave Wrightwood but knew that we needed to continue North.  We climbed out of town towards Mt.Baden Powell where the ancient trees showed their character.  Days of hiking took us into the small town of Agua Dulce where the famous Hiker Heaven can be found.  When I met Donna Saufley I was greeted with a big hug even though I hadn’t showered in a week.  We were given showers, internet, mailing services, cots to sleep on, and rides into town.  C-Lion, Banana Boat and I got a ride to REI to pick up some needed supplies.  Banana Boat’s Aunts and Uncles meet us and treated us to a large Mexican lunch where we

Climbing a nice old tree on Mt.Baden Powell.

Climbing a nice old tree on Mt.Baden Powell.

feasted on burritos.  We were amazed by our appetites and less then an hour after this meal we stopped into In And Out for burgers and milkshakes.

From the Saufley’s, we took one long day and hiked straight to Casa De Luna, aka The Anderson’s place.  Terry welcomed us in and once again we felt the love.  Dinner and breakfast were generously provided for us hungry hikers.  Although we would have loved to stay we continued out the next day, making a brief stop into the Rock Inn for second breakfast.  I let my friends get ahead of me while I made some overdue phone calls before hitching forward about 12 miles and then walking the last few miles on the road into Hiker Town.  This funky little ‘village’ was a nice afternoon stop, but after raiding the hiker box for supplies, we continued hiking at 5 o’clock that evening to get some miles done in the cool of the evening.  We hiked until 2 in the morning,

Hiking through wind farms is pretty cool.

Hiking through wind farms is pretty cool.

collapsing into a pile of unconsciousness, surrounded by wind turbines in the desert.

Continuing North to Tehachapi our friend C-Lion came to the conclusion that he needed to get off trail for a bit to deal with some real life stuff.  He rented a car and Banana Boat and I drove down to San Diego with him to say good bye.  We were welcomed and enjoyed a nice good bye dinner that evening before getting some good rest.  The next morning we woke up very early so that we could drive through LA to stop in at my Dad’s house to wish him a belated birthday and enjoy some coffee and doughnuts.  I grabbed a few pieces of gear that I needed and we made our way North, back to Tehachapi.  Banana and I finished our resupply and did some night hiking that evening, again finding ourselves sleeping under wind turbines.

Hiking through Vasquez Rocks outside Agua Dulce.

Hiking through Vasquez Rocks outside Agua Dulce.

Walker pass was the next major milestone which we reached.  This area was exciting in the sense that there are no natural water sources, just a couple caches.  After some extended

Having fun near Silverwood Lake State Park with C-Lion, Pilsbury, Star Rider, and Dawn Patrol.

Having fun near Silverwood Lake State Park with C-Lion, Pilsbury, Star Rider, and Dawn Patrol.

waterless stretches of hiking, we made it to Walker where Banana and I hitched into Lake Isabella.  We ate pizza and bought more food before attempting to get back to the trail.  2+ hours of attempted hitching got us nowhere until one of the guys who was working at the pizza joint saw us and gave us a ride 10 miles up the road.  More unsuccessful hitching and eventually a couple that had driven by multiple times offered us a ride if we could just give them some gas money.  We happily took this ride and ended up sleeping at Walker Pass that evening before getting back to our march North.

From Walker Pass we began the climb to

Outside Wrightwood, CA.

Outside Wrightwood, CA.

Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Eastern Sierras.  We got very lucky with weather (we had mailed our tents and rain gear ahead from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows to save weight).  As we walked into town a weather system moved through bringing rain (and snow to the higher elevations).  Banana and I enjoyed the company of many other friends in town for two days at the General Store in front of the wood stove.  Temperatures dropped into the 30’s at night, we were in the mountains again.  Due to some personal obligations, I made the decision to skip the next 50 miles of trail and get a ride from Kennedy Meadows down to Lone Pine to take care of some legal paperwork (which I ended up not being able to accomplish, F you Boulder County court system!).  I had also developed some painful shin splints in the last 100 miles of hiking and this was a good opportunity for rest

On the summit of Baden Powell with Banana Boat and C-Lion.

On the summit of Baden Powell with Banana Boat and C-Lion.

and recovery before my friend Megan arrives and we head back into the mountains on the John Muir Trail section of the hike that begins here.

Upon arriving in Lone Pine I met some very friendly climbers who welcomed me into their home and let me put my tent in their back yard.  The experience here has been wonderful.

Wow, that was a lot of stuff to catch up on.  Hopefully it didn’t get too boring although I’ll admit that after typing 1800 words I got a bit bored.  It was fun to recall all of the events that led to this moment, a rare moment in every day life but quite a common one of the PCT.  It really is amazing how complete strangers will relate to you like you are an old friend, doing what they can to make this epic journey a little more realistic.

Sunrise on the Tehachapi wind farm.

Sunrise on the Tehachapi wind farm.

Blogging on the trail is challenging

Ok – Hello friends and family!  Thanks for sticking around even though I haven’t added anything new in quite some time.  A realization I’ve had:  Blogging from the trail is tough.  I hate to admit this truth to myself.  I’d rather not tell myself that I’m going to be catching up in the near future because that would be a lie.  Blogging from the iPhone – not gonna happen.  Since I am not carrying an iPad or similar tablet, this limits me to computer blogging.  Computer/internet cafes are not very common on the PCT so that means my ability to write on my blog is limited.  This coupled with the fact that I would need to write about weeks of trail time in a single afternoon just makes it nearly impossible to keep things current.  While I would love to provide you with exciting stories and funny anecdotes from the trail, I can’t use my limited free-time glued to the computer screen.

Here is my plan.  On the right hand margin of the blog you will see a Twitter feed as well as an Instagram feed.  I will continue posting photos to Instagram because it is easy and not time consuming.  I will start posting my mileage via Twitter so that you can see where I have made it to.  This is the best I can do for now.

The past couple weeks have been chock full of excitement.  Beautiful mountains, scorching desert, friendly thru-hikers and over indulgence in meals are some of the moments that have punctuated a priceless experience.  I am currently in Acton, California, at Hiker Heaven (one of the trail angel houses).  We have hot weather on the horizon and some substantial stretches of desert (the Mojave) to cross before we ascend into the beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  We hikers are excited with our progress and the high alpine lakes on the horizon are driving us forward and keeping our legs fresh.

One other bit of excitement – I received a very thoughtful PayPal donation from an international follower – THANK YOU.  Every little bit helps and even encouragement makes me feel rich.

Greetings from Idyllwild, California

Well my friends, followers, family, and anyone else stumbling across my writing here, I am in Idyllwild, California.  We (Roi, Sarah, Blake and I) arrived yesterday, driven by our trail friend Evil Goat.  Since getting here, we have eaten ice cream, cooked on a real stove, slept in beds, and resupplied ourselves with the essential items to continue enjoying our lives on the trail.  I personally have had some time to catch up on my journaling, something I am doing daily to document my adventure, a tangible, written memento of what has been.  Some more creative writing in a bit, but for now, here are my journal entries from the past few days.

Desert floor far below.

Desert floor far below.


4/17/2014 Day 7 – Zero day (resting, no mileage)

Very chill day – relaxing with foot baths, food (amazing breakfast scramble), beer, live music courtesy of Roi and Monty and reunions!

After relaxing most of the day, Amanda and I went into town to pick

Sarah, Sunbeam, Amanda, Mike and the famous Monty.

Sarah, Sunbeam, Amanda, Mike and the famous Monty.

up Sunbeam and Mike.  Not too much else today.  Mailed out a resupply to Ziggy and The Bear.  Dinner at Monty’s and back on the trail in the morning!


 

4/18/2014 Day 8 – Warner Springs to Mile 127 (trail angel Mike’s) – 17 Miles

Staying with Monty was a really wonderful experience.  It’s not often you meet someone so selfless, who spends his time and energy helping other people achieve their goals.

After our zero at Monty’s house, we were anxious to get on the trail and bust out some miles.  But of course, we needed to eat a huge

Following Roi on a longer climb in the desert.

Following Roi on a longer climb in the desert.

gut-bomb breakfast.  Spinach and cheese omelets and biscuits and gravy…sausage gravy – the best I’ve ever had.  I had a second helping and coffee as well.

In a blaze of gear-shifting and glory, we braced ourselves for warp speed.  We rocketed towards Warner Springs in the bed of the old pickup, arriving at the trail head in a fury, ready to move.  We thanked Monty for his hospitality and began another day.

The hiking went by as if we were floating, our legs and feet energized and restless from rest.  Before we knew it, the map confirmed 15 miles.  After suggestions from multiple people to stop in at trail angel Mikes, we knew where we were headed.

I ran into Blake at the top of the ranch driveway and neither of us knew what to expect.  We heard rumors of beer, music, food, and

Lots of new faces and good company at trail angel Mike's house.

Lots of new faces and good company at trail angel Mike’s house.

good company.  We were not disappointed.

Everyone I have met in the past week was already telling tails from the journey.  Many new faces showed up today too which is always and enlightened social experience.  There was beer, food, we played music, we met new faces and had a grand time.  Now we sleep.


 

4/19/2014 Day 9 – Miles 127 to Paradise Cafe – 25 miles

Long day – 25 miles.  We stayed at Mike’s place last night and slept out on the porch.  We awoke early to the smell of food cooking.

Tom had the stove up and coffee slowly brewing.  Most other hikers left before sunrise but I took my time.  I drank three cups which woke me up.

Evil Goat, watering his blueberries, what a great trail friend and host!

Evil Goat, watering his blueberries, what a great trail friend and host!

I said my goodbyes and was out the gate running (not literally).  The weather was nice and the first ten miles went by easily – made it to Tule spring by 11:30.

I took a nice rest, filtered water, ate food, washed socks, and dried out the feet.  Roi and Sarah caught up and after some discussion, we decided to push another 15 miles to the Paradise Cafe.  A big burger was in our future.

The last miles dragged a bit but some iphone music helped with that.  Finally we climbed up the side of Table mountain and the road came into sight.  I practically ran down the last mile of trail and was thrilled to see a sign offering free rides to the Paradise for hikers.

We waited a short while for Lee, Brent, and Blake before calling for our ride.  We joked about how we must smell as we loaded into the

GoPro selfie in the desert

GoPro selfie in the desert

van.

As we ate huge (HUGE) burgers and drank IPA, Evil Goat arrived and told stories while we got stuffed.  He offered to let us spend the night at his place.

Blake and I got the RV and Roi and Sarah got the guest room.  We all shared a beer before passing out.


 

4/20/2014 Day 10 – Zero day – Ride from Anza to Idyllwild, CA

We were up around 7 and drinking coffee in Goat’s kitchen shortly after.  He treated us to coffee cake and Mexican breakfast with chorizo sausage.

We spent the morning talking with each other, hearing many storied from Goat’s experience working in Iraq.  We relaxed.

Enjoying the spoils of a 'hiker box' outside of Anza, CA.

Enjoying the spoils of a ‘hiker box’ outside of Anza, CA.

Before long we were in the car making the climb to Idyllwild where we thanked and said goodbye to Goat.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring town.  We ate ice cream and I found gaiters and sandals.  We also got some beer.

Our room at the Idyllwild Inn is surprisingly nice.  Wish I had more money saved to indulge a bit more in town!

Arctic aka Blake going through his bounce box (or bucket!) in Idyllwild.

Arctic aka Blake going through his bounce box (or bucket!) in Idyllwild.


 

Some additional thoughts…

For anyone hiking the trail this year, I have some advice.  Learn about and visit any and all trail angels.  In my planning process I put very little time into learning about the trail angels that give so much of their time and energy to us thru-hikers.  These people go out of their way to make the experience of hiking much more then just getting from point A to point B.  They are a diverse group of people who all share one common quality – they love the trail and actively support us in our quest to hike it.

The first trail angel that I want to give a special shout out to is Warner Springs Monty.  This former through hiker has a big heart and welcomed up into his home without hesitation.

I first saw his name on a piece of paper that was taped under the overpass at Scissors Crossing.  It was upside down on the concrete wall in front of me and initially, I didn’t even take the time to read it.  After camping near the highway that night, I was preparing my pack the following morning when I finally cocked my head sideways to see what was printed on this piece of paper.  The gist of the note was simple – Monty would pick you up, give you a place to sleep, food, shower, and laundry.  There was no fee although it was suggested that you make a donation based on what you could afford.  In all honestly I thought of this opportunity as a great way to save a little bit of money getting some of my needs met.  I copied down the phone number on the piece of paper before setting off for a long day of hiking.

Eventually I made it to Warner Springs and after a double cheese burger from the resource center, I decided to give Monty a call and see if he had room for me at his house.  A quirky man answered the phone and after I introduced myself, he said something like, ‘I bet you’re looking for some food, a shower, some laundry, and a place to sleep, right?’.  Of course this was exactly what I was looking for and after Monty explained that his house was not a ‘party house’, he said he would be more then happy to pick me up.

Roi and Sarah had already talked to Monty earlier that day and they were planning on going to spend the night at his house also.  We all agreed to a 2 o’clock pick up time and made sure we were all there when Monty arrived.  Another hiker by the trail name Santa’s Helper decided to come with us as well.

When Monty finally rolled up in his old, brown pickup truck, he was not exactly the man I had pictured in my head.  Younger and more spry then he sounded on the phone, Monty burst out of the driver seat and introduced himself.  We asked if we could get a ride to the post office to pick up our resupply packages and he quickly agreed and told us to load up.  I couldn’t immediately locate my ID and fumbled with my pack while I heard Monty say something like ‘I should know better then to wait around for hikers’.  HAH!  I didn’t want to be left behind so I grabbed my whole pack and tossed it in the bed before quickly hopping in myself.  Roi and Blake also jumped in and we were off.

Without going into every other detail of our stay with Monty in painstaking detail I’ll distill our experience into a final paragraph.  Monty turned out to be an amazing host.  His impatience is simply his nature and I learned to love this quality and almost find some humor in it remarking to Amanda, ‘When Monty is ready to go, he is READY TO GO.’  He cooked us breakfast and dinner, piling food on our plates multiple times until we had no room left.  He told us stories of his life, hiking long distances with little weight.  Monty turned out to be an awesome musician, jamming with Roi for about 3 hours, having us sing along with some classics as well as some of his own original songs (all stolen from other musicians he joked).

As Monty drove us back into town so we could continue our hike, I realized something (I think I actually realized it sooner).  This experience was MUCH more then just having an inexpensive place to eat and sleep.  This was the experience of a human being, selflessly sharing his love of something with other people who have that same love.  Travelers and adventurers seek experience, not tangible things.  Monty is that traveler and that adventurer.  He has been formed by the amazing experiences and interactions that only the trail can offer.  He has sought to provide these same experiences for those of us following in the footsteps that he and others have pioneered.  He asks nothing in return.  Enjoying the experience is his toll and it is a rich bounty that money could never purchase.  I want to say, THANK YOU Monty, a hundred times over.  Your caring and enthusiasm has enriched my experience and I only shared your company at mile 109!  I have 2500+ more miles to meet other people like yourself.

Any hikers coming up the trail behind me, give Monty a call and if he has room, stay with him, even if it’s for one evening.  Put some money (it doesn’t have to be a lot) in the donation jug to help him continue doing the amazing things he does for us.

Siestas are a great way to dry out your nasty-ass feet and rehydrate without carrying excessive amounts of water ON the trail.  Tule Spring.

Siestas are a great way to dry out your nasty-ass feet and rehydrate without carrying excessive amounts of water ON the trail. Tule Spring.

The first 109 miles

Hello from Warner Springs!  I just finished hiking the first 109 miles of the PCT and it has been AWESOME.  I have come to a few quick conclusions.  First, hiking 20 miles (on average) a day is challenging but can be fun.  Second, keeping my blog updated is going to be a bit more challenging then I originally anticipated.  I am not giving up though, I just wanted you all to understand that the posts will probably be once a week, maybe a bit less frequently, it all depends on when I have access to a computer.  I AM keeping a daily journal so that I can remember everything I want to write about on here – basically daily notes to jog my memory and help me write for all of you.  So here it goes.

20140417-090714.jpg

Day one.  Go time.  Time to start the hike, the journey that I have been looking forward to for roughly 6 months.  All the planning and research and hours spent on the internet and reading books culminates in this moment where I find myself standing next to some white wooden posts in front of a rusty fence in the desert.  To be clear, this is the boarder fence, protecting our (once) great nation.  Maybe it still is great, right now I’m not sure but hopefully I’ll find the answer.  I mean, one would assume that walking across 2600+ miles would give me a good idea.

t’s easy to lose faith.  Just turn on the television or read the newspaper.  Endless piles of bullshit in all directions.  But I know there are amazing places and amazing people – they’re out there.  So enough of MY bullshit.  Here is what has happened so far.


 

4/11 Day 1 – Mexican Boarder to Lake Morena – 20 miles

I’ve finally started the quest.  The days leading up to today have felt a bit tedious.  I’ve been so close, just waiting to jump off.

And just like that, Dad and Susan were taking my photo, immortalizing this moment in time when I began what was once just an idea.  I’m kind of at a loss for words – shocked 20140417-090606.jpgthat I have begun.  A small part of me knows that there is always a chance that I will not successfully make it to Canada.  At this moment though, I’m ecstatic to have life simplified to the point of ‘one foot in front of the other’.

The weather today was quite nice – felt no warmer then 80’s.  Also looking forward to a cooling trend.  There was a little breeze most of the day.

Rolling terrain crossed train tracks and a small creek before climbing to a sort of mesa with evidence of recent fire and lots of wildflowers.

I met and hiked with multiple thru-hikers including Jonata (sp?), Brendan, George, Sunbeam, Meredith, Wilderness Bob and Lucky.

Big climb of the day involved descending to Hauser Creek and then climbing Morena Butte.

Climbed a knobby boulder before rolling into Morena Lake campground.  We received soda from other thru-hikers who will be starting tomorrow.

Tired and sore but very happy to be here and looking forward to whatever tomorrow brings.


 

4/12 Day 2 – Lake Morena CG to Mile 40 – 20 miles

Another day completed.  After a cold night, everyone awoke to uber condensation on inner tent walls.  The morning was typical – I cooked up a cup of cheesy grits and coffee.

20140417-090653.jpgSome folks left camp before the sun crested the surrounding mountains.  A veil of clouds hung low in the valley.

I was ready before the folks I hiked with on day 1 and I decided to hit the trail solo.

I met many other hikers today including the Israeli couple, Roi and Sarah.  Also met Birdman, Christian, Butters – I think that’s it.

It’s likely that I’ll take a shorter day tomorrow and kill some time in Mount Laguna.

Tonight I’m cowboy’d up just south of Burnt Rancheria campground in a beautiful stand of pines with a grass understory.  Tired.  Food.  More tomorrow!


4/13 Day 3 – Mile 40 to Pioneer Mail Picnic Area – 12.6 miles

After a beautiful & calm night sleeping beneath the stately pines, I woke at 6:45 to song birds.  After two twenty mile days back to back, I knew today should be a bit mellower.

I had a very leisurely morning – peanut butter bagel and coffee were enjoyed from the warmth of my sleeping bag.  When I finally rallied it was around 8:30 and I only had about two miles into Mount LAguna.  This little (LITTLE, less then 500 people) town is right off the trail and offers the thru-hiker many goodies.

I’m not craving huge greasy hamburgers yet so I opted out of either restaurant.   I did however stop into the gear shop which is run by Dave ‘Super’.  I swapped out my aluminum tent stakes for titanium and also got a 2 liter bladder, tyvek ground cloth, and20140417-090734.jpg a bottle for cooking oil.

Super gave me a shakedown and helped me shave a few ounces off my pack weight.

While talking with Super, Roi showed up and I returned his trowel which I found on the trail yesterday.

I spent another hour in town at the general store where I enjoyed a banana and root beer.  And Super bestowed upon me the trail name ‘Cheetah’.  I like it!

Hot hiking led to a few shady rests.  Views of the desert floor, Mt. Laguna observatory, and Garnet peak were superb.

Tonight dinner was cheesy pesto tortellini followed by hot chocolate.


 

4/14/2014 Day 4 – Pioneer Mail Picnic Area to Scissors Crossing – 24.4 miles *lunar eclipse

What’s with all the 4’s? Very strange – and a lunar eclipse to top it off.,,I don’t know.

So today, biggest hiking day of my life and I survived.  24.4 miles was brutal on the feet but perseverance paid off.

I woke up at Pioneer Mail early enough to catch the sunrise, beauty.  Bagel and PB for breakfast and coffee was a nice way to get the day started.  The horde of local woodpeckers kept me company while I packed up.

An early start made the first miles a breeze.  I ran into X-ray at the Sunrise Trailhead while getting water.  I also crossed paths with a couple young CA state park trail guys who were hard at work taking a union…haha.

The trail meandered before descending into Mason Valley.  There I met Kit, Backup, Coach, First Class, Mike and Amanda.  Snack and then some saywer squeezing before climbing again – yeah!  The views and nice breeze returned.

I passed everyone and saw amazing cactus blooms on the ridge top.  I eventually descended into Rodriguez canyon and caught up to Roi and Sarah at the fire tank.  They20140417-090810.jpg convinced me to continue to Scissors crossings.

Descending from Rodriguez canyon was AWESOME.  Real desert – cacti everywhere.  The heat increased.  Cacti blooms, sandy washes, other-worldly.

Trudged to Scissors and met Evil Goat, Blake, Seamus.  Roi and Evil Goat played strings while we drank tecate thanks to trail angel Houdini.  Fun stories were shared.  Now bed, exhausted!


 

4/15 Day 5 – Scissors Crossing to Barrel Spring – 24.1 miles

Another 20+ mile day.  Woke up early to the sound of traffic on the highway, time to get going.

Although I was last out of camp, I moved fast up into the hills.  BIG barrel cactus everywhere as well as Ocotillo.  Endless climbing resulted in nice views and a breeze.

Leap frogged with Roi and Sarah, Turkey Feather, Blake, Bilbo, and Seamus.  Everyone met up at 3rd gate water cache for a siesta.

Another 9 miles got us to mile 100!  Passed Billy Goat’s cave at mile 96 and counted to 1000 before siesta (earlier in the day).

Saw poison oak!  Look out.  Camping with whole gang at Barrel.  Evil Goat is playing 20140417-090628.jpgfiddle in the woods near by.  Great, long day – tomorrow leads to relaxation!

ps saw two snakes

pps got scared by a bird


 

4/16 Day 6 – Barrel Spring to Warner Springs – 8 miles

Short morning of hiking.  Only 8 miles from Barrel spring into Warner.  I hiked with Blake and we shared life stories.  The miles breezed by and before we knew it, we were at Eagle rock.

We took photos and hung out with Evil Goat and Santa’s Helper.  Green, rolling fields stretched out in every direction.

Three more miles of hiking got us to Warner Springs where we ate double cheese burgers at the resource center – a thru-hiker mecca.  They also have a small resupply store, ice cream, showers, laundry, etc.

Instead of staying there we called Warner Springs Monty, a trail angel near by.  He wisked us away to the post office to get resupply boxes, and then onto his house where20140417-090751.jpg he cooked us amazing bar-b-q chicken sandwiches.  Desert was ice cream sundaes.

Tomorrow will be a true zero day.  After having a shower, washing my clothing, and having good food and beer in my belly, life is good!


 

Letting some creativity flow

Home

The ceiling is about six feet above my head.  A smooth white surface, crisscrossed with a grid of dark, aged wooden beams, the echos of my typing fingers bouncing off of it back down at me.  I bring my gaze down to the ledge running the length of the wall in front of me which supports black and white images of a memorial and the interior an extravagant house.  The table which this computer rests on matches the color of the wood on the ceiling and has two abstract gold vases centered on it.  To my right are mirror-backed, lighted cabinets, no doubt intended to display something elegant. They are empty.

The hotel has been around for a while, exactly how long I can’t be sure.  The lobby hints at an earlier decade with it’s marble and brass.  Old elevators can’t deny their age either.  This temporary home would be comfortable for someone with much higher standards then myself. I am only a guest here.  A traveling passenger, living in this home away from home away from home.  Can I even call this state home?

The idea of home is a place that is always there, at least that is how I interpret it.  Our quest for something that doesn’t change in a world that thrives on change.  How natural is this scenario?When a mature tree crashes (silently?) to the ground in the forest, opportunists germinate and race to fill this sun-drenched void.  How warmly would we welcome those who, in the wake of a disaster, rushed in and built a house on our old foundation?  Can this succession that is the law of nature be tamed?

I’m about to carry my home with me for five months.  It’s really not too difficult.  It fits in my hand.  A home as impermanent as this is erected in two minutes time and disassembled just as quickly.  It offers a place to sleep and stay dry.  This is minimalism.  But it’s not just my ‘home’ that is simpler these days.  In six days I will become a nomad (more of a nomad anyway).

In six days I will place my hand on a cluster of wooden posts that rise out of the desert sands on the Mexican boarder and gaze North.  With an improbably small backpack, I will close my eyes for a fleeting moment and think ‘this is it’.  In six days I will begin walking and I won’t stop for five months.

As a traveler on the Pacific Crest Trail, I will sleep and wake on Gaia’s schedule. The straight lines and concrete and plastic of our civilized society will give way to salt brush, cacti, rock and sand.  The curving, rolling landscape which flows beneath my feet funnels me North.  An untold diversity of plants, animals, and landforms is waiting just ahead and I will see it all.

Gasoline-powered landscaping equipment is humming outside the wall to my left.  Water rushes through piping to a shower head down the hall.  On the sideboard that is level with my eyes, sculptures of ginko leaves, made from some silver metal reflect the searing white-yellow filaments of bulbs hanging above my head.  This ‘home’ is not my home.  My home is the trail, and I will be there in six short days.

When lite IS right

In my quest to prepare for the PCT, I have found myself getting sucked into the game of shedding weight wherever possible. Recently I read a great article by Andrew Skurka “Stupid light”.  Andrew’s article gives some great examples of omitted gear that ultimately proved detrimental to his comfort and abilities on particular trips.  I thought I would give a few examples of my own to further illustrate weight savings, not safety 20140327-165842.jpgcompromise.

As I have been preparing for the trail, water treatment has been one of the areas that I have seen my strategy slowly evolve.  I originally intended to use a chemical purification product called AquaMira. I used this product on a NOLS semester course with success. In addition to its ability to make questionable water safer to drink, it had no unpleasant taste that I could detect in addition to being simple to use and light weight.  Unfortunately it is rather cost prohibitive at $11 (which treats 30 gallons).  I anticipate drinking more then 200 gallons of water during my PCT hike. This works out to a cost of roughly $75 for enough Aqua Mira for my entire hike.

I felt that I could do better then $75 so I looked to my Steri Pen Classic.  I bought it for $50 on sale at REI. Some benefits are the fact that it is chemical free and more compact then most filters. Upon researching this product however, I found that it will only purify roughly 100 liters (under ideal conditions) on one set of lithium batteries ($10).  This would cost roughly $80 for batteries in addition to the cost of the pen itself for a total of $130 for chemical free water purification for the duration of my hike.

Although I had entertained the idea of using bleach, which is highly cost effective and lightweight, I still have a 20140327-165831.jpghard time willingly putting chemicals in my body (even though chlorine is used to purify municiple water supplies…). Before I invested in a dropper bottle and bleach, I was lucky enough to come across the Saywer Mini water filter.  This little gem is compact, easy to use, and for $25, will purify 100,000 gallons.  Also, in my quest to shed unnecessary weight, this filter comes in at 1.5oz less then the Steri Pen including a collapsible water bottle, straw attachment, flushing syringe and stuff sack. If I leave behind a few of these accessories, I can get the weight down to 1.6oz, almost 5oz less then the Steri Pen!  This is a rare instance where the lighter option is also much cheaper (unheard of when shedding ounces) and is actually simpler to use without sacrificing function.

After having so much success in reducing my gear weight with water treatment, I reevaluated my stove – the MSR Microrocket. This little piece of metal is already light, weighing in at 4.5oz including all the accessories. These additional accessories include a hard plastic case as well as a piezoelectric igniter.  Separating these items and putting the stove back on the scale revealed a weight savings of 1.75oz. Leaving behind a plastic case and igniter (redundant items since the stove can stow in my cooking pot and I will still carry a lighter) is a safe move that doesn’t jeopardize my safety or comfort, two important factors to consider when taking items out of your pack.

20140327-165837.jpgOne last example of weight savings is my choice to forgo a long sleeve shirt.  I initially planned on bringing a wool tshirt as well as a long sleeve shirt.  While it would be nice to have to two layers, I came across my biking arm warmers.  I substituted the arm warmers for the long sleeved shirt – a moderate weight savings which doesn’t sacrifice my ability to cover my arms for added warmth or protection from the sun.

With all of these substitutions and omissions, the main question I asked myself was, ‘am I threatening my safety?’.  In all of these examples the answer was no, allowing me to make these weight saving changes without threatening my well-being on the trail.  I recommend using the same criteria when making decisions about your own gear choices – good luck and happy hiking!

 

Planning for a PCT Thru-hike

Recently a friend asked if I might be interested in writing a blog article about the planning process for the PCT.  Until he had suggested it to me, I hadn’t thought about detailing the steps of planning the hike.  Sure, I have been loosely documenting my experience with this blog, mentioning my experiences so far with little tidbits about the process of getting ready to hike.  But so far, I have not written any specific articles detailing the process as a whole.  So here it goes.

Getting the Bug

It all starts with an inspiring series of events.  At least that’s how I would describe my experience with ‘catching the bug’ for a long distance hike.  Rewind a few (15+) years.  When I was a middle school student I got involved with a fantastic program known as Overland (www.overlandsummers.com).  They are based out of Williamstown, Massachusettes and offer summer outdoor recreation based camp programs for students from middle-highschool.  I had never attended any kind of sleep-away camp and was a bit apprehensive at first.  With some coaxing from my family I participated in a two week program in the North East, hiking and mountain biking.  Some of our hiking took us on the Appalachian Trail, one of the most famous long-distance hiking trails in North America.  This was not the specific moment, but this was the beginning of my love of hiking.20140321-170158.jpg

I participated in other trips with Overland as a student, later returning as a trip leader for three years.  I took students mountain biking in Colorado, backpacking in Yellowstone National Park, and on my final year as an instructor, co-led a cross country bicycle tour from Georgia to California.  Up until our cross-country ride I had never completed a long distance journey and to say we were thrilled with our accomplishment would be an understatement.  This trip, which lasted six weeks, was a testament to the ability of the human body, given time, motivation, team work, and the desire to accomplish something ‘great’.  Our group of students and my co-leader amazed me with what we all accomplished together.

Fast forward.  Some time after my coast to coast bike tour it occurred to me:  I biked 3000 miles in 6 weeks, why couldn’t I hike 2000+ miles in 5-6 months?  During college in Maine, I had some opportunities to hike on the AT near it’s Northern terminus in Baxter State Park and on occasion I had the opportunity to meet and chat with some AT thru-hikers.  They seemed like an odd breed, talking about eating gallons of ice cream in mere minutes, carrying VERY simplified backpacking setups, and sporting strange ‘trail names’.  I wanted to be one of these people.

I didn’t catch the bug at one specific moment, I had lots of opportunities and experiences that conspired to make the idea of thru-hiking a long distance trail something that I wanted to do at some point in my life.

When is the time right?

While getting excited and deciding that you would like to attempt a thru-hike might seem like a big step (actually wanting to hike thousands of miles you say?), deciding when the time is right is a much more difficult task.  We don’t exactly live in a society that embraces the idea of leaving your job (or career?), home, and responsibilities (who needs those anyway…) behind, in favor living in the woods for 4-6 months.  And even if this sounds appealing, how realistic is it to just pick up and go?  Could you leave your job and would it be waiting for you 5 months later to pick up where you left off?  Do you have the ability to move out of your home so that you don’t have a mortgage or rent?  Can you afford your other bills – phone, health insurance, student loans while not working?  Regardless of money and societal expectations, you also have your family and loved one’s who will no doubt have an opinion of the hike you are about to embark on.

Luckily for me conditions have been just right.  It hasn’t been an easy set of events to get to this point though.  In addition to a nine year long relationship ending, I was laid off in late September, a month before Thanksgiving.  While both of these events have conspired to make my thru-hike attempt possible, I would not wish divorce or loss of work on anyone.  They are both terrible and will make even the most confident person examine their self-worth.  Instead of getting depressed about the shitty hand I was just dealt I decided to remain positive.  I no longer had any responsibility to anyone other then myself – this is a good place to find yourself if you want to go hiking for 5 months.

Without speaking too much longer on ‘when the time is right’, it has become clear to me that often there is no ‘right’ time.  You simply have to get off your ass and DO IT.  Don’t wait.  You are only going to get older and fatter (it’s the American way).  You are only going to become more entrenched in your way of life, having commitments, obligations, bills, events, Jesus, you might even have kids.  You either take the steps necessary to make it happen or it won’t.  You have to be proactive here, it’s the only way.  If you wait, the opportunity could slip by without giving you the slightest chance to embrace to unknown and get out there.

Some stuff you HAVE to do

I already mentioned some big picture stuff like leaving your job, your home, and almost all of your responsibilities.  But let’s backtrack a tiny bit.  What do you know about the trail?  Where does it start?  Where does it end?  How long is it and how much will it cost you to hike it and what do you need and where will you sleep and…  What I am getting at here is research.  You have to do some.  Behold, the greatness of the interwebs.

I personally started with The Pacific Crest Trail Association website.  You will find more information on this site that you can easily digest in one sitting – it is a fantastic starting point complete with maps, trail journals, photos, phone numbers, distances, and any other information regarding this hiking trail you could desire.

Another great course of action would be a Google search for ‘PCT trail journals’ or some similar keyword combination.  In the past few months I have come across multiple journals and blogs of previous and aspiring PCT thru-hikers.  The experiences and lessons they have learned will no doubt help you refine your planning stages, avoiding some of their mistakes, and learning from their successes.

PERMITS

This is really part of ‘stuff you have to do’ but deserves a small, separate section.  The two big ones you will need are:

My long distance hiking and Canada entry permits.

My long distance hiking and Canada entry permits.need are:

Long Distance Permit – Information and forms to obtain this are available on www.pcta.org.  The paperwork is easy to fill out and straight forward but you will want to do a little bit of general research about the trail prior to filling out the forms.  The PCTA will want to know things like your anticipated starting and ending dates in addition to where you will be starting and finishing your hike.  This permit is only needed if you are going to be hiking more then 500 continuous miles.  I received my permit roughly 2 weeks after sending in my paperwork but the closer you get to April/May, the longer I would anticipate waiting – best to secure this one early.

Permit to enter Canada via PCT – Like the Long Distance Permit, I would recommend securing this as early as possible.  I have read about other hikers having to wait over a month to receive this permit after mailing in their paperwork.  I got mine in two weeks.  You will need a valid US passport and drivers license and color copies will be required in addition to an estimated date of entry to Canada and itinerary while in Canada.  While it sounds a little daunting, filling out this paperwork was not very difficult.  Write legibly and be as complete as possible to avoid having your paperwork returned or denied.

*There are a couple of other, less important permits you will likely want to secure.  All the information regarding permits is provided on the PCTA website – I’ll let you figure it out, it’s part of the adventure!

GEAR

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

I won’t mention every item because YOU will have to decide what you can and can’t live without.  Here is the breakdown as far as I am concerned:

  • Three big items – Backpack, Sleeping bag, Tent.  These are usually the heaviest items.  I am using an internal frame pack (Gregory Z55, my heaviest piece of gear).  I am using a silnylon tarp-tent (Black Diamond beta lite).  I am using a 20(ish) degree down sleeping bag (Rab neutrino 600).  Don’t get hung up too much on weights, but if possible, shoot for under 10 lbs (it’s very doable with today’s fancy-pants materials).
  • Cookware – Stove and other cooking items.  I am using a small canister stove (MSR micro-rocket) and a titanium (Evernew) cook pot.  While I have used and read about others using alcohol stoves (exceptionally light) this is not possible due to fire restrictions in California and possibly other areas on the PCT this year (2014).  Consider eating utensils, mug, seasonings, etc.
  • Water treatment – I will most likely be using bleach.  There are lots of options out there, filters, uv sterilizers, chemical treatments.  I would suggest something that is lite, fail-proof, and cost-effective.
  • Clothing – Upper and lower body layers.  The criteria I am using:  Can I wear everything all at once.  I am choosing layers that compliment each other and can all be used together (comfortably).  Minimalism is key here to avoid bulk and excess weight.  In the past month and a half I have removed almost half the items I originally planned on bringing.  An important note – you will likely need to make changes based on the region you are in.  Your clothing selection for the Southern California desert will most definitely be different then what you need in the Cascades.
  •   Footwear – Not too much info here.  The amount of support you should seek for footwear depends on a couple factors.  Do you pronate or supinate?  Do you know what these two terms mean?  Also, the ‘burliness’ of your footwear should be relative to the weight that you are carrying on your back.  The less weight in your pack, the lighter footwear will PROBABLY be sufficient for you.  I plan on using trail running shoes.  Test your proposed footwear PRIOR to your hike WITH the FULL WEIGHT you anticipate hiking with for DISTANCES THAT ARE EQUIVALENT to what you expect to hike on the trail.
  • Other items – Lots of things can be included here.  Some extras I am bringing include trekking poles, a camera, a digital voice recorder, a journal, a PLB, and some other small items.  Keep in mind ‘even small’ items add up.

My original pack weight was roughly 20lbs.  I removed some items and got it down to a little over 15lbs.  I am aiming to reduce that number by 2-3lbs more before I get on the trail.  Am I a fanatic about pack weight? No, but having hiked with packs as heavy as 85lbs (thanks NOLS) and also with lightweight ‘minimal’ backpacking setups, I have concluded that going light rather then heavy is the correct choice for me.

Training

There is no true consensus here.  Some people do a lot of training, some do a little, and some do none.  If you have never been on a backpacking trip I would suggest trying it out prior to making all the aforementioned preparations.  If you know what to expect then I would suggest incorporating SOME sort of regular physical activity into your daily life.  Other then being generally fit I think your thru-hike will kick you into shape.  Sure, it will hurt a little at first.  The short answer here is that everyone is different when it comes to physical activity and you should train in a way that will prepare YOU so that you can have the greatest chance of success.

Food

Two main options here: buy as you go or resupply via mail.  There is also the obvious middle ground where you do a little of both.  Using pre-packaged resupply boxes will likely give you better financial control over gear/food but can be limiting.  How can you possibly anticipate accurately everything you will need in advance?  Also, how will you know exactly how much food you will ACTUALLY consume?  I plan on purchasing as I go, but occasionally sending boxes of food/supplies ahead when availability/cost of resources dictates the need.

Sponsorship/free stuff

All I have to say is that this stuff exists.  Get creative.  Send letters, emails, and make phone calls.  Your chances of success will depend on a few factors including what you can offer potential sponsors as well as your persistence and professionalism.  Be polite, expect to get turned down a lot, but stay positive and you just might find some great opportunities.

In conclusion…

The above describes SOME of what I have experienced in getting ready for this endeavor.  It is highly likely that I have left some key information out (thanks recreational substances!).  The important take-away here is that preparing for a trip of this magnitude will be different for everyone.  Don’t expect the same experience as I have had.  Planning to thru-hike the PCT might be much more complicated, but it might also be simpler.  Do your research, have fun with it and make it yours!