Tag Archives: thru-hike

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.

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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!