Nerves, Resupplies, & Parsing Gear Choices

With only two months and some change until my departure, I’ve been busy planning & preparing. As the date approaches, I’ve begun taking a look at California’s snowpack reports for the Sierras, and water reports for Southern California especially–this creek is flowing, that one is dry, there’s a faucet on at this road crossing, but it’s turned off, and that horse trough is full.

And I’m getting nervous. Excited, mostly. But also incredibly anxious.

What if the water report is incorrect, and I’m stuck in the desert without a drop to drink? Are my resupplies in the Sierra too far apart? Will my reduced mileage through the rock and snow force me out for several more days than I anticipated–without my requisite 3,500+ calories/day? What if I tumble down a remote ridge, traveling without a GPS location/rescue device?

My heart rate increases ever so steadily, I feel a slight sweat on my palms.

Am I an idiot? Am I really doing this?

Looking south to Mt. Adams on the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA

Looking south to Mt. Adams on the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA (Sept. 2014)

An idiot? Probably.

And yes, I’m really doing this.

Two weeks ago I sat down with Halfmile’s PCT maps, Yogi’s PCT guide, The Internet, some wine & cheese & crackers, and planned out my resupply stops. Though subject to change, they are as follows:

  • Mt. Laguna, CA (42.6)
  • Warner Springs, CA (109.5)
  • Idylwild, CA (179.4)
  • Ziggy & the Bear at Cabazon, CA (210.8)
  • Big Bear City, CA (266.0)
  • Cajon Pass/I-15, CA (342.0)
  • Wrightwood, CA (369.5)
  • The Saufley’s at Agua Dulce, CA (454.5)
  • Tehachapi, CA (566.5)
  • Kennedy Meadows at Inyokern, CA (702.2)
  • Independence/Lone Pine, CA (788.9)
  • Muir Trail Ranch, CA (857.7)
  • Mammoth Lakes, CA (906.8)
  • Tuolomne Meadows, CA (942.5)
  • Kennedy Meadows North, CA (1018.5)
  • South Lake Tahoe, CA (1094.5)
  • Soda Springs, CA (1155.6)
  • Sierra City, CA (1197.5)
  • The Braaten’s at Belden, CA (1289.5)
  • Chester, CA (1334.7)
  • Burney Falls State Park at Burney, CA (1423.5)
  • Mt. Shasta, CA (1506.5)
  • Etna, CA (1606.5)
  • Seiad City, CA (1662.1)
  • Ashland, OR (1726.0)
  • Crater Lake/Mazama Village, OR (1829.3)
  • Shelter Cove Resort, OR (1912.3)
  • Bend, OR (2007.4)
  • Timberline Lodge, OR (2107.3)
  • Cascade Locks, OR (2155.0)
  • Trout Lake, OR (2237.5)
  • White Pass, WA (2303.0)
  • Snoqualmie Pass, WA (2402.0)
  • The Dinsmore’s at Skykomish, WA (2476.0)
  • Stehekin, WA (2580.2)
  • Manning Park Lodge, BC (2668.8)

Those towns marked in blue designate places wherein I’ll have resupply boxes mailed to me, as stores are sparse or non-existent; the parenthesized numbers denote which PCT mile the town lands on, or to/from where I’ll be hitching a ride.


Though I’m waiting till mid-late March to put my boxes fully together, I’m experimenting with a dehydrator. If all goes well, I’ll throw a few meals together, dehydrate, and mail them to myself–just add hot water!

Along with the particulars of my mail drops, I’ve been going through my gear, ensuring I have everything I need, ditching this item or that, and deciding what exactly I plan to carry on my back for 2,660 miles. Though I’m sure I’ll switch up an item or two before departing–not to mention chucking the things I realize are useless and/or not worth the weight while hiking.

My baseweight (how much your pack weighs, minus consumables–food, water, fuel) is hovering around 18lb at the moment, landing me in the upper echelon of the “lightweight” backpacking designation. Ultralight hikers boast sub-10lb baseweights, lightweight under 20lb.

IMG_4101As of today, this is what’s in my pack/on my body, though I’m still waiting on a couple smaller things (Ursack, a couple smartwater bottles, some first aid items). Some things I’ll only want or need during certain portions of the trail. Warm gloves (and maybe warmer pants?) for the High Sierra, a bear-proof (heavy and incredibly inconvenient) canister required in Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and IMG_4102Sequoia National Parks, and my little alcohol-burning brass stove. This stove is currently disallowed in Southern California as part of the campfire ban, as it requires uncontained fuel and can be a bit dangerous. I’ll likely switch out my canister-fueled MSR Pocketrocket for the brass stove when I reach Northern California.

For those interested in specifics, see my Gear List.

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Quartermaster

Meet LeeAnne:

A fellow Michigander, LeeAnne and I have been friends since middle school.

Here is some slightly embarrassing photographic evidence:

She is a hiker, cyclist, trail-builder, snowshoer, backpacker, and bestest friend extraordinaire. She is super smart and has much more wilderness experience than I do and probably secretly thinks I’m a little insane.

Which is why, with full Congressional approval, she has been appointed Quartermaster for the duration of “Helen’s PCT Adventure.” As such, her duties include, but are not limited to:

  • Mailing me resupply packages as I reach particular towns. These will generally include food (some trail towns don’t have very good food stores), the next batch of Halfmile’s PCT Maps & Yogi’s Handbook (both providing great information on nearby towns, upcoming water sources/caches, & good camping spots), and any new/replacement gear I may need (socks & underwear, a bear canister required in Northern California, etc).
    • Packages can take between 2-3 weeks to reach a post office via general delivery, as some towns are quite remote.
    • Other packages may be sent via UPS or FedEx to a local business or individuals’ home willing to hold boxes for thru-hikers.
  • Listening to me cry over the phone when my feet are covered in blisters and I want to come home.
    • Sending me a new pair of shoes to alleviate said blister pain.
    • Convincing me not to quit.
  • Accepting packages that I send back of unused and discarded gear that I may either no longer need or decide to go without, as it’s too heavy.
  • Coming to hang out/hike with me as I reach Washington and draw nearer the Canadian border. I’ll probably need some serious moral support. And some hot food. Blueberry muffins and a few tacos wouldn’t go amiss.

She’s a badass, and I couldn’t ask for a better Q.

Fears & Changes & Wild

I’ve changed.

Several days ago I was clicking through some photographs from earlier this year on my computer, and was struck by their strangeness. That girl in the pictures–standing next to my sister on the Oregon coast in May or backpacking with friends in the Alpine Lakes in June–she’s not me anymore.

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Sure, our lives are always in flux. Our opinions and behaviors and speech and beliefs altering ever so slightly over the course of a year or a decade or a job or relationship. But I’ve never felt so completely removed from a life and a way of being as I have over the last six months.

I can’t say with any specificity what, exactly, brought this about. A handful of new, sometimes exciting, but often less so, new experiences perhaps. I think, though, that I can attribute a lot of this (most of it?) to the trail. Though I have yet to set out from the Mexican border, the PCT has become an intricate part of my daily life: I live frugally in order to put away a hundred here, a dime there for the five months away from civilization. I think about who I might meet or the days I won’t see anyone at all; about the nights under the stars or the deluge of rain or snow; about the days I accidentally stray off-trail and lose my way in the wilderness. I think about which items to include in my first aid kit as I push through another day of work, counting down the days till I can leave my job.

When I first contemplated thru-hiking the PCT, I was scared shitless. As writing helps me think things through, I made a list of my fears–the things I knew I must conquer before the trail, and the fears I’ll just have to face as they present themselves.

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In confronting these things that frighten me, I’ve had to step intentionally out of my comfort zone. While, admittedly, some were abated with simple research, others murmur more insidiously in the lower recesses of my thoughts, simmering slowly and compounding other anxieties…. most specifically, going alone.

I’ve never shirked from doing things by myself. I’m not shy by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a strong streak of introversion and independence, and perhaps selfishly, I like to do things at my own pace.

However, enjoying my own company on a day-to-day basis is a far cry from committing to a five month solo journey through the wilderness. Although I won’t always be alone on the PCT, I’m learning to rely on my own intuition and my own resourcefulness, and I’ve overcome, I think, a lot of those fears I had at the outset. Or at least I’m able to face them with reason instead of blindness.

It is for this reason I’ve decided not to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. You’ve probably heard of it. Woman going through a divorce and overcoming a heroin addiction hikes 1,000 miles of the PCT. A film version of the memoir staring Reese Witherspoon just hit theaters last weekend, and there’s talk of an Oscar already. When I tell people about my plans to hike the PCT I’m almost inevitably asked if I’ve read Wild. “I haven’t,” I respond, “I hadn’t even heard of it till several months ago.” “Well, you should definitely read it,” they usually say.

wild_posterBut for the same reasons that most people want to read the book, I don’t. I don’t need to live vicariously through Strayed’s experience. I don’t want to read about her self-discoveries or her struggles… not yet at least. I want to have my own experience, undiluted by the musings of another. I want to make my own mistakes and have my own triumphs, and maybe I’ll come to some of the same conclusions she did. But whatever they are, they’ll be mine.

As a side note, Strayed has faced a lot of derision from hikers and backpackers for various reasons, and though some are unfounded and somewhat cruel, others bring up more serious concerns. Most notably, she failed to comply with some backcountry ethics, she began her journey without any idea what she was doing and made some foolish and life-threatening decisions as a result. With the book and ensuing film’s popularity, seasoned backpackers worry the trail will be busy with inexperienced and inept hikers unready for the challenges of the trail. Be careful out there.