Delicious Foodstuffs & Training Hikes

I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time thinking about food. And I work as a cook.

The last month or so has been a flurry of dehydrating foods (and buying them when I got sick of that–Harmony House has excellent vegan/vegetarian options), blending up a few different trail mixes (all with chocolate. Lots of chocolate.), repackaging fruit snacks and hot chocolate, and putting meals together.

As of now, I’m planning on having my point person send me sixteen resupplies over the course of my hike–though that number is still rough. I suppose it sort of depends on how much food I end up with after my fixed supply points are covered.

My friend Jessie stopped over for an afternoon beer and took the liberty of garnishing many of the pictured trail mix bags with little notes. They started off sweet and lovely–“Jessie loves you,” and “We miss you!” and slowly turned sassy, till the final ones read “you’re gross” and “I’ve already replaced you.” It’s always nice to get an ego check, and will be even more lovely to see her handwriting while I’m crying under a tree in the rain in the middle of nowhere.

Though some of my pre-packed resupplies will just contain food, others will have the next set of maps I’ll need, a new pair of shoes/socks, a restock of first aid and medical products as well as hygiene items like a couple q-tips and a little baggie of wet wipes to get the grit out from behind my ears before crawling into my sleeping bag.

Beyond food resupplies, I’ve been paying close attention to the water reports coming out of Southern California to give me an idea of what I can expect in terms of stream levels in the desert. Trail Angel and former PCT hiker Double Tap maintains the PCT Water Report–a website to which hikers can contribute information about a particular water source by email/text/voicemail if they happen to pass by. Two hikers (trail names Trauma and Pepper) completed the first successful winter thru-hike of the PCT headed southbound on March 1st. Their water reports have proven invaluable to my plans of what to expect in just a few weeks.

My mother flew out from Michigan at the beginning of the month to see me off before I leave (and possibly die), cart me around Seattle to help pick up items I wasn’t willing to haul onto public transportation (see above Costco picture), and take a little training hike along Eagle Creek in northern Oregon.

Not absent from my daily thoughts are incredible excitement and anticipation sewn together with nerves. Am I prepared enough? Am I going to run out of food or water? I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about the trail as some of my fellow hikers–I can’t rattle off the list of passes in the Sierra or major climbs in the San Jacinto–but am I enlightened enough about the difficulties I’ll face? Am I planning my resupplies too far apart?

As my departure date slowly edges closer (seventeen days, now), I find myself taking stock of where I am. I heard an interview on NPR with a neuroscientist several months ago about the nature of memory. She posited that as adults, time seems to slip by more quickly not because the hours and days make up a smaller percentage of our lives as we age, but because we enter routines. There is nothing new to recall on this day or that, no significant changes or events, and so they meld together into a week or a month or a year or ten years.

Jon Krakauer wrote that the core of man’s spirit lies in new experiences, and I don’t intend on wasting my strongest, healthiest years doing menial work to reach a non-existent goal. So this weekend I wandered more slowly through Saturday’s farmer’s market; I walked more deliberately through my neighborhood and along the waterfront to work, as if I could physically immerse myself in the little details of my life–the small parts that so often seem insignificant, but actually make up the majority of our day-to-day lives.

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In the last year and a half I’ve cultivated a life in a new city, I’ve found a new and favorite hobby to which I’ve decided to dedicate a full five months of my life, I’ve met fascinating people and seen incredible things and experienced intense love and joy and gratitude. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I’m happy to wait and see.

Trail Jargon

Trail language is brimming with monikers & all around strange turns of phrase, and hikers love their acronyms. It took me a full month to catch on to all the shorthand, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve fallen into the habit of using trail-speak with Regular People. You know. Those folks who don’t take half their year to walk across the country. That’s you, probably, typical blog-reader.

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a small dictionary. Some of them are less intuitive than others. Some are stupid.

Cairn: (n) A stack of rocks ranging from two or three small stones to massive altar-like structures which mark the trail where it may be difficult to follow (over rock or open forest floor).

NOBO/SOBO: (adj) Northbound/Southbound–the direction you’re headed on you PCT hike

Yo-yo: (adj) Hiking the entire trail, and then simply turning around and doing the whole thing over again. (I know).

HYOH: (v) Hike Your Own Hike. I love this one, and it’s often thrown around during all sorts of conversations. Do your hike on your own terms–go at your own pace, eat what and when you like, filter your water or not, take this gear or that, take this alternate route or don’t. Don’t hike on someone else’s agenda.

Zero Day: (n) Taking a day off and hiking zero miles.

AZDPCTKO: (N) Annual Zero Day Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off, sponsored by Trail Angels, the PCTA (I think), and a bunch of fancy big name outdoor gear companies. Located at Lake Morena Campground in California at PCT mile 20. Gear companies sell cool stuff at sweet prices (but you probably don’t need anything by then, as you’ve already begun your hike), locals give water & snow reports for Southern California and the Sierra as well as trail closures, and you get to meet a bunch of fellow thru-hikers! This year, there are two kick-offs to accommodate the trail’s growing popularity, both at the end of April. I’ll have passed the area by then, but am considering hitching a ride back just to see what all the fuss is about.

Marathoner: (n) A day in which you hike 26 miles.

LNT: (N/v) Leave No Trace, the most important of backcountry ethics. Clean up after yourself, and don’t be a dick. Pack out all of your trash including food scraps, make sure to dig your cat hole at least six inches, respect wildlife, minimize camp and hiking impact, and consider others around you.

BPW: (n) Base Pack Weight–i.e., how much your pack weighs minus consumables (water, fuel, food). Ultralight packers boast a BPW under 10lb, lightweight is under 20lb, and anything over is considered traditional backpacking.

Cache: (n) An unnatural occurrence of water in the wilderness, where someone has left behind jugs of the sweetest of chemical compounds just when you thought you were going to die of thirst. Questionable alignment with LNT.

Bounce Box: (n) A form of resupply wherein a hiker will mail a box or a five-gallon bucket ahead to herself with items she doesn’t need every day, and doesn’t want to carry. Upon reaching town, she’ll pick it up at the post office, enjoy and refresh its contents, and mail it out again to herself further on up the trail.

Cowboy Camping: (v) Sleeping under the stars.

Hiker Trash: (n) Affectionate self-titled name for thru-hikers.

PCTA: (N) Pacific Crest Trail Association. They maintain the trail, and are a wealth of information on anything from water sources ad bear sightings to gathering the necessary backcountry permits and caring for your blisters. They’re pretty great, and they take donations.

Flip Flop: (v) Thru-hiking the PCT, just not all in order… usually a result of wildfire closures or snow pack. For example: hiking north to the Sierras, then flipping up to BC and hiking south to that same point.

Posthole: (n/v) The energy-sapping, annoying, but unavoidable result of walking through deep snow–when your leg collapses the snow and sinks in up to your thigh, requiring a strong lift, and often resulting in another post-hole.

Post-holing. Canada

Vitamin I: (n) Ibuprofen. ‘Nuff said.

Triple Crowner: (n) A Thru-hiker who has completed the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Yogi: (v) To convince, persuade, or inveigle locals/day-hikers into giving you food/water/a ride without actually asking for it. This can be a true art, and one at which I imagine I will not excel, as I don’t think I’m particularly charming or graceful. Here’s to hoping, though.

Trail Angel: (n) Basically anyone who gives you a hand on the trail, be it a ride to/from the trail, letting you camp out in their backyard/garage/house, giving you food/water, etc. Some trail angels are just passing day hikers, and some take on the duties full time. The Dinsmores near Stehekin, WA for example, put up PCT thru-hikers in a special-built dormitory, hold packages, have showers and laundry and all the modern conveniences you’ve forgotten about. They do it for free, but a little donation doesn’t go amiss.

Trail Magic: (n) Anything done by a Trail Angel, essentially. Sometimes its small (a beer or soda cache & some snacks near a trail head), and sometimes it’s a full-fledged mobile restaurant. I heard this excellent story on NPR in December about a pop-up cafe set up on a picnic table at Sonora Pass for thru-hikers, complete with a pancake breakfast and free wifi.

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.

Committed.

After a surprisingly fruitful telephone conversation with a Delta Airlines representative this morning, I purchased a plane ticket. Well, two plane tickets, really.

Since June, I’ve put a lot of trail planning at the end of a long list of other issues, daily responsibilities, and thoughts in need of attention. I bought most of the gear I’ll need (or think I’ll need, I should say), did some cursory research, and spent the rest of my weekends scaling peaks of the Central Cascades for more experience, leaving the specifics for later.

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Snow Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Last week my plans were hurried along by Jess, a friend and fellow outdoor enthusiast. She plans to visit her folks in central Arizona next March, and invited me to join her for a backpacking trip along a 50 mile portion of the Arizona Trail (another National Scenic Trail that zigzags through the desert from Mexico to Utah).

I had a vague strategy to leave for the trail mid-April, but hadn’t put much thought into precise dates. Previous thru-hikers generally recommend starting at some point in April, depending on that year’s snow fall and your own hiking speed. With my lack of planning thrown into sharp relief, I had to actually make a choice. The first concrete I’m-actually-going-to-do-this decision.

Of course I’m going to go to Arizona. How could I pass that up? I spent a couple months in southeast Utah last year and was completely captivated by the natural rock sculptures, the crackly dry trails, and the wildlife that was so alien to me.

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Along Potash Road; Moab, UT

So this morning I walked up to Herkimer Roasters near my house and got a giant cup of coffee, and traipsed back home through the cold to start planning. Really planning.

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Drafting table.

After a good hour perusing various airline websites, staring at maps of Arizona & California, sipping at my coffee, and vacillating over different travel routes, I pulled out my credit card and entered the information.

No longer tentative, I’ll be quitting my job, leaving my apartment, and finding the garage or basement of a kindly friend to store a couple boxes at the end of March and flying to Phoenix on the 27th.

Timing on the Pacific Crest Trail is a little more finicky than the Appalachian. Hikers suggest starting out in April to beat the triple digit temperatures of Southern California’s desert summers… but also recommend not pushing past Kennedy Meadows, CA before June 15. Here, the PCT rises from the desert into the Sierra Nevada. If I leave too early, I’ll get caught in the deep snowpack of the High Sierra… but if I leave too late, I’ll face the autumn snow storms in Washington when I reach the Northern Cascades.

Leaving April 5th after my hike in Arizona is still a little early to start the trail, so I’ve decided to fly into Oakland, CA. I’ve only spent several days in the Bay Area and felt like it wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll do some couch surfing, stay in a hostel or two, rent a car and check out the famed Highway 1 along the coast before meandering down the San Diego via Amtrak or the Greyhound, and eventually Campo to start my hike, closer to the middle of the month.

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Exciting. Frightening. Foolish, maybe. Adventurous.

No backing out now.

But I would walk 500 miles (la da dat da!)

One of the questions I get most often concerns how I’m preparing physically. I think most folks expect to hear that I’m running marathons (I’m not), or mountaineering (yikes!), or bench pressing my grandmother (sorry grandma). And although I try to exercise most days of the week, it’s not as intensive a process as most seem to think.

Grandma, pictured with a 4th of July pie, happily un-bench pressed.

Grandma, pictured with a 4th of July pie, happily un-bench pressed.

I like to jog through my Seattle neighborhood, usually between three and six miles, and not very fast. Sometimes I hop on my bicycle or visit the dingy local YMCA during the rainy season, but I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, think of myself as an athlete.

do focus a lot on hills. Running up them. Walking up them when I get sick of running. Or really going anywhere by foot in Seattle, which is a city of San Fransico-worthy inclines. Running down hills (just as important). Or skipping the hills altogether in favor of the myriad public stairs carved straight up the steepest ridges in the city.

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E. Roy Street on Capitol Hill in Seattle (not my picture).

It helps that I’m accustomed to long hours on my feet, between work and my commute. I know to get extra large shoes (1.5 – 2 sizes larger than usual to accommodate swelling feet. Weird. I know), and how to use trekking poles (another name for fancy walking sticks–you think they’re dorky, I think they’re incredibly practical), and how to land on my feet to minimize impact.

I also plan on being that strange lady who walks around urban areas with a full pack and a GPS as I get closer to my departure date.

Backpacking is, I think, less a physical exercise than a mental, especially when it comes to steep climbs & long distances. Hiking 20+ miles a day doesn’t intimidate me. I can already do that. (And likely, so can you).

On the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in the southern Cascades. My first solo backpacking trip.

On the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Cascades. My first solo backpacking trip.

A drive through the mountains is full of cheap views. They can be astonishing and breathtaking, but they cost no more than an afternoon and a half tank of gas.

I like to walk. I like knowing that I can trust in my own human strength and resourcefulness.

Setting out for several days or weeks with a pack on your shoulders, finding purchase on the slippery stones leading around a basin, struggling with your tent or your stove or the incessant rain, accidentally straying from the marked path–these are the things that add value to a landscape. The best vistas are the ones that require a little extra sweat, a dedicated step, and maybe even a little fear.

Colchuck Lake from Asgard Pass in the Central Cascades... a 2200' gain over one mile.

Colchuck Lake from Asgard Pass in the Central Cascades… a 2200′ gain over one mile.