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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.