Experience Level: 0.5

I didn’t grow up hiking and I was ten the first time I went camping.

The entire fifth grade at my small parochial school clambered onto the school bus, our backpacks stuffed with fleece jackets and granola bars, and with the necessary parent-signed permission slips, cheap pocket knives clipped to our belt loops.

The nights we didn’t curl up in warm cabins, we lived on the brink–constructing lean-tos from dead tree limbs and massive fern fronds, wondering if we’d make it through the night to tomorrow morning’s strawberry pop-tarts.

spring camp

Olivia H. in the attractive bucket hat, my partner in crime in most elementary school shenanigans, surviving like a champ.

A year at an alternative public school for sixth graders pushed me out into the woods again–camping, tapping maple trees next to the freeway, and traipsing around marshes on private property, all culminating in the feared “survival night” on our spring camping trip. (Spoiler: We survived. Mostly on Ramen Noodles and wild leeks).

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Me & Olivia posing before our big 6th grade “survival” camping trip. Also undeniable proof that adolescence is awkward.

Over the next ten years, I didn’t venture much beyond that. The closest I ever came to wilderness backpacking was on a trip to Lake Michigan’s North Manitou Island with my father. Despite the 80ºF humid afternoons, we were decked out in jeans and sweatshirts to avoid the persistent mosquitos and black flies, trying to orienteer with a tourist map and a chipped compass we found in the glove box of my dad’s work truck before hopping on the ferry.

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Miner’s Rock at Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

My real interest in hiking and backpacking came in college in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula where I met people whose idea of a good time was to wander along Lake Superior or through the hundreds of square miles of uninhabited land for long afternoons that stretched into evenings and eventually weekends.

I even tried ice fishing once or twice.

I even tried ice fishing once or twice.

But if I’m being honest (and if you can’t be honest on a blog, where can you be?) I didn’t really get the bug until I moved to Washington state almost exactly a year ago. The mountains were so near and inviting and I couldn’t help myself. In June, after deciding to attempt the PCT next year with next to no experience or backpacking knowledge, I set about to learning. Now at the end of the summer, I can hike 20 miles a day without fatigue, and I’ve seen some of the more amazing things the Cascade Range has to offer.

Along the Enchanted Lakes Trail at 7800'; July 2014

Along the Enchanted Lakes Trail at 7800′; July 2014

I’ve read a some books, a few articles, a trail anecdote here & there, and I’ve tried to get out into the wilderness as much as possible. Am I ready? Probably not to those ultralight backpacking purists. My pack still weighs over 20lb. My orienteering skills are for shit. My understanding of weather and pressure systems is non-existent. My experience hiking long distances in snow and desert is dismal. My tracking ability is laughable.

But I can light my stove and unstuff my sleeping bag and set up my tent and read a map.

And I can walk.

And in the end, that’s all it really is.

The Pacific Crest Trail: Six Months Out

In a little over six months, I’ll be venturing south from my new home in the Pacific Northwest to a tiny town on the Mexican border called Campo, California.

Here stands the southern terminus of one of the handful of national scenic trails in America called the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

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That’s right. Mexico (whose border is demarcated by the fence in the background) to a distant provincial park in British Columbia, Canada. 2,660 miles give or take, depending on chosen or enforced trail detours. The average hiker carves out a good four to five months to complete the journey in its entirety.

If what I’ve come up with so far can be called “a plan,” it involves traversing the length of this trail beginning in April, 2015.

The trail has gained popularity in the past couple years with release of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and the ensuing film. I haven’t read it yet–and didn’t actually know it existed until several months ago.

I made the decision to attempt the hike after spending a weekend with a friend in the Bay Area in June. He made the hike in 2012 and was full of stories of fellow hikers, evening encounters with mountain lions, the ease and relief of living a life with straightforward goals and the intrigue of focusing on the more primal necessities of life.

There are a handful of reasons I could cite for attempting the adventure, but the main is–why not?

Reactions from friends & family were widespread. My family, eager to support any venture that involves self-inflicted suffering, was on board immediately. “You’re not going with anyone, are you?” my dad asked when I told him over the phone. “I can’t think of anyone you could stand for five months straight.” He’s got my personality pegged pretty well.

I like people, don’t get me wrong. But I am fiercely independent and like to do my own thing. HYOH, as they say on the trail. Hike Your Own Hike. Go at your own pace. Eat dinner for breakfast. Carry the items you find indispensable. Wake up when you want to. Hike however many miles you want to. Then stop and sleep. Maybe it seems selfish, but I’m doing this hike for me, and I don’t want to be tied to others’ schedules.

Some friends and acquaintances were less receptive to the idea, their concerns revolving primarily around personal safety. “Isn’t it dangerous to be out on your own, like, in the middle of nowhere?” the implicit follow-up being “as a woman?” Though there certainly are dangers involved, they center more around access to clean water, staying warm & dry in the elements, keeping enough food with me, and avoiding illness & injury.

I am much more safe hiking alone at night in the wilderness than I am walking alone at night on the streets of Seattle.

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