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.

Advertisements

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Without really intending to do so, I’ve developed a trail spiel. A why-I-am-doing-this soliloquy.

I recently returned to the Pacific Northwest from a week visiting family in West Michigan. Over the countless cups of coffee, lunches, beers, and evening holiday parties with old friends and extended family members absent from my daily life back in Seattle, I honed my answers to the same Trail Questions they posed, each thinking his query unique and untested “But have you thought about–?!” Yes, I have. I’ve spent the last six months thoroughly researching the trail’s sections, trying out gear, and testing myself in the woods. I’m not a complete idiot.

Here are the FAQ from friends/family/strangers/coworkers:

THE LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS:

Pacific_crest_trail_route_overviewWhere does the trail start/end and how long is it? The trail’s southern terminus is in Campo, CA on the border with Mexico, and northern terminus in a provincial park in British Columbia called Manning Park. The trail is 2,660 miles long, but the distance actually hiked fluctuates depending on where you might hike into a town, trail detours due to flooding or fires, getting lost, or skipping sections. Check out this map for a better idea.

What are you going to eat? Food. And a lot of it. Thru-hiking the PCT is actually an exercise in self-starvation, as it is incredibly difficult to keep up intake with expended calories. I’ll mail myself (or rather have my lovely friends LeeAnne & Nolan mail me) pre-packed boxes of trail mixes, peanut butter, dehydrated soups and stirfries, and plenty of Oreos. No, I won’t be hunting (or fishing) for any of my sustenance. I won’t walk away from a ripened raspberry bush, but I’m not actively foraging for my meals. Otherwise, I’ll purchase food as I go… hitchhiking to nearby cities, or patronizing ones in the towns along the trail.

IMG_3616

showing my uncanny solo-pioneer-explorer pose, ala lewis & clark.

How long is it going to take you/how far are you going to hike each day? Short answer, about five months. Long answer, the PCT is different from the Appalachian Trail in that there is a specific hiking season. Section-hiking the trail or traveling southbound (SOBO) bring up different issues, but as a northbound (NOBO) hiker, I must leave in April to beat the high temperatures in the Mojave, should enter the High Sierras no earlier than June 15 to give the snow enough time to melt a bit, and should reach the Northern Cascades in Washington in late August/early September to beat the autumn snowfall. As for distance–in order to hit these approximate dates, I’ll be hiking anywhere between 20-30 miles/day. Sometimes I’ll do ten. Sometimes I’ll take a zero (a day off). Sometimes I’ll go 35. Sometimes I’ll go eight miles through the snow and it’ll feel like 28. It’s hard to say from my living room couch.

Who are you going with? No one! Going solo.

Do you have all of your gear? I sure hope so! There are a couple big things I need yet (lightweight thermarest, sun umbrella for the desert [I’m not so good with the overheating], pack rain cover, and sundry apparel). In actuality, I likely have more gear than I’ll need. I’d like to keep my base weight (pack weight minus consumables) under 20lb, and will probably ditch the items I realize I don’t really need in the first couple weeks.

What’s next? I have no idea… and that’s probably my biggest anxiety–yes, more than the bears and the cougars and the rattlesnakes. I’ll be broke and homeless and unemployed. Can I camp in your backyard?

THE STUPID QUESTIONS: (and yes, there are stupid questions).

You shouldn’t go alone. Is this a question?

Are you going to carry a gun? Wait, what? I couldn’t tell you the difference between a revolver and rifle, much less fire one accurately. Also, have you ever shot–or even just picked up–a gun?! Those things weigh at least… well, a lot. Ain’t no way I’m carrying that.

DSC_0524

bear! spotted in the Enchantments last summer.

But what about safety? Probably a more apt question for you, oh city dweller. You’re in more danger from motor vehicles and teenage girls on their smartphones running into you on the sidewalk. I like to think I have a good head on my shoulders. I use, you know, reason and logic, and I generally trust my intuition about people. What about maceWhat about mace? It’s not worth the weight, and I’d probably just end up stuffing it in my pack where it’d be useless against whatever/whomever you’re imagining attacking me. And bears?! Yes! Bears! They eat berries and fish, and sometimes humans. What’s the question?

Have you head of… Wild? Yes. Please see my post about this. A Walk in the Woods? Yes. Different trail.

My cousin biked from New York to LA once. You should talk to her! Right. Ok. Thanks.

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.

IMG_2784

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.

IMG_3851

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.