FAQ: I’m Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

backpacking, pacific crest trail

What is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The PCT is a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada. It’s approximately 2,660 miles long and goes through California, Oregon and Washington.

Who are you going with?

Myself, and a few thousand strangers who are also day hiking, section hiking or attempting to thruhike. Rumor has it the relationships you form with other thru-hikers are the best part of the trail.

How long does it take?

The average hiker takes 5 months.You’re essentially trying to time yourself right so that you aren’t entering the Sierra too early before the snow melt, or the Cascades too late (when it starts to snow in the fall/winter). But that’s going to be an extra challenge this year, because it’s an unusually high snow year.

How far will you hike every day?

At first, probably only 15 miles a day on average or maybe even less. Eventually, more like 20 miles a day average, with some flat terrain days nearing 30 miles. That average includes “zero” days (days where I hike zero miles) and “nero” days (days where I don’t hike very many miles) which may be spent on the trail or in a hotel room or trail angel’s house in one of the trail towns.

What made you want to do that?!

Well, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, for one. Then hiking and backpacking personally. Then Girl in the Woods and Carrot Quinn and Dora la Explorer and HalfwayAnywhere and an innumerable amount of other trail journals and articles online.

How do you feed yourself? 

I’ll be hitchhiking at trail crossings and resupplying every few days (2-3 days average, up to 10 days) in towns along the way. Mostly my goal is to grocery shop for whatever I need along the way, although there will be some areas where I’ll have to send a box of food to a Post Office where stores are scarce.

What are you afraid of?

On a physical level, I’m afraid of rattlesnakes, bears, mountain lions, broken or twisted ankles, exposure, heights, raging rivers, Giardia, blisters, sun burns, hypothermia, dehydration, getting lost and Poodle Dog bush.

But mostly what I’m afraid of is that I’m going to get out there and it’s going to be hard and my fears are going to overwhelm me, and I won’t stick it out long enough to really prove to myself what I’m capable of. Or to put it simply: I’m afraid of the fear itself.

What are you doing to prepare?

So far I’ve just been hiking frequently and backpacking when I can. I haven’t focused on long mileage, though I have managed a few 30-mile backpacking trips with one 16-mile day. 10 mile day hikes aren’t rare for me. I’ve been trying to put myself in new situations in the hopes that it will teach me how to get through things I don’t want to or think I can’t do –  like hike up a terrifying mountain (a la Picket Post Mountain near Superior, AZ), night hike on an exposed ridge or hike through the rain.

What are you bringing with you?

I have my whole planned gear list here.

How are you financing the trip?

I’ve been actively saving money while also slowly upgrading my gear. By the time I hit the trail, I’ll have around $6,000 to spend while on-trail. If I were single, finances would also have included selling everything I own and breaking the lease on my house and canceling/paying off any monthly charges, but since I’m married, Mark is going to be the adult in the relationship and take care of bills while I’m gone. I can only imagine the food bill will shrink dramatically.

Where are you going to be documenting your trip?

A little bit of everywhere. Here, on this blog, on my Instagram, on YouTube, and for friends, family and fellow hikers, on Facebook.

What is your husband going to do while you’re gone?

Continue being a living, breathing independent organism, I imagine. Once I’d decided to go (rather than just talk about it as a “someday” thing) it took Mark a little while to get comfortable with the idea, but since then he’s been incredibly supportive. He’s gone with me on overnights, put the Forest Service number on speed dial while I did solo trips, generously bought me some of my most expensive gear, and listened to me rattle on about trail plans at length. I’m sure he’ll be lonely, though, so please make plans to hang out with them, even if he ignores your first 15 offers. He really does want to meet up.

What are you going to do when you finish?

I have no idea. I have a few practical plans (try to work for an outdoor gear company?) and a few more radical ones (convince Mark to live in a van and travel the country?) but it’s hard to say. I don’t really know who I’ll be when I’m done.

The last of the lazy Sundays – pre-trip, Battleship Mountain, AZ

hiking, pacific crest trail

Today is one of my last “lazy” Sundays before the trail. Three Sunday after this one I will be hiking through the desert barely having scratched the surface of 2600 miles. The last Sunday where I can imagine soreness and stiffness as a temporary condition. 

Yesterday I hiked Battleship Mountain with three other people who are all doing the Oregon Coast Trail this summer. Our challenges are going to be different. They’re hiking 400 miles, but only have 3 weeks to do it, which means they will have to average 18 miles a day with little time to acclimate. I’m hiking 2600 miles but have the freedom of taking time and having patience with my body for the first few weeks. They will be cold. I will be battling the sun. They’ll be sleeping in hotels and yurts and designated campgrounds much of the way, eating hot meals and drinking beer, and I will not be. 

Still, Battleship Mountain was a challenge for all of us. Long (5 miles before reaching the base), steep, bushwacking, trail finding, scrambling (some of which could be called low grade rock climbing). 

We started giving each other trail names. When I slid my hand across a cactus that was hidden in a bush while we were bushwacking, I became “Cactus Whacker.” When my blistered feet and overtired legs made me slow for the last two miles, I became “Willie” – “because you’re moving by sheer force of will at this point.”

“So you’ve named me Cactus Willie Whacker?”

We got a kick out of that. I won’t be taking it with me on the PCT.

We didn’t make it to the very last summit of Battleship Mountain. That’s okay. We were tired, and the exhaustion was making the eroded granite that gave the “ball-bearing slope” its name especially treacherous. We called it and turned around.

Today I am hobbling around. I threaded some string through my blisters last night to much success, but my feet are still tender. I’ve decided to take it easy today. I took myself to brunch, read a book. I am trying to revel in the fact that in three Sundays, I won’t have the choice to put my feet up and drive to breakfast and watch hours of TV. I won’t get to cuddle with my dogs or wake up next to my husband. I will be choosing to be sore and exhausted every day. I will be choosing to walk on anyway. 

It is also strange to think that however long I’m out there – hopefully five months, or however long it takes me to reach Canada – when I come back I will be coming back to a life that won’t quite fit me anymore. Too loose or too tight. Too sharp or soft. I will be stepping into a phantom life that I recognize and yet won’t quite seem alive anymore. Or that’s what I imagine. That’s what happens in small doses when I come back from long, hard hikes. I see my daily life and it seems to be, however slightly, sized to someone else. 
I am nervous and afraid and excited and hopeful. 2600 miles seems too long and also totally possible. 5 months seems too hard and yet within my grasp.

The only way to do it is to do it I guess. But hopefully without feet filled with blisters. I have four pairs of shoes I’m testing out. Wide feet are especially hard to protect on the trail, it seems. I will find a way.