As mentioned a couple times on this page, I’m going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in April of 2016. And if you couldn’t tell, I’m a little excited about it.
What even is it?
The Pacific Crest Trail is one of three behemoths across the United States. It stretches across the entire western coast from Mexico to Canada, spanning 2,650 miles. If you’re curious, the other two trails are the Continental Divide in the pseudo-central United States, and the Appalachian Trail that spans most of the eastern coast.
On the PCT, you have 700 initial miles of desert to look forward to, the beautiful High Sierra, volcanic landscapes in parts of Oregon, and the very mountainous Washington to contend with. Each year presents their own challenges of course, this year seems to be the year of fire re-routes.
Since deciding to do this, I’ve actually only told a few people. A couple of which asked the most common sense question: Why?
Largely, I don’t know. I’m not seeking spiritual enlightenment, I’m not looking to be reborn, I don’t think I need to walk 2,000+ miles to find myself. The most basic response to it is “I need to”. So then the question is “Why do you need to?”
The brutal honest answer to this question is, I’m happiest when I’m outdoors. Or more specifically, when I’m out on a brutal hike about to give up when an amazing view catches my eye, and I stop to just stare at it for a while. Or coming home knowing I hiked 13 miles that day for fun. Really, it’s one of the few times I really am happy in general. Otherwise I’m kind of switched off and jaded. To be cliche, it’s just one of those times where I actually feel alive.
The other part of it is simply: It’s been a dream of mine (not the PCT specifically but.. we’ll get to that). When I was a teenager I saw “Into the Wild”, the story of a man who I share the same name with who gave up everything he had and started wandering around the United States. His ultimate conclusion was to go to Alaska and live freely up there, which led to his demise. Obviously that part didn’t catch my interest, but the rest of his story did. I ate it up. His trek across the western United States captivated me, not just for the scenic beauty, but the associations he made along the way. What caught my attention the most was how a lasting bond could be made with people on such a trek without being tied down to other people entirely.
Casual association is what I do best. I love my friends and family, but the freedom to take steps the way I need to is a dream for me. Or to wrap that up nicely, a common phrase is “Hike your own hike”, do what you want or what you need to and allow others the same freedom. It’s awesome.
And for the more brutish answer: I like to push myself physically out on trails. Endorphins are great, as are bragging rights.
Aren’t you scared?
This is another question I get, and the short of it is: Yes, I’m scared. I’m not crazy, but I’m also not letting something like that hold me back. The majority of my fear comes from the terrors of the night, were any snapping twig or rustling bush is absolutely a bear or cougar. I’m also not a huge fan of lightning as my trip to Kings Peak will tell you. But I let fear dictate way too much in my life, I tend not to let it touch my favorite hobby unless it’s of something healthy. Like lightning.
This question branches into whether or not I’m going with someone, and the answer to this is: No I’m not. Which then goes back into the fear question (I really should make a chart for this). The PCT is as much of a social experience as it is a natural one. It’s a popular trail, and you’re bound to run into people along the way. A balance of being alone and being with others is a healthy thing.
What are you doing for food?
This is a good question. A trek along the PCT requires a good amount of logistics. Or not. There’s a few ways to avoid living off bark and dirt along the trail:
For one, you buy all your food up front and send it to towns along the way. The initial cost is pretty massive depending on what kind of food you want to bring, but it also means you’re spending less along the way which requires a little less budgeting. The risk here is that you buy stuff you’re going to get sick of, but ultimately I’m not going out there for a fine dining experience. Trail food isn’t always the best thing.
The second option is you just shop for food along the way. The bonus here is you can buy whatever you feel like at the moment, and you’re generally not going to run into your food becoming stale (not in a freshness sense, but.. yeah you get it). The downfalls to this are you’re at the mercy of whatever the store is selling, and at whatever price it’s selling it at. Not all stores are very well stocked, and the risk of living off ramen is very real. I’m not a ramen kind of guy.
Lastly, you have the bounce box. It’s kind of a mix between the two. You buy supplies in town and send extra stuff to yourself in the next town as necessary. People generally don’t do this as it’s seemingly more of a hassle.
I’m going to mix things up a bit and send myself food upfront, and buy things as I go if I feel like my food’s getting a bit stale. You can leave extra supplies in hiker boxes along the way for someone else to pick at, so my hope is someone will look at my other food with delight. But largely, I’m buying my food upfront so I know what kind of money I’m working with along the way. This may be a mistake, or it may be smart.
The best plans are no plans at all
From there, I’m not really making any plans sans knowing where to get water. A very common trend I’ve seen with PCT hikers is they make every plan imagineable pre-trip, and later realize that those plans either fall apart immediately, or they just didn’t need them. Just follow the tide and see where it takes you. I know the route and I know where I’m going, the only thing left to do is to walk it.
And walk it I will. At the time of this writing, I have roughly 7 months left to get everything together. Considering all the things I have to pay off and all the obligations I need to drop until then, I have quite a bit of work ahead of me.
Being homeless is great and all, but..
Okay, some people just aren’t happy with taking things as they are and need an end-game. “So you hiked the PCT, now what?”. Well, I have my sights set on Antarctica when I get back, which necessitates schooling of some sort. So college, adventures in-between schooling, then Antarctica. I’m hoping my PCT experience gives me a little edge against the competition, it’s not easy getting a job down there.
Careers are important, but why sell your soul to something when you can actually live your life and experience something amazing? More importantly: Why can’t you make all this part of your career? Nothing can stop you. Keep the adventures going. There’s always something out there waiting for you.
More info for the hungry
Maybe you’re someone like me who had no clue about the PCT. Maybe you want to know more, maybe you’re now even considering a trek up the coast. What can you expect? What’s the trail like? These are questions I’m not comfortable answering as a person yet to hike the trail, so I will instead refer you to the documentary that sealed the deal for me.
You can watch/download the full thing for free (Don’t worry, it’s legal. The creators were nice enough to do this for free):