Naturally, throughout the long planning process of my upcoming trek, I have had the opportunity to address a slew of questions. What if bears eat your face off? What if squirrels take you in and raise you as one of their own?What if you run out of toilet paper? Although I'm not going to answer the aforementioned questions, I will answer some others that have been asked fairly frequently.
The "PCT" is short for the Pacific Crest Trail. It's a larger than life trail system that stretches along the West Coast of the US of A from Mexico to Canada. "Many" individuals attempt and complete the entire trail in one through-hike, while others complete sections individually. As for myself, I aim to tackle the Oregon section, which is 456 miles officially, but my version will be a bit longer than that. Now, in regards to the entire trail, when I say "many", it's obviously relative. For those that love facts, to date, about 2,973 have completed the entire trail, but i'm certain that those numbers are going to sky-rocket due to increased publicity.
How many miles a day will you be backpacking?
This will vary greatly depending on the day. My biggest days will be 30+ miles, while I have a couple that are 11 and 13. My average miles per day will be around 22.
Where will you start/end?
In the spirit of truly backpacking across Oregon, I will start a few feet across the California border along the PCT. I will be dropped off here by family on the eve of July 7th. My finish line will be in the state of Washington, just across the iconic Bridge of the Gods in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.
Why are you doing this?
I feel like this is a question on most people's minds, whether they actually ask it or not. The truth is, I'm doing this for a slew of reasons. However, what I've discovered is that people either understand the appeal and draw of something like this, or they don't. For those who don't, there's really no point in trying to explain it, as people's mindsets can be very different. For those who absolutely need some concrete reasons... Here's a few:
Here's the thing though, the primary reason why I'm ABLE to do this is because my wife encouraged me to. How awesome is that? Answer: VERY
Are you trying to find yourself?
No. I found me many moons ago. I'm certainly BEING myself, but not trying to "find" anything. (Except for Sasquatch)
Can I meet you on the trail?
Please do! Just be prepared to experience a stench unlike any other you've encountered. Besides just for fun, the ROUTE portion of this blog was/is meant to aid with the planning process for friends/family who want to pop in and say hi! Specific places i'll be AND specific dates i'll be there are listed for the entire route and can be found HERE. Also, bring snacks.
Why isn't Jesse coming along?
Jesse enjoys being cozy, warm and comfortable. In that order. The PCT doesn't allow any of those requirements regularly. Easiest decision of her life.
Won't it be hard to be away from your wifey that long?
Here's some good news. Jesse will be joining me once every week during my "0 days", or days with no hiking, just rest. We will enjoy time together at Crater Lake, Waldo Lake and Olallie Lake, with Timberline Lodge being an optional stop. There's no way I could stand being away from Jesse for 25 days, which luckily, I don't have to!
Is anyone going with you?
Negative. This is a solo trip. This is a bit alarming to some folks, but I knew this would be the case from the start. I enjoy the solitude. It's a pretty special and spiritual time for me. With that being said, others are certainly invited to join me, it's just extremely difficult for most to be able to take a month off of work and make the time. I totally understand that, and thus, solo it is.
Why such a regimented itinerary? Why don't you just "play it by ear" each day?
Primary Reason: As mentioned earlier, i'm really not excited about being away from my wife. Although we'll be seeing each other every week, it's going to be difficult. Also, being that my wife is working right now, her days off are limited, so the trip must be planned accordingly.
Secondary Reason: I love over-planning stuff.
What if you get lost?
Then I will get un-lost. I'm bringing a number of navigational and route-finding aids with me. Trail maps, topography maps, and a perfectly capable GPS system with the route built-in. Here's the thing though. The PCT is very well marked. I'm making assumptions here, but I highly doubt that I'll even need the aforementioned items for actual route-finding along the trail more than a few times.
I get it, but what if you DO get lost?
I will also be carrying a Spot Satellite Messenger with me on the entire trail. This serves a variety of purposes. Not only does it provide live tracking to those following my conquest, but it also has built-in SOS features. With satellite technology, a press of a button alerts first responders and the appropriate SAR (Search and Rescue) teams of my exact position. SCIENCE! Additionally, just because i'm in the sticks doesn't automatically mean I won't have cell service. There are many portions of the trail with decent reception.
How are you going to keep your devices charged?
By harnessing the power of the sun! You know that big fiery ball in the sky? It has the ability to produce some real-deal energy! I will be carrying a small solar charger with me on the trail. Not only does it charge via solar power, but it has an internal battery that will store said power for multiple rainy days (literally). With that being said, my battery consumption will be minimal. My phone will be in "airplane" mode for the large majority of the trip, and will only be used lightly for various tasks, including frequent calls to my wife to tell her how smokin' hot she is. Note: Being that this trip is through OREGON, I certainly am not RELYING on the sun for power, just using it when able to keep external batteries topped off.
What will you eat?
Calories. I will be consuming calories. This seems like a lazy answer here, but it's really true. I will be shoveling food into my inferno of a digestive system as quickly as possible. It is near impossible for a person to gain weight while backpacking many miles a day, so for the sake of ease, I will eat when I'm hungry. What will I eat exactly? Lots of things. I'll make sure i'm getting all the necessary vitamins, and will eat a hot meal every other day or so. (FANCY!) In terms of calories, I'm gunning for about 3,500 a day. These calories will come from Mangos, Coconut, Quinoa, GORP (Trail Mix), meal bars, dried meats, almonds, CANDY, freeze-dried meals, freezer-bag meals, etc. For an extra treat, I'll even hitch into town occasionally and eat every hamburger within sight. (Hamburglar style)
Are you carrying 25 days worth of food for the entire trip?
No way. The most food i'll be carrying is about 5 days worth. This is accomplished a few different ways. First, Jesse will be meeting me once a week and bringing a new supply of food. Additionally, some food will be sent ahead to various Post Offices and resort areas that agree to hold packages for pickup. By doing this, food weight can be kept as low as possible and if I'm in need of any additional supplies/gear replacements, they can be sent to specific points along the trail as well. Essentially, I'll have an address for the 25 days of backpacking, it's just that the address will be changing every few days. Another note, I'll also purchase some food along the trail. Whether this means I'm hitching into town to grab a hearty meal or buying Nutter Butters for $6 each at a resort store, these options will inject a bit of variety into my diet.
What about water? Are you a camel?
No, I'm not a camel. But I respect them. Using a variety of resources, I have managed to map out the location of reliable water resources along the entire trail. There are some stretches of 25+ miles between water sources, but for the most part, they're fairly plentiful. In regards to the entire PCT, California is a whole different story in regards to water availability, so i'll pour some out for those through-hikers still in Southern CA. In regards to making water safe to drink, I'll be filtering it along the trail. I'll be using either a filter or purification tablets, but haven't quite decided yet. Only time will tell. Ultimately, yes, my drinking water will be safe, and yes, I will drink roughly 57 gallons per day.
What kind of sleeping bag/backpack/stove/shoes/clothes/etc will you be using?
I'm almost done compiling my Gear List. This will feature the make/model/weight of every piece of gear that I'm bringing along with me on the trail. A ridiculous amount of time and research went into compiling and gathering my gear. Luckily, I had quite a bit of the equipment already, making the total bill manageable. For those of you who like gear talk, this may fascinate you. For the rest of you, I promise I'm not a weirdo. This gear-list will also address gear costs, as I have been asked just how much a full-gear compliment costs for a trip like this. Luckily, I had a large majority of the equipment already, but the itemized list will certainly give you an idea.
How heavy will your pack be?
I really didn't think this would happen to me, but I have turned into a full-blown Weight Watchers spokesperson in regards to my pack weight. We're talking "carve your toothbrush down to a nub to save 2 grams" type of stuff. As a result, my base-weight (everything but food, water and fuel) will be right around 10 lbs. Don't get me wrong, food and water will add a whole lot of weight, but I'm very proud of my base-weight. I'm no Joe Valesko, but I'm proud of what I've been able to put together.
Wait a second, 10 lbs?! But what about this/that/the other thing?
If any of you have ever been in Boy Scouts, you probably learned to "Be Prepared" by bringing just about anything and everything you could POSSIBLY need while on the trail. Although I understand the merits and reasons for teaching this to the young lads, in my opinion, it is absolutely not practical for long-distance backpacking. When you're carrying huge amounts of weight on your back for many miles and moons, the only thing you're "preparing" yourself for is pain, discomfort and potential injuries. Yes it's true, my rad boom-box probably won't be with me during the month of July. Sorry boom-box. For more information about ultralight backpacking practices and motivations, here's a solid read. I'm completely sold.
Where will you sleep?
So many different places. I did my best to plan my route so that as many camps as possible have interesting settings/views. However, being that the priority of my various camps is their proximity to water, some camps will be pretty boring. I'll be sleeping in a small tent most nights, but will occasionally Cowboy Camp (under the stars) when the weather/bugs permit(s).
Where/how often will you bathe?
Almost never. I will smell like a full-blown hobo. Mounds and mounds of apologies to those that will have to experience the stench first-hand. HOWEVER, occasionally I will be camping at a body of water capable of providing a pretty decent bath. Naturally, this will only fuel my "full-blown hobo" appearance and designation further. Rest assured however, none of the aforementioned lake-baths will take place in areas like this.
How will you do the # 2?
Step 1: Dig a hole
Step 2: Bombs Away
Step 3: Cover hole
Step 4: Walk with renewed confidence
What if a bear/cougar attacks you?
Then a couple things could happen. First, if I survive, I will have an amazing story to tell. Second, if I don't make it, I will have an amazing story for someone else to tell. Let's get real though, the bush isn't crawling with predators whose primary food source is humans. Thinking that simply being/camping outside means that bears/cougars will be constantly hunting you is silliness. Will I be smart in regards to food storage around camp and camp placement? Of course. I'm not gonna go all Timothy Treadwell or anything, but the feeling that I'll be in imminent danger just because i'm in the woods is fed by fear and misinformation. (This last quote is what will be printed next to my obituary)
Just for fun though, in my opinion, here are 10 things i'll likely encounter on the trail that are WAY more dangerous than bears/cougars.
In short: Rest easy...I'll be just fine!
Aren't you worried about the dangers you listed?
Prepared, yes. Worried, no. Regardless of actual danger levels, in my mind, the one that makes me most uncomfortable is the potential of rattlers being along the trail. Any animal that can slink along the ground like snakes do is a completely unacceptable creature in my opinion. They were designed to make me uncomfortable, and that they do. In the event of the extremely unlikely bite from a rattlesnake, I'll employ my venom extractor and, depending on my location, promptly send as SOS message via GPS Messenger. But just like the presence of bear/cougar danger, the odds are ever in my favor in regards to the likelihood of a snake bite in the sticks. Interestingly, a rattlesnake bite is a rarity that my Dad experienced while he was a young chap growing up in Montana. Although not encouraged by today's standards, doctors suggested that my Grandpa's decision to suck the venom out of my Dad's wound could have very well saved his life. The more you know!
What type of training have you been doing?
As all of friends and family know, I have really been putting in the miles lately. I've been averaging 40-60 miles per week for the past few months, with almost all trips including around 3,000-4,000 ft in elevation gain. Living in the Gorge has many perks, including an excellent assortment of trails to chose from with varying difficulty. Naturally, one can't fully prepare for full-time backpacking by completing assorted trips, but I feel that I'm about as prepared as I can be. Regardless of what I had/have done to prepare, I will still be waddling around camp like a 200 yr. old man at the end of the longer days.
Are you a hobo?
You've read me like a book. Respect
Wait, I have more questions!
There's hundreds of potential questions that can be proposed regarding trips like this. Feel free to post any additional questions in the comments and i'll make an effort to address them all!