Without a doubt, the most difficult aspect of my backpacking trip across Washington this last summer (2017) was being away from my wife & son for almost a month. It really hurt to be away. Cell reception was limited at best overall, with no reception for the last 2 weeks. I can't wait to share these types of experiences with my kids. Until then, this little video will have to suffice for my son, Trekker. ~1 photo for every mile of trail. Pardon the cliche song, it was stuck in my head for a month.
I made it. Washington: Complete.
Standing @ the US/Canada border along the Pacific Crest Trail.
113,000 ft of elevation gain
Longest Day: 31 miles
Shortest Day: 15 miles
22 different camps
2 Rest Days
500 Fearless Marmots
1 Herd of Deer Terrorists
1 amazing wife
2 feet that may never forgive me
Thank you all SO much for fueling me along. I sat at my computer for an hour trying to figure out what to type as I wrap up this travelogue only to realize that it has already been said. Thank you so much for caring to read about my experiences and share in my adventure. It means a great deal to me.
Next Up: Scotland
Here's something I learned on my PCT: Oregon trip in 2014. For me, it didn't really matter what I ate, as long as I ate a LOT. My metabolism was like the fiery mountain or Mordor and it did not give one rip about what I threw into it. It was a calorie consuming machine in absolute full-production. This is a win for some folks, because they can eat all the junk they want on a through hike and still be 15 lbs lighter at the end of the trek. It's nearly impossible to overcome the calorie deficit of full-time backpacking. Watch out, Jenny Craig.
Something else I learned in 2014? You'll get absolutely sick of whatever you bring with you for a long-term trip. It's not just the types of food you grow tired of, but the textures as well. The variety pack of Clif Bars is still a pile of Clif Bars, the Mountain House meals are still just the opposite of what you actually crave once you reach camp. Food bartering with other hikers becomes one of the most important negotiations of your day. Multiple times in 2014, I traded a Snickers Bar for a fully prepared Mountain House meal that served two. The food always smells better on the other side of the fence. Fact! With that being said, I really tried to focus on variety of texture more than different brands & types of energy bars. Some tuna pouches & almond butters might go a long way to break up the depressing reality of another nutrition bar when the hunger-bunnies come.
On another note, I ALMOST brought a little stove for 2017, but just couldn't convince myself that I'd actually want to sit down and prepare a meal after some of these 25 mile/5,000 ft days. So there you have it, stoveless for the win (again) in 2017.
Below you can see my full complement of food for PCT: Washington. Each bag contains about 4300 calories and weighs in at ~2lbs. I won't be carrying more than 4 days of food at any given time, so quick Kentucky math suggests that my max food weight at any given time will be 8lbs. I can deal with that.
I'll have 5 resupplies on this trip. 1 mailed, 3 delivered by Jesse & Trekker, and 1 delivered by my comrade, Brad. Surprisingly, resupplies worked much better than anticipated, and strung together quite well. No hitchhiking into town to pick up resupplies this year, yay! All the food pictured above fit nicely into the 5 resupply boxes shown below. A few more items sprinkled in over the next day, and we'll be golden. Almost time to seal them up and stage them for delivery.
I've had a complete gear list for a couple weeks now, but finally got everything together & complete tonight. It's always rewarding to gather everything together and actually see what it looks like spread out. It's a bit overwhelming to look at the little assemblage of items that will sustain me for almost a month. Not second-guessing myself at all, but, whoa.
I've always been interested in these "exploded" looks at gear for long-haul trips. The utility of things fascinates me. Every little item shown below has a purpose, or else it would definitely not be coming along. So you don't have to wonder what that "thingamabob" is, I've numbered the items below. Who does that? Who numbers their gear items & lists every one of them on their web page? THIS GUY.
The next picture shows all the gear pictured above stuffed away for safe-keeping. That's it! All that gear condensed into these slick little stuff-sacks. Naturally, all these little satchels (with the exception of the poles) fit nicely into my backpack. Although I knew they'd all fit just fine, it's still a bit nerve-racking fitting everything in the pack for the first time. Did my gear somehow multiply to the point that it won't fit? The answer was no, but still. It's a big moment!
Because I know you want hard evidence, here's my full pack ready to go with all food & water on board for the first 3.5 days. "But, how are we supposed to know that you didn't just stuff a bunch of chickens in there?!" Good point, I guess I could have, but I didn't. This is chicken-free pack. Blast-off in 3 days. Let's do this dang thing! Just as a reminder, if you want to geek out over every single item I'm taking with me, feel free to wander on over to my official gear list, you weirdo.
What is this "PCT" you keep speaking of?
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. You can poke your fingers through the fence into Mexico at the Southern Terminus, & you can walk right into Canada via PCT up North. In short, the Pacific Crest Trail stretches entirely across the United States. Incredible! After tackling the Oregon Section in 2014, I aim to backpack across Washington this year, 2017.
How many miles a day will you be backpacking?
This will vary greatly depending on the day. My biggest days will be close to 30 miles, while I have a few within the 16-17 mile range. Overall, on my trail days, I'll average near 23 miles per day.
Where will you start/end?
In the spirit of truly backpacking across Washington, I'll start in my hometown here in Cascade Locks. I'll bop on over the Bridge of the Gods in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge & start making tracks across Washington. The end of the trail for me is over 500 miles north, just across the US/Canada border. I'll be able to walk into Canada via PCT about 8 miles, & then will take a Greyhound into Vancouver, public transit to Vancouver airport & then fly back to Portland Airport in time to return to work the next day. My effectiveness at work that first day back is estimated to be at ~7%..... If I'm lucky.
Wait, you have a job? How did you get that much time off?
I've been banking my PTO (Paid Time Off) like the most paranoid squirrel in all the forest. I'm lucky to work for a company that places a healthy work/life balance high on its priority list. We've been preparing for this trip for months, & I've got a good team that'll fill in for me during my absence. Shout-out to my management team!
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. A constant & near unquenchable push to explore & experience propel me. In a world jam packed with canned "adventures", I believe true adventure is a long-term balance of discomfort, a dash of the unknown, & intermittent triumph. To me, not knowing what's around each corner of trail for 500+ miles embodies adventure, & that's what I seek. I've come to define myself as a micro-explorer, where learning exactly what's atop the mountain behind my house is just as exciting as knowing what's across the ocean to the east or west. Other driving contributors include:
Here's the thing though, the primary reason why I'm ABLE to do this is because of my wife. We have an almost 2 year old son, & she's allowing this. How awesome is that? Answer: VERY. She's the real deal.
A new "why" factor for me also comes in the form of a little boy named Trekker. Although missing my family will absolutely be the hardest thing about this whole trip, I can't wait to tell my son stories about these trips. I hope that he'll someday see a Dad that is/was brave & bold at moments where it was hard to be. Sure, there's a slew of different ways to be brave, but I've selected this one. Looking back at my own life, if given the opportunity to urge my Dad to do something extraordinary & bold for himself, I would have told him to DO IT every time. I'm very proud of my Dad, & I hope to give Trekker a selection of reasons to be proud of me, too.
Are you trying to find yourself?
Nope. I know me more than I ever have. I'm just being myself.
Can I meet you on the trail?
Sure! 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 hello. Washington is a bit trickier than Oregon in regards to visiting opportunities, but that's nothing that a healthy dose of creativity can't fix. Also, bring snacks.
Why isn't Jesse & Trekker 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. Trekker would be an energetic companion for roughly .15 miles, then he would chase a butterfly into the woods. Sorry, buddy.
Won't it be hard to be away from your family that long?
Like I said above, this will be the hardest part. I've tried to set that aside in my brain as the trip inches closer, but I know it'll punch me right in my throat a couple days in. Here's some good news, though. I'll get to see my little family 3 times throughout the duration, & they'll be joining me for one of my "0 days", or days with no hiking, just rest. There's no way I could stand being away from them for 25 days, that would just break my brain. Luckily, I won't have to!
Is anyone going with you?
The majority of this trip a solo one. 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, I've got two brothers spending some time with me on the trail, which I'm super excited for! There will be an excessive amount of Top-Gun high-fives during that time, which is guaranteed to up our performance by ~50%, minimum.
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 & son. Although we'll be seeing each other intermittently, it's going to be difficult. Also, obviously...my job. I'd prefer having one when I get back.
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. On my Oregon trip, I got turned around a handful of times. Snow makes it more difficult, and some sections are overly confusing, but with all the aforementioned tools at my disposal, I'll be just fine.
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. I keep asking critics this: If you knew there was a payphone in every open field & atop every hill/mountain, would you feel safer about me being out alone? With the combination of cell & Satellite Messenger, I have essentially that. Don't fret. :)
How are you going to keep your devices charged?
Here's the thing, I'll be sipping on power. My phone stays in airplane mode unless needed, then switched back off immediately. I'll only be using about 50% of the phone's battery per day for pictures, videos, gps fixes, etc. To keep the phone battery topped off, I'm bringing along a duo of portable battery chargers that I'll be charging & swapping throughout the trip @ resupply stops, towns, etc. I'll never have more than one at a time, & I'll have sufficient battery to keep my phone in ship shape for each section of trail. Solar power is neat and everything, but large sections of Washington are under the cover of trees (yay!) so solar power takes a back seat this time around. Check out my gear list to see what charger I settled on!
What will you eat?
SO MANY 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. For reference, I lost about 15 pounds during my Oregon trip while eating ~4000 calories per day! Step aside, Jenny Craig. What will I eat exactly? Lots of things. Check out my Food List for specifics! Naturally, I'll also be supplementing with additional vitamins, electrolytes, etc. In terms of calories, I'm gunning for about 4,500 a day. These calories will come from Mangos, Coconut, GORP (Trail Mix), meal bars, dried meats, almonds, CANDY, nut butters, dried bananas, etc. For an extra treat, I'll even hitch into town occasionally and eat every hamburger within sight. (Hamburglar style, obviously)
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 3X 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 long stretches between water sources, but for the most part, they're fairly plentiful in Washington. 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 purifying it along the trail. I'll be using purification drops. 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?
Wander on over to my Gear List! This features 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.
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) 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. I should know, I'm an Eagle Scout. Although I understand the merits (pun!) and reasons for teaching this to the young lads, in my opinion, it's 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, in my opinion. Yes it's true, my rad boom-box probably won't be with me during the month of August. Sorry boom-box. I tend to get a fair amount of push-back on this mentality. That's ok, everyone approaches it differently. You carry your cast-iron pot, I'll be 10 miles ahead of you with my alcohol stove. For more information about ultralight backpacking practices and motivations, here's a solid read. I'm completely sold. To each their own.
Where will you sleep?
So many different places. This is one of the best parts. 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, Trekker will get to say that his dad was EATEN BY A BEAR. How cool is that?! Let's get real though, the bush isn't crawling with predators whose primary food source is human flesh. 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/camp placement/noise levels? 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. I feel far safer in the sticks than I do on an average day mingled into civilization. (This last quote is what will be printed next to my obituary)
Just for fun though, here are 10 things I could encounter on the trail that are WAY more dangerous than bears/cougars.
In short: Rest easy...
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 50-60 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!
Ultra Fun Facts
When: July 28-Aug 22 '17
Why: 834 Reasons
Elevation Gain: 113,000'
Click on map below to view a detailed map of my planned daily camps, routes & mileages.
Click on gear list below to geek out big-time regarding gear brands, weights, costs, etc.
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It's all about the calories. Click the food list below to see what I'll be shoveling into the mighty inferno.
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The where, whens & how fars of the trip. Water sources, logistics, etc. The "brain" of the whole endeavor.
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