We are sitting in a restaurant called "Wine Steals" in Cardiff, CA with Michelle, eating pizza, drinking wine and talking about the PCT. Michelle works as a medical professional and we were discussing how complex it is to properly plan for a thru hike of the PCT. We talked about nutrition and she suggested that it would be pretty interesting to see hikers blood panels during the the trip. Does all this rank food change you? What does your glycemic index do during an average day on the trail? Does your body make more red cells? Do your cells hold more O2? Is there any kind of toll on hikers that subject their bodies to this type of rigorous exercise?
Now, many people just shlep their age old backpack, loaded up with 50 pounds oranges, bread and spam and head out. Nothing wrong with this (HYOH remember?) but, if (you are almost 65 years old,) and you want to increase your chance of succeeding, you will quickly realize that this undertaking is truly very complex and has issues that should be addressed.
Let's just take a look at some of the issues presented to all who take on this five month endeavor.
1) Shoes and socks. This is really a biggie. On the first draft, this paragraph came out at number 9. We cut and pasted it up to number 1, where it should be. Your feet are the main point of contact for the next 2,650 miles. It is extremely important that you have footwear that works for you and that you take good care of your feet. Popular shoes and sock combos might be the ticket but don't be locked on a model because everyone else is wearing them. Every foot is different. (We both hike in two pair of socks: one very thin wicking polypro type and a heavier one over that. Rarely have a blister.)
2) You want to travel as light as possible as this will reduce the stress on your body and increase your speed. With a lighter load, you can then go faster, you will need to carry less food (maybe), which will allow you to go even faster. But, you still may choose to carry items that have some meaning to you (like a cell phone). What do you take? What do you leave behind? Do you dump all your old gear because it weighs a pound more and buy a complement of new ultra light stuff?
3) What are you going to eat for five months? Are you going to wing it and hit the local mini-mart and load up on pop tarts, ramen noodles, Idahoan potatoes, and Little Debbies. And when you shop, are you going to just throw stuff in your cart saying "Oh, this rice meal looks good and I can use some of these chips, and heck, throw in some cheese and salami as well" Or are you going to add up calories to assure that you are getting say 4,000 calories per day?
On the flip side, are you going to pre-plan all your meals and box up and mail out food packages. Did you put enough variety in your preplanned menu or will you be so sick of ChiliMac that it'll go right into the hiker box.
4) Speaking of resupply packages, what in addition to food are you putting in them? Small portions of toilet paper? Batteries? Small portions of sunscreen, deet or hand cream? Section maps? A marking pen? Laundry soap? Are you going to use a bounce box? How far will you bounce it? Will it be there when you arrive? And don't forget tape, marking pens and preprinted labels so you can reseal it. (thanks, Nowhereman)
5) Water is one of the most essential things for survival. Will you purify it? How? How much will you carry when it is scarce? How much will your body demand in 100 degree heat for 20 miles? How many liters of storage will you have available? How reliable is that next water cache?
6) Electrolytes and energy while you are hiking. Your snacks or day time treats are the biggest calorie count of the day. Stuff 500 calories down your throat at breakfast, slam a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and then another 1,000 calorie dinner and you are still looking at at least 1,000 calories of snack food that you must consume during the day. It will probably be more like 2,000. What are you going to eat and, if you are mailing it to yourself for the next five months, are you going to still like it down the road? (ok, this is an extension of #3). You are in the hot desert sweating like one of our pet pigs, losing all your valuable salts. Lick your skin, it tastes like the great salt flat. How do you plan to replenish these lost salts? Do you even know about electrolyte deficiencies and muscle cramps?
7) First Aid. Something everyone puts on the back burner. "It will never happen to me". What are you going to do in a first aid emergency? We should have taken the Wilderness First Aid course or a refresher FA class but didn't. But, we are carrying a first aid kit. Are you? What's in your first aid kit? We know, extra weight, but peace of mind. Hope we never use it.
8) Navigation. Are you going to wing it? Bring maps, handbooks and/or a GPS. What about a compass? Do you know how to read contour maps? If you are bringing a GPS, do you know how to transfer coordinates from a GPS to a map? There's gonna be a lot of snow in the Sierras this Spring.
9) Sunscreen? Deet? Mosquito nets? Ice Axes? Bear Cans? What the heck is all this stuff and why do we need it? Where will you pick them up and where will you send them home. You have an ice axe. Have you ever used one? Have you ever camped in a snow storm (it never snows in June, does it?)
10) You are carrying a shelter aren't you? What type of stove did you choose? Why? What's your plan for fuel resupply? What will you do if you can't find any fuel in town?
11) Is there someone back home to monitor your progress? - This is a big one and shouldn't be here at #11, especially if you are a solo hiker. Give them a call whenever you can and tell them when you might be calling next.
Ok, one more that we can think of.
12) The minutia things and more tips to ponder. Permits, rides to the trail, post office hours, places to stay along the way. Important tips, like, don't leave your sweaty shirt outside at night. A deer will take it away for the love of your stinky,salty sweat. Pack up your camera whenever you cross a river, unless your camera is waterproof. Wear sunglasses and sunscreen on the snow, walk along the harder, higher edges of suncups not in the center. Bears: Let's see "Brown lay down", "Black Attack". Where is that gun that everyone asked you about? Watch out for squirrels in Yosemite. One ate right through Evie's pack once. Mice will rip you off in a heartbeat. Marmots too.
Barb: Our friends, Scott and Rich encountered a marmot at Beck Lakes (near Red's Meadow) - They went on a day hike and left a boda bag filled with root beer schnapps on a rock at the camp. When they returned, the boda bag was eaten through and there was a drunk Marmot snuggled up on his new leather "couch". When he saw the boys return, he staggered over to Scott and hugged his foot. Was he thanking him for the schnapps or begging for more? He was seen the next morning sleeping it off. (ok, this is true but somewhat exaggerated).
Then there are the rattlesnakes, scorpions, ticks and poison ivy. Did we forget anything?
OK, too much. We overwhelmed ourselves - Now, we are too freaked out!
We're calling the whole thing off!
We'll just go to the kickoff and eat burritos.