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Begins: Apr 23, 2012
Date: Sun, Oct 28th, 2012
Trip Distance: 176.0
Entry Visits: 870
Journal Visits: 13,300
Guestbook Views: 495
Guestbook Entrys: 10
Pacific Crest Trail Map
Hike your own hike. I'm a planner by nature, and enjoyed the process of preparing for the trip- but in hindsight I realize that I could have invested less time and stress in preparations, and still had just as much fun. Many hikers do little or no preparation, and once I hit the trail I realized that all of my planning and structure was little more than a fantasy, as I started to feel out the pace that worked for me.
General note: Once on the trail, your mindset is defined by mileage- Yogi's Guide, the PCT Maps, and the Wilderness Press guidebooks all list the same mileage numbers for water sources and landmarks, making it easy to plan your daily distance and communicate with other hikers about upcoming plans. Postholer.com, however, uses a different set of mileage numbers, reflecting the Endangered Species Detour near wrightwood- this creates a 14-mile difference between Postholer's distance and the distance used by everyone else on the trail. Save yourself the headache by sticking with one of the major sources for mileage information. These mileage numbers, however, don't reflect mileage needed to travel to/from trailheads, mileage for mandatory detours where the trail is rerouted, or popular side-trips such as Mt. Whitney- make sure that you factor these in when considering an upcoming section. When I woke up and realized that I had to do an unplanned additional fourteen miles for the endangered species detour, I found myself pushed to do unplanned back-to-back 30-mile days in order to still keep a promised rendezvous with a friend. You don't have to plan this out before setting foot on the trail, but keep an eye out for things coming up.
Yogi's Guide (pcthandbook.com) is an invaluable resource for those who haven't hiked before, and the accompanying Trail Tips book is a wonderful resource for time spent in town. It's important to understand that Yogi's guide reflects the compiled experience of a few individuals, not a thoroughly-researched, definitive authority on the trail. As Yogi reported springs in Oregon running dry and Washington is reliably rainy, I'd suspect that Yogi and her friends hiked somewhere in the middle or back of the pack, affecting her guidebook's perception of weather, snow conditions, and water reliability. Consider your own placement in the pack when evaluating Yogi's advice. Further, the opinions in Yogi's guidebook reflect the memories of hikers, often colored by personal conditions and perspectives. A "disguisting" water supply may be quite palatable to your standards; "horrendous service" might have been quite helpful when you were shipping in town, and "the best food on the trail!" says more about that writer's hunger than the actual food quality. While I relied less and less on the trail tips along the trail, Yogi's Guide was still carried or used by almost all thru-hikers.
My trail name was "Gourmet," not because of my culinary expertise but because I talked about food a lot, and always had a tasty treat handy. After trying to dehydrate my own jerky and pasta sauce, I gave up on dehydrating and focused on shopping wisely and getting a good variety of delicious, high-calorie foods. In the two weeks ahead of the trip, I spent an enormous amount of time shopping and packing boxes- it was delicious when I was able to finally open my boxes, but a lot of up-front work. I shopped at Costco, Trader Joe's, Safeway, and a variety of small local stores- while Costco was great for bulk trail mix ingredients, Trader Joe's had comparable prices and greater range and options. The local health food stores were great for bulk granolas, hummus mix, and sundried tomatoes, and the shops of Chinatown had exciting ramen, seaweed packets, and dried mushrooms. In planning your food, realize that variety is essential: many hikers get sick of rolled oats, oatmeal, plain granola, and off-the-shelf trail mix after just a few weeks on the trail. If you've packed boxes for the rest of the trip with food which you no longer want, you'll be throwing a lot of it away.
I sent out about 24 resupply boxes along the length of the trail, packing 17 boxes for California before I left on the trail, and packing 7 boxes for Oregon and Washington while I zeroed in Ashland, Oregon. I was glad that I didn't pack all of my boxes ahead of time- by the time I hit Oregon I was bored of some foods and craving others, and was eating way more than I was expecting to eat. If I were to hike again I would While I would pack fewer boxes, trusting more that I could have an adequate resupply at a small grocery store or large convenience store. That being said, I was very happy whenever I opened a box and re-discovered all of the treats which I had packed: mango slices, jelly bellies, garlic-infused olive oil, freeze-dried veggies, sundried tomatoes... all of the things which made meals great.
Appetite and food planning:
I targeted about 125 calories/ounce by relying on high-fat foods like potato chips, nutella, butter toffee peanuts, and ramen... I became very selective about my food, choosing it on its caloric density. With this approach, I started the trail packing about 20 ounces of food per day, finding that this felt like too much in the first few days, but that once I had been hiking for a few weeks my "hiker hunger" kicked in and I needed to supplement my rations, moving towards 1.5 pounds (24oz) per day. Although I started at a low weight, I had lost eight pounds by the time I reached Agua Dulce, and further bumped up my rations to about 2lbs/day to fuel my 25+ mile/day pace. Many hikers find themselves losing weight in the Sierras, but as we had planned a very relaxed pace (10-15 miles/day) I found myself regaining lost weight in the mountains. As I increased my mileage in northern california my appetite also increased, and by the time that I hit Ashland and was averaging over 30 miles/day I needed to once again increase my rations. Even eating 2.5 lbs/day (40 ounces), I was constantly hungry through Oregon, and was always forcing down food. Though my pace dropped in Washington, the colder weather kept my appetite up, and I finished eating about 2 lbs/day of food.
Snacks: Dried mango slices, sesame-crusted cashews, jelly belly jelly beans, chocolate-covered acai berries and cherries, butter toffee peanuts or pecans; trail mixes featuring tart mango strips, dried cherries, pistachios, dried ginger, dried cranberries, macadamia nuts, cashews.
Breakfasts: "Love Crunch" granolas with whole milk powder... I rotated through about twenty different varieties of granolas on the trail to avoid getting bored.
Lunch: Nutella with apple chips or kettle-style potato chips. For a more relaxed lunch, breakfast burritos made with powdered eggs, textured vegetable protein bacon bits, and freeze-dried veggies.
Dinners: Gourmet ramen with miso soup mix and dried mushrooms; freeze-dried sweet potatoes mixed with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, freeze-dried veggies, potato flakes, and powdered butter. Mexican rice sides or Zatarains' rice with sundried tomatoes; Fresh-caught trout cooked over the fire with garlic salt and powdered butter.
Food sources: If you're interested in some of the freeze-dried ingredients which I mentioned, check out honeyvillefarms.com -I loved their cheap freeze-dried veggie mix, and added an ounce to every dinner to get some fiber and keep me regular.
Training: I spend most of my weekends in the mountains climbing, hiking, or backcountry skiing, and had hiked the John Muir trail the previous year at a 20 mile/day pace. With this base, I felt comfortable with my general fitness level, and focused my pre-trip prep on strengthening, flexibility, and running (3-6 miles/day). I had been plagued by ankle issues on previous hikes, so did daily physical therapy exercises focused on strengthening my ankles. Most of my training was on-trail: all of my prior training helped smooth the transition to the trail, but I was pushing my limits after 2-3 weeks on the trail. After about 4 weeks on the trail I (and many hikers) noticed that we had "gotten our hiker legs" and were suddenly able to do 25-mile days with ease, comfortably cruising at 27-28 miles/day. This is an incredible feeling, but don't push to achieve it too soon.
Overuse injuries are probably the largest reason for aborting a thru-hike attempt. These are eminently preventable by slowly easing to the hiking lifestyle, monitoring and adapting pace and gait to address aches and pains as they appear, and taking time off to let nascent injuries heal. I pulled a muscle in my calf on two occasions, both while I was pushing myself beyond my comfort zone without paying attention to my body. I got bad shin splints when I rapidly increased my pace after leaving Tahoe. I got bad blisters from having shoes that were too small. All of these were preventible, and as I hobbled down the trail I wished that I had taken it slower and listened to myself more closely. Many of the people whom I saw get off due to injuries had been pushing an injury for days or weeks without allowing it to heal, or by continuing to use a painful gait and not adjusting their stride to adjust for injuries. One unique note: I had been plagued by muscle cramps on previous backpacking trips; through trial and error and experimentation with many electrolyte products I found that the only effective solution was to take a double-dose of a daily multivitamin, complemented by a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement. My body is odd, but without these I would be reduced to a 1 mile/hr pace every morning.
I knew that I could comfortably hike 18 miles/day before I started the trail, but chose to only hike 14 miles/day for the first leg, only hitting 18 miles/day after a week on the trail, and slowly ramping up my mileage over the course of the trail. While it was frustrating to start below my limits for the first few days, it helped my body adjust, and I didn't have any injuries for the first few weeks. It was nice to have a schedule worked out ahead of time to know that I could take it slow at times (i.e. at the start; in the Sierras) and still make my long-term target for finishing in mid-september.
My feet travel, my mind wanders.