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Mt. Hood, July 2018 - my favorite PCT photo
Well, it is on; PCT 2019. Another year in my quest to turn suffering into a personal art form. I am now the holder of a long-distance PCT permit for the 2019 season, which allows me full access to the PCT between 31 March and 15 September 2019. I still have to coordinate my permit for entering Canada, which is done through the Canadian government, but that is less time-sensitive and something I only need to have in hand when it is time to actually enter Canada, sometime in late August or early September. Once again, I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption, on the cusp of another journey with an uncertain outcome. If anything, Im even more excited this year, which I think is a function of having a much better idea of what I'm about to embark on, and what it is I can expect and/or hope to achieve. While planning last years adventure, I was admittedly nave in my confidence that I could make it, but I learned in a hurry as did those of you who followed my exploits that I really had no idea what would be required of me, both physically and emotionally. Now I think I have a much better idea, and as I enter the 2019 PCT season I am at the same time extremely confident and more than a little bit scared.
Two of the things I have a much better sense about, and probably the two things most integral to a safe and successful PCT thru-hike, are and in this order nutrition and pack weight. As many of you know, during my SoCal desert and NorCal/Oregon long-ass section hikes (hereafter, LASHs), I pretty much physically wasted away, losing more than 35 pounds. Starting from a featherweight frame of 170 pounds, and Ill do the math for you, thats a 20 percent reduction in body weight. Although at the end, approaching the Oregon/Washington border after some 650 miles of thru-hike, I felt strong and capable of going on forever, the reality is that I was dying a step at a time. One of the attached photos is of me in Portland, just after getting a 650-mile shave and haircut. My lovely wife Jill says I look like I was just rescued from a POW camp. I myself didnt realize how precarious my physical condition was until I saw that picture. Clearly I need to step up my game nutritionally if I am to complete the remaining 1600 miles of the PCT, and to that end I have availed myself of some significant nutritional guidelines. Thanks to Brenda Braaten, a Ph.D. nutritionist who along with her husband Laurie are trail angels in Belden, CA, Ive identified some basic nutritional guidelines that optimize neither gaining nor losing weight while thru-hiking. In short, and perhaps more to follow on this subject in a subsequent blog, for a person of my size and weight, I need to plan on consuming something around 3500 calories per day. The ideal breakdown is approximately 50% fat, 35% carbs, and 15% protein. My son Max says that is essentially a keto diet, whereby one trains their body to get energy from fats rather than through the less efficient breakdown of sugars and muscle. I have begun an extensive but simple spreadsheet for all the foods I like and/or aspire to eat while on the trail, with a breakdown of caloric value for the fats (9 calories/gram), carbs (4 calories/gram) and proteins (4 calories/gram). From this spreadsheet, I will determine what combination of foods Ill need to hit that 3500 calorie per day goal with the appropriate mix of the big three sources of nutrition. One blog I follow by a guy using Dr. Braatens approach referred to it as, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Trail Foods. Man, I loved that movie! The upshot is that this nutritional mix should average about 1.7 pounds per day of pack weight see below and will cost roughly $ 4 per day. No, hiking the PCT aint free.
And as to pack weight, a few folks commented last year that my pack was ridiculously big and heavy. Im sure even more folks thought that, but were too polite to comment as to how foolish I was. I am going as ultra-light as possible this year and Ive begun to weigh each and every pack item. Yeah, I have a spreadsheet for that too (thanks to my long-ago colleague, and still good friend, Pat G. for teaching me the virtues of Excel early in my career!). Thats a work in progress, and Im benchmarking it against the pack list provided to me by Ed (Half-n-Half), one of the many great folks I met on the trail in NorCal last year. Ive already identified several ways to cut weight, including using my iPhone as a camera and leaving my Coolpix digital camera behind; man, that breaks my heart because it has been with me for all of my big adventures over the past 5 years. Although I have a great first aid kit, seemingly replete with all the medical gear I would need to perform a MASH-style field surgery, the reality is that beyond some band-aids/Leukotape/moleskin, DEET, sunscreen, and Neosporin, Ill just have to forego any other treatment and walk it off. That should reduced my pack weight by several ounces, and indeed it is a game of ounces. Additionally, Ive determined that although sleeping clothes (used only inside my shelter) are indeed a creature comfort, they constitute weight that can be jettisoned. More to follow on all of that, but my goal is to get everything except water and food down to 20 pounds or less. If I can accomplish that, those miles long uphill stretches should seem more manageable.
Im actually going to try to finish in three LASHs this year. On March 31st, Ill start at the I-10/Cabazon, CA area (actually the Whitewater Preserve some 12 miles north of there), where I tucked my tail and ran last May. My goal will be to make it to Kennedy Meadows (492 miles), which is the official beginning of the Sierra, by about May 4th. At that point, it will be too early to attempt the Sierra, especially with what promises to be a very wet winter and a lot of snow pack in the high Sierra, so Ill come home for about a month to address whatever family business requires my attention. Around the first week in June, and this is totally dependent upon snow conditions in the Sierra (I didnt want to die in the desert last year, and I sure dont want to freeze to death at 11,000 feet this year), I will start the approximately 665-mile trek from Kennedy Meadows to Castella, CA (near Shasta Lake), not counting the 210 miles between Truckee and Belden I already completed last summer (and wont do again!). With good trail mojo to offset some decidedly long layovers owing to inaccessibility to easy resupply along the John Muir Trail section of the PCT, I should be able to complete that LASH by mid-July. At this point, and depending upon how much I can taste that the end is near, Ill catch AMTRAK at Dunsmuir, CA (near Castella) and either head north to Portland, where I will resupply and get my son Nate to take me to the Bridge of the Gods to begin the last 506 miles to the Canadian border, or head south to the Bay Area so that I can spend a week or two at home before flying back to Portland to pick up that last LASH. If I do the straight to Portland thing, I should finish in mid-August. If I come home for a few days, that will put me at a late-August completion date, well ahead of the potential early onset of winter in the Washington high country. All this is subject to change, but for now thats my plan and Im sticking to it. More to follow. I look forward to sharing this journey with you!