On the 1st July this year, I’m leaving the UK to head off for my biggest adventure to date: to walk the Pacific Crest Trail.
It’s only 4.5 months away but I’m massively procrastinating so I’ve decided to write a monthly blog about the trip. I hope it will be of interest and that it will give me accountability, a sense of momentum and help me get my arse into gear!
It’s going to be a no holds barred, honest reflection.
What am I doing? What’s the Pacific Crest Trail?
The short version: A bloody long walk down the west coast of America.
The longer version:
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2653 mile long distance walking trail. It ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon-Washington border to 13,153 feet (4009m) at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. It passes through 7 national parks including the John Muir Trail. Most of the trail is in wilderness far from towns.
The majority of folks hike north bound, from the southern terminus on the US-Mexico border to the northern terminus on the US-Canada border. However I’m hiking it south bound.
South bounding suits me better, it’s a later start date. North bounding requires an April start. I’ve work commitments including our Treks for Wellbeing and my Unstuckified Retreat until the end of June. Only about 10% of through hikers south bound so there’s more opportunity for solitude and reflection, which suits me.
South bounding does however put a bit more pressure on me to hike quickly. (I’ll explain more about this in March’s blog).
I’ll be walking through the U.S. States of Washington, Oregon and California and I’ll be carrying all my kit and camping on the trail.
You may have heard of the trail from Sheryl Strayed’s memoir ‘Wild’ and/or the film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon. The first question I usually get asked when I tell people I’m hiking the PCT is :
“Have you seen Wild?”.
Yes – I’ve read the book and seen the movie and as much as I loved them they aren’t part of my ‘why’.
Why am I doing this? How and why am I take 6 months out of my life?
The short version: I’m a bit mad, I really want to and I think I can! I only live once and don’t to want to spend my days wondering ‘what if…’.
The longer version:
A happy incidence of being a life coach is that I’ve learned to self coach. In recent years I’ve learnt how much I value being outdoors in beauty, being fit, having time alone and learning what I’m capable of.
I had my first solo adventure in summer 2016, cycling the Hebridean Way and then I’ve built on this in 2017 and 2018 (solo cycling the NC500, walking the Cape Wrath Way and the Speyside Way).
It feels like quite a big jump to go from these Scottish adventures to walking the PCT but I feel if I don’t do it now, I may never get this chance again. I may never have the confidence again.
The more I read about the PCT the more excited I get. It’s massively varied terrain: mountains, forests, desert and I’ll be walking through different seasons.
I’m well (something that can change in a heartbeat). I’m self-contained (my favourite way of framing not being in a relationship). I’m child free. My parents are getting older but both are well. This is something that may make it harder to travel in the future.
I own my house so I’m funding the trip by renting my house out while I travel. I’ve also have some savings. Taking 6 months off work isn’t easy when you are self-employed. I may lose clients but it’s a risk I’ve chosen to take.
How long will the trek take/ how many miles per day
The short version: I don’t know but I hope about 5 months.
The longer version:
I’m arriving in Seattle on 2nd July and my start date will depend on the snow melts in the Cascade Mountains and on how long it takes me to sort out my resupply boxes.
Ideally I’d like to start hiking by the 5th July.
If I average 17 miles per day the trek will take me about 5.3 months meaning I finish on 10 November 2019. I’m then planning on staying in the States until just before Christmas to travel/ bum around.
This isn’t accounting for injuries, sickness, for days off, anything to could go wrong… so reality might look pretty different.
Concerns and Fears
One of my biggest fears had been getting lost!! but the more I read, the more this dissipates. It seems the trail is well-marked and that I can use GPS mapping for when it is covered in snow.
Getting very cold and possibly hypothermia is another big fear and one that I’ve battled with on Scottish Hills in the past. I used to struggle badly with Raynoids but through improved layering I’m managing it far better. I’m hoping good kit and constant movement will keep me warm.
Another fear is, ‘can I do it’? At the moment when I wake up in my cosy bed I wonder what it will be like to wake up in my tent for days on end, with the first task of the day being the digging of a hole to do the toilet in. Will I be hardy enough? Will I feel like packing it in? And if I feel like packing it in, will I?
I’m love the philosophy of being high on intention and low on attachment. So I intend to give it my best shot but I’m not massively attached to the result. The journey’s the bit that excites me.
A related fear is my chronic Achilles injury. It’s 95% better than it was last year but I’m aware it’s vulnerable and it may hinder my trek.
At the moment bears and snakes aren’t a huge concern but that might change as things get more real.
I also wonder how I will cope with looking like ‘hiker trash’ for 5 months! Being clean, smart and having a decent hair cut are quite important to me. I’m hoping in my hiker life I’ll be able to let go of attachment to image/ vanity a bit more.
What have I done already to prep?
The short version: A bit of reading, shoe shopping, visa stuff and physical training.
The longer version:
I had laser eye surgery in December as I didn’t want to be dealing with the logistics of contact lenses or glasses on the trail. (I’m so glad to have done this!).
I’m planning on staying in the US for 6 months and I’ve already got my U.S. Visa. Amazingly they have given me a ten-year re-entry visa.
I also needed a Pacific Crest Trail Association Permit which I’ve received.
I’ve booked a one way flight to Seattle and have arranged to stay with friends of friends for a couple of nights.
I’ve bought and read a couple of PCT books including Chris Townsend’s Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles. I’ve read loads of blogs and watched YouTube Vlogs on kit, food resupply, mapping, etc. I’ve researched light weight gear but not bought much yet.
I’m trying to up my fitness by training most days (running and strength training). I’m getting out in the hill as much as I can, this is particularly important in winter conditions as I’ll be starting the trail in snow. I’m on a Winter Skills training this weekend.
I try to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings; I reframe thoughts that don’t serve me. I’m developing a mindfulness practice and I feel this will put me in good stead for the many challenges I’ll face.
What do I still need to do to prep?
It feels like I’ve so much to do.
The two big parts of this are kit and food supply.
Food supply wise I’ll share more next month as I’m still researching. Kit wise I’ll share my starting list and then will update it as I get more organised.
As you can see below I’ve still loads of kit to sort out. The key is keeping things light but still being as comfortable as possible. I’m hoping each month I blog this list will become more complete.
As you can imagine, this kit is also very expensive so I’ll be selling on some of my old kit to balance things out a little. I also see it as an investment that might may more of these adventures possible.
|Tent: Nemo Hornet Elite It’s a one person tent with good head room and easy assemble.||I ordered it from Ebay yesterday (this blog is working!).||0.67 kg|
|Rucksack: Osrey Lumina 45 litre. It has good reviews for comfort and function.||Still shopping for best deal.||0.77 kg|
|Sleeping bag: I think the Thermarest Hyperion. It’s rated to -6 degrees. I am a cold sleeper so I many take a silk liner.||Not purchased yet||0.55 kg|
|Mattress: Neo Uberlite mat regular size.||Not purchased yet||0.25 kg|
|Poles: I was going to use my existing Black Dimond poles but I lost one on Sunday – argh! So I’ll revisit this.||Not decided yet|
|Waterproof jacket: Maybe the Women’s Outdoor Research Helium II.||Not decided yet||0.164 kg|
|Warm jacket: Maybe the Women’s Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket.||Not decided yet||0.19 kg|
|Shorts: Don’t know yet|
|Leggings: Don’t know yet|
|Shirt: Don’t know yet|
|Underwear: Don’t know yet|
|Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Trail Running Shoes||I bought a pair from Run for It in Inverness and I’ve been using them for hill runs. They are excellent. I’m trying to find the best deal to buy 3 more pairs which I’ll post on to myself at different sections of the trail.|
|Socks: Don’t know yet|
|Water purifier: Sawyer Squeeze||Not purchased yet|
|Water bottles: Don’t know yet|
|Stove: My existing MSR Pocket Rocket 2
|I own it.||TBC|
|Pot: Don’t know yet|
|Phone charging unit: Don’t know yet|
|Head Torch: Don’t know yet|
|First Aid Kit: Still to be assembled|
|Toilet Trowel: Don’t know yet|
I’ve also still to sort out a new phone (my I-Phone SE battery dies in the cold), mapping and a personal locator beacon. I also am still reviewing whether I need an ice axe and microspikes. I will need a bear canister for some sections of the trail also.
“Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled—to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.” ~ Mary Oliver
Over to you!
Thank you so much for reading! I wouldn’t have the courage to be doing this trek without the kindness and belief of many friends and family. And from people I’ve never met who read my blog and who message me.
Is there anything you’d like me to cover in my PCT Prep blog in March? Any questions or topics?
If you’d like to work with me on finding freedom and contentment before I go, I’ve 3 main offerings running until June 2019.
One to one life coaching in person or online (or a hybrid of life coaching and PT).