Sunday, April 3, 2011

PCT Primer

So, I don't know how many people are actually going to read this, but probably most people who do won't know much about the PCT. So here's some information that might make reading this journal make more sense.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650 mile trail that starts at the border of Mexico and ends at the border of Canada. It follows mountain ranges through California, Oregon and Washington, and passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. It passes through varied terrain including desert, forest and alpine meadows.

People who hike large sections of the trail at a time without going the whole distance are called section-hikers. People who plan to hike the entire trail in one season are called thru-hikers. It takes about 4 to 5 months to complete a thru-hike, which usually starts in late April and ends in September. Chris and I are shooting for a thru-hike. Three hundred people try to thru-hike each year, and the success rate depends largely on weather, weight of gear, and lack of debilitating injury.

Trends in long-distance hiking have been moving towards carrying less, and lighter, gear. Since this trend was popularized by a man named Ray Jardine, the success rate of thru-hikers has risen from about 10-20% up to around 50%.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Will you be walking the whole way? 
Yes. We'll need to get into nearby towns sometimes, so we may hitchhike then, but when we're on the trail, we'll be walking.

Will you be walking on the beach a lot?
No. People often get Pacific Crest Trail confused with Pacific Coast Trail. The trail stays at least 150 miles from the coast at all times. Which is good. I really don't like camping in beach sand.

What will you eat?
Mostly lightweight hiking foods like instant potatoes, pasta, and nuts and stuff. It's not really as bad as it sounds. We try to shoot for as many calories as possible per ounce of food, because we have to carry it on our backs. It can be hard to find these things in a supermarket of 100-calorie snack packs and diet everything. It's been funny to us to notice how often companies charge more to give you less food. We'll be shooting for over 4,000 calories a day.

When we get into towns, we'll probably gorge on town food.

We will be picking up most of our food in towns, which means we won't be able to be very picky a lot of the time.

Will you be bringing a gun?
No. A gun isn't necessary on the PCT. Animals almost always leave you alone... unless you're an idiot who likes to feed bears and pick up rattlesnakes. And there aren't many crazy people out there. People in cities scare me way more, and I don't carry a gun in cities either. Anyway, guns are heavy.

You're going to be starting at the Mexican border. What about illegals?
Illegal immigrants don't want to mess with you, they want to get through without being noticed. I haven't heard of any stories of anyone being messed with by illegals.

Isn't that dangerous?
Statistically, hiking the trail for 5 months is way less dangerous than driving a car to and from work and the grocery store for 5 months. It's also less dangerous than crossing a city street.

Will you have a cell phone?
Yes, although I will be without service for periods at a time.

How heavy are your packs?
Without food and water, they'll be between 12 and 16 pounds. With food and water, around 35 pounds.

Where will you sleep?
We have a single-wall tent. Most nights we may sleep under the stars.

Are you crazy?

Can I come?
It takes about 6-8 months to plan for a thru-hike if you've never done it before. We're leaving in less than a month... So, probably not this year.

Why do you want to do this?
Oh jeez, where to start? Another thru-hiker, Yogi, says "If you have to ask, you won't understand."

To be out in nature, surrounded by beauty.
To live a simpler kind of life.
To be reminded of the difference between "want" and "need."
To step up to a challenge.
To meet new people and make new friends.
To be changed.
To have time to think about what the next step is.
To make great memories.
To do something not many people have ever done or will ever get to do.

PCT Glossary:

Thru-Hiker: Someone who attempts to hike the entire stretch of the trail, from Mexico to Canada, in one season (around April to October).

Section Hiker: Someone who hikes sections of the trail at a time. Their goals can be as small as walking a mile at a time or as large as the walking the length of the PCT in California.

Day-Hiker: Someone who isn't spending at least a night on the trail.

Zero: A zero day is a day not spent covering miles on the PCT. Zero days are usually spent in towns, although sometimes they are spent on trail, and they're used to rest, recuperate, and get chores done like laundry and shopping. A zero day doesn't necessarily mean we don't hike, because it can include mileage we walk to and from a town. It just means we haven't ticked off any PCT miles.

Nero: Near-zero day. Just means it wasn't a big day, usually because it included a town stop that used up a large part of our time. So we only got a few PCT miles in.

Trail Name: Most people on the trail go by trail names, when they have them. A trail name is given or taken to reflect who a person is on the trail. It can come from an incident, like when someone's hiking shoes failed them and they had to wear their moccasins, which they had brought for camp shoes, for part of the trail, granting them the name "Moccasin." Or it can come from a characteristic, like someone who really likes wild edible mushrooms having the name "Shroomer." Or it can come from any number of other things. Chris and I don't have trail names yet. I want mine to come naturally.

Trail Angel: Some people are awesome. People who are awesome to hikers on long-distance trails are called trail angels. They sometimes give hikers a place to stay or a warm meal. Sometimes they fill water caches in dry stretches of desert. Sometimes they pick up thru-hikers who are trying to get into a town. They can do any number of things that help a hiker.

Trail Magic: Sometimes when you hike a trail you come upon something unexpected that meets a need or a want. For example, often trail angels put coolers full of sodas and fresh fruit on the trail. On a hot day, you feel like you're dying of thirst and all you have to eat is salty trail mix, but you turn a corner, and there's an orange waiting to explode its juicy goodness on your tongue. Trail magic comes in tons of different forms, but its often perpetrated by trail angels, although there have been cases of trail magic that happened because a previous hiker was careless and dropped something that the person an hour behind them really needed.

Resupply: We hikers need to eat. Thru-hikers need to eat more. So we go into town for a resupply to... you guessed it, resupply our food bags.

Maildrop: A maildrop is a resupply where someone at home sends a hiker pre-prepared and packaged food because the hiker can't get the food he/she wants/needs in a certain town. Maildrops can also include gear, maps, and other things from home. My mom has been so kind as be our resupply person.

Okay, that's all I can think of right now. If you have any questions, ask!

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