Pacific Crest Trail - 2018
After riding a motorcycle to the southernmost tip of South America and then north to the Artic Circle, I was wondering if there was anything I could do to top those adventures. For the longest time nothing came to mind. Then one night, after a nightmarish dream of walking endlessly for days and days, I landed on the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I’m not exactly sure what the dream meant, but after the first crazy thought of hiking the PCT entered my mind I have grown more comfortable with the idea and now embrace fully it.
The PCT may not top Omar’s and my motorcycle adventures last year, but this trek should nevertheless fulfill my desire to do things that stretch the limits of my 70-year-old body and my diminishing mental abilities.
Starting near a taco stand at the Mexican border, the trail runs 2660 miles through California, Oregon and Washington and ends seven miles north of the 49th parallel in E. C. Manning Territorial Park in British Columbia. Along the way I will experience about everything the wilderness regions of the west have to offer. It traverses deserts, tall mountains and vast forests.
Once I finally settled on hiking the PCT, I had to start thinking about the details such an adventure would entail. What permits would I need? When should I start? How long would it take? Which direction should I travel; north to south or south to north? What gear would I need? How should I prepare mentally and physically for such an arduous journey? And most importantly, would I need to learn to speak Canadian to cross the border into Canada?
First order of business was to decide which direction I would travel. After reading many blogs and articles, I decided to start at the Mexican border near the small town of Campo, California, and head north to Canada. The southernmost section of the trail runs east of San Diego following the mountains to the Palm Spring area, drops down to Interstate 10, then ascends again to Big Bear and the mountains northeast of the LA basin. It then crosses a stretch of the Mojave Desert before ascending again to the Sierra Nevada range of Central California. Since I will have to cross desert, I thought it would be best to do it in the spring when the temperatures are still tolerable. If I hiked the PCT in the opposite direction, I would be crossing the Mojave in early fall when the daytime highs still exceed 100 degrees, which would certainly fry my brain like an egg on a hot griddle. Thus, a north bound hike (NOBO) seemed like the obvious choice.
Next, I needed to select a start date. Originally, I wanted to leave Campo on April 15, but the technology constraints caused me to select April 1st instead. On the day the website opened to request an end-to-end PCT permit, my friend Alena and I went to a local Starbucks where I signed on the WIFI and waited for the website to open. At 10:30 AM I attempted to complete the application for an April 15th start date. The way the site worked I had to fill out the application and submit it within 11 minutes. Otherwise it would timeout, and I would be forced to start over. Because so many people where online doing the same thing, the site was extremely slow, and my first attempt timed out. Then my second attempt failed. By my third try, I was getting discouraged. After it failed, I noticed that all permits for the 15th were taken, along with permits for most other days in April. Having spent almost 45 minutes trying to submit my application, I was convinced it was a lost cause. Alena encouraged me to give it one more try for April 1st. It Worked! I successfully reserved a permit that would allow me to camp anywhere along the trail all the way from the Mexican Border to E. C. Manning Territorial Park in Canada. When the notice finally appeared on my laptop that I had successfully secured a permit, Alena and I were so overcome with joy that we did a bit of a happy dance right there in the Starbucks.
Since reserving my permit, I have been focusing my efforts on a fitness program to get this old and abused body into condition for a 2660 mile trek. My conditioning program primarily focuses on weight training, aerobics, and hiking. I am also working on getting my weight down to 165 lbs. I figure the fewer pounds of body fat I’m carrying, the more Ding-Dongs and Twinkies I can throw in the backpack.
Developing a nutrition plan for the PCT, especially a plan that provides an adequate caloric intake, is extremely important. I learned a hard lesson two summers ago when I hiked the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. During the 34 days I spent hiking, I lost almost 20 pounds because I didn’t consume enough calories. I lost both body fat and muscle mass. When I finished the trail, I looked like I had just been rescued from being lost at sea with nothing to eat for a month or more. My upper body was especially gaunt, just skin and bones and not much else. To avoid losing weight and muscle mass on the PCT, I will need to up my daily caloric intake to over 4,000 calories a day.
Another culinary fact I learned while hiking the Colorado Trail (CT) was the importance of variety. For the CT, I purchased all of the dehydrated food I planned to eat in advance and mailed it to a couple Post Offices along the way. Unfortunately, I assumed I would absolutely love eating “Himalayan Lentils” every day. Wrong! After a week or so, I couldn’t even stand the smell of them. As a result, I carried pounds of spicy lentils that I never consumed. For the PCT I decided to take a different approach. Instead of buying food in advance and mailing it, I will purchase food at grocery stores near the trail. That way I can vary the foods I eat and load up on calories by stuffing Twinkies in my mouth whenever I want.
In addition to working on my fitness program, my next objective is to settle on the things that I will carry in my backpack. When water and food are excluded, thru-hikers refer to what remains in the backpack as the “base weight”. My goal is to keep the “base weight” to 15 pounds or less. Yikes, I’m beginning to think I may not be able to bring that Keurig Coffeemaker after all. In my next post I hope to have finalized my list and share it with you.
That’s all for now. I’m off to the gym to sweat off another pound or two.