Planning for the PCT – Part 1

Planning for a 5 to 6-month hike is no small task. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, either. I’m sure we’ll see people that successfully thru-hike the PCT this year that have been planning for years, as well as some that just woke up one day in early March and decided to hike it. But however one decides to plan, the best advice is to “plan and then adapt.” Thanks to Ken and Marcia Powers, who gave this exact advice to me when I began to plan my ADT hike back in 2005. You can plan as much as you want, but those plans will change the minute you hit the trail, and that’s okay. You just adjust as you go. It’s all part of the adventure.

With that being said, why plan at all, right? Well, I think it’s still important to have some sort of plan down, as long as you can be comfortable with it shifting around… having something to follow… knowing what things might happen… what we might encounter…  Okay, I guess what it really comes down to, is it makes me feel like I have my crap together. That’s good enough reason for me!

The first list... of many! (created on Feb. 23, 2012)

The first list… of many! (created on Feb. 23, 2012)

The planning strategy for this thing started out pretty basic, and slowly became more and more specific, but never quite systematic, if that makes any sense. I never had a laid-out plan from start to finish. It started with thinking, obsessing, researching, watching YouTube videos and reading books… just basically getting to know the trail and become familiar with some of the sights along the way, as well as some basic stats. In between all of this, we did some basic training, which involved Rachel and I going on some long training hikes ranging anywhere between 10 and 30 miles in one day. We were able to get out for at least one long hike each month – sometimes we squeezed in a second one. In between those long hikes we kept up our fitness with our regular workouts on our own – running, fitness classes, muscle conditioning, etc.

Rachel and I feeling success after our longest hiking day - 30 miles!

Rachel and I feeling success after our longest hiking day – 30 miles!

As time passed by, we started to take on some more specific tasks. One night in June, Rachel and I met at her house with all of our current backpacking gear and a digital kitchen scale. We inventoried and weighed everything we had and came up with our base weights. Our results?

Robin: 26 pounds, 2 oz.

Rachel: 24 pounds, 3-1/2 oz.

We were okay with this, but figured we could try to widdle away at that base weight a little in the next six months. We haven’t reweighed our gear since then, and I honestly don’t know that we will have time to before we go. But either way, if we had to leave for the trail today with those weights, we’d be okay with it. And besides, I’m sure we’ll adjust that even more once we hit the trail.

(Left) Rachel weighing a Croc/campshoe (Right) My gear all laid out

(Left) Rachel weighing a Croc/campshoe (Right) My gear all laid out

A little later on, I ripped the pages out of a guidebook into predetermined chunks and printed the 28 coordinating sections of topo maps for Rachel and I to carry, then we got together and organized them into individual Zipock bags so they would be easy to reference and pick up as we go.

We also gathered food throughout the year. And that is a special story I will save for another blog entry… because first of all, it’s food, so it deserves its own entry. Second, we managed to gather a lot of it and I’d like to share how. And third, if you follow my husband’s blog, you know there’s a very recent twist to the story of our food loot, and I don’t know the exact outcome of that yet, but it’s quite the story!

Then it got down to the nitty gritty. We applied for permits, discussed resupply strategies and zero days. We thought about bacon, milkshakes and ice axes… foot care, miles per day and cheeseburgers. Technology and on-trail blogging… and more. Most of this stuff was discussed over a beer on some random Thursday “PCT meeting,” or on a long day hike… we made a lot of our decisions this way, in addition to sending hundreds of emails back and forth discussing things we read online, or saw, or whatever.

Maps and a strategically-ripped-up guide book.

Maps and a strategically-ripped-up guide book.

Quite surprisingly, having a support vehicle acting as our bounce box delivered us a challenge in planning. You wouldn’t think it would complicate things, but it raised all kinds of questions:

What do we send in resupply boxes and what do we keep in the car?

Do we have room in the car for all this stuff?

How often do we send resupply?

Where will we meet Adam along the way?

Will the roads be in good condition to meet?

What if none of us have cell coverage and we’re not on schedule?

There were all kinds of questions like these running through our minds that aren’t a concern when you don’t have a support car, but we know that the final outcome is going to be worth it. The best part for me is getting to see my husband on a regular basis! So even though we won’t have all the answers to our questions, and we’ll be required to do a little more guess-work with our planning — we have a guy willing to do our stinky laundry for us, scope out the best place for a milkshake when we get into town, then pick us up off the trail and bring us to that milkshake.

So with those questions in the back of our mind, we started a spreadsheet… a spreadsheet that would turn into 86 rows and 9 columns of magical information that became our Disco Pickle PCT Resupply Master Spreadsheet. It was a rough guide that we can glance at and say, “There’s our trip. It’s all gonna’ change, but it’s written down and it’s the best we’re gonna’ do.”

The Magical Disco Pickle PCT Spreadsheet in the works.

The Magical Disco Pickle PCT Spreadsheet in the works.

So… in my next post, “Planning for the PCT – Part 2,” I’ll talk about this magical Disco Pickle Resupply and Schedule Spreadsheet in a little more detail. It’s cool stuff. Okay, I think it’s cool stuff. Maybe you will, too. :)

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2 thoughts on “Planning for the PCT – Part 1

  1. If you’d like to short-cut your research on how to best utilize a car shuttle, you might want to touch base with Heather. She and her 8-year old daughter thru hiked last season and her husband and dad met them at regular intervals. Here is the link to her blog: http://www.sierrapct.blogspot.com/

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