Well, here’s the second round of remaining questions you all sent in. I did the same as last time – didn’t change them, sort them or rearrange them. I kept them how you sent them, copied, pasted and answered them here.
I believe this is all I received, so if you think I missed one, or if one of these Q&A entries sparks a new question, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer, whether as a direct response, or in a later post. Thanks to you all, once again for all the fun questions. I really enjoyed answering these!
Questions are in bold:
Was the lightning experience the scariest moment of your entire journey? If there was a scarier moment, where and when was it?
After it was all said and done, yes, that was the scariest moment for me personally. I wonder if I’d had gone on those last 60 miles through the snow, however, if that would’ve beaten the lightning experience. A few folks I talked to that went through said they wouldn’t do it again if they were paid… which strangely makes me wish even more that I’d gone on! For some reason, dangerous adventure draws me in… lightning, though? I guess I can always pass on that… yeah… it’s probably still scarier – if for no other reason than it’s so unpredictable!
What have you learned about yourself?
I initially learned a lot about myself regarding confidence, strength, determination, stubbornness and all of the basics on my first thru-hike of the American Discovery Trail in 2006, and I think having that experience helped me on this trip, but I still went in with a humble mind, not knowing what to expect since the PCT is so different than the ADT. I was definitely experiencing all kinds of new things, like desert hiking as one example, but once I got into it, I felt right at home. I was able to challenge myself and actively use that confidence, strength and determination on a daily basis. One new thing I tried to focus a little more on during this trip was patience, and tried not to hurry myself through everything, and I feel as though I succeeded at that. I also wanted to be sure to always find the good in everything, everybody, and every day, mostly so I wouldn’t take any of this experience for granted. I felt blessed every day, and thanked God often for bringing me to wherever I was at that moment. I am really happy with how this part of my trip went – even on days I wasn’t feeling like hiking, felt a little crabby, or something was bothering me, I noticed it right away and tried to divert my mind. I’d focus on the small flowers, take more photos, say some prayers, or stop to listen to my surroundings more often through my stuggle. I learned that there is always something beautiful around me, no matter what the situation or mood might be. And most of all… I was reminded that I still LOVE long-distance hiking… in fact, maybe even more!
What’s important to you in life?
Well, I could start listing all the amazing people in my life, but I think that list would be never-ending. So I guess people are the number one most important thing in my life – I have such an amazing, supportive and loving network of family and friends! Other than that pretty obvious answer, is to LIVE. To keep DOING. Life really can go by pretty fast, so I hope to always have some sort of adventure lined up… and if not lined up in my timeline of life, then at least in my mind. Dreaming about what could be next is the first step into that dream actually coming to fruition. You can’t start anything without thinking or dreaming it up first! So it’ll always be important for me to keep my dreaming bug alive. I’ve recently discovered that relying less on money is important to me. I don’t see myself as someone who will work towards living off the grid or anything, so I’ll always work doing something to make money to keep me alive and moving, but I hope to one day find a better balance in that aspect. It’s a deep question! And a good one… and I could probably go on, but I’ll stop there before I get too freaky. ;)
If you think back to the person you were before the trail, how has the trail changed you?
I don’t know if I know the answer to this yet. I don’t feel too much different, and I wonder if that is yet to come as I continue this “transition” from the trail world to the “other world.” I was, however, reminded of a few things. One of the biggest things I learned from my first thru-hike and was reminded of during this one, is how little I need to be survive and be happy doing it. It really is a freeing feeling to have everything you need to survive loaded up on your back.
Is yogi’s PCT handbook as useful as everyone says?
I really enjoyed reading Yogi’s handbook before the hike. Quite a lot of it was already familiar to me, but I did learn some new things. I would recommend the guidebooks – but when it comes to using the town guide, just remember that many of the reviews of businesses are based on opinion. We found a few times that we had a better experience than expected, based on what yogi’s guide said. A specific example was the outfitter in Shasta City. That place was amazing, and from what I remember, the guide said differently. With that being said, I think it’s great to take along, read through to get familiar with towns, what they have to offer and where things are, but always keep an open mind.
How common are kilts on the PCT?
I saw a few kilts on the PCT, but only a few. I for one, say YES to kilts. I wore a skirt and LOVED it. I met a guy who’s pants ripped out at the crotch, so he went to a thrift store to replace them and walked out with a women’s polka-dot skirt. It wasn’t really too girly, but you could tell it was a skirt. He didn’t care one bit because it was so comfortable, and I thought that was pretty awesome. If you like the kilt, then go for it! Take note, however, that a girl wearing a skirt, or a guy wearing a kilt (or vice versa), there may be chafing involved. I had some inner thigh chafing when I started with a skirt, but I must have worked up a tolerance to it, because it pretty much stopped – the only time I had trouble after a couple of weeks was if it was super hot, humid and I was sweating a TON. Just carry a small bottle of Gold Bond or some sort of anti-chafe lotion that you like. Desitin works pretty well – that’s one of the things I read in Yogi’s guide. :)
Did you carry your rain gear the entire hike or mail it to yourself in Oregon?
I carried my rain gear the entire hike. I know not everyone does this, but I always felt better having it on me. I just like to always be prepared for the worst weather, and rain can happen anywhere – even in the desert. I did just have a Frog Toggs jacket for the first part of the hike, and it worked okay. I switched to my heavier Patagonia rain jacket later in Oregon and was really glad I did. It kept me much drier, was way more durable, and it kept me WARMer. I had my rain pants the entire time because I wear a skirt. I didn’t have any pants with me, so I used them if I got cold, if there were mosquitoes, and through some of the poodle dog bush. Oh, and when it rained. :) I was SUPER happy with my rain pants. I had the Mountain Hardwear Conduit pants with the zipper up to the hip. A lot of the time I’d have them zipped down to the knee for ventilation (when it was warmer out). One important thing I learned while training for the PCT that was rain gear doesn’t keep you completely dry… and I was quickly reminded of that once I experienced my first rain. It keeps you driER, but not DRY. Rain just gets in eventually, especially when it’s an all-day rain, or several days, like we experienced in Oregon. In the end, I was always happy having rain gear and a pack cover when it did rain. Sorry, that one was long-winded! Rain and cold are my nemesis, so I’ve put a lot of mental energy into dealing with it the best I can!
Do you recommend swapping out sleeping bags at the Oregon border to synthetic from down?
That’s a great question. I stuck with my same down sleeping bag the entire trip, and it worked just fine… but there were a couple of stretches in Oregon and Washington when it rained a lot and I kind of wished I’d had a synthetic bag. If you set up your tent in the rain, sleep in the rain, take it down in the rain and set it up again the next night, the tent is going to be wet — it’s wet when you roll it up or stuff it to carry it, so it’s just wet inside and out. A few days of this, and your sleeping bag slowly gets damper and damper just from contact. I never got to a point where it was soaking wet, but I was nervous I might end up in that situation. That’s when I was wishing I had a synthetic. If you can afford to have two bags, I don’t think it would be a bad idea. I think most people just stuck with what they had, though. Which ever bag you carry, no matter what, just be sure you have a waterproof stuff sack to carry it in… and I even put that inside a trash bag for when it was really raining. In my opinion, you can’t be too careful with your sleeping bag. Keep that sucker as dry as you can… as well as a set of clothes and socks to sleep in. I always figured as long as I had dry and warm things to sleep in, I would be just fine, no matter how cold and wet I was when I got to camp (and it was pretty scary-cold a few times!).
Did you carry a backup headlamp like yogi suggests?
My backup light was just a tiny push-light on a carabiner with a whistle and a tiny swiss army knife (the one with the scissor, which I used most, a small knife, file, tweezers an toothpick). I never needed the extra light, though. I carried a spare set of batteries, so if my headlamp started to die, I could always get it going again. I suppose it’s a good idea in case you lose it or it breaks for some reason, but as long as you have some sort of spare light, that would probably be good. There are apps you can even download on your phone to use your camera flash as a light if you were desperate and didn’t want to carry an extra light.
How did you do the pictures on your camera?
I ditched my actual Olympus camera in the first week of the hike. I got so used to taking photos with my phone, and I was so happy with them, I found that I wasn’t touching the camera. I carried a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone, and I really liked it. My favorite feature is that you can take the back off and take the battery out. That means I could carry 3 extra, fully-charged batteries with me and replace them when one died. They’re rechargeable, so when I got to town, I’d charge them all up (I kept an extra wall charger in my bounce box… the pickle jar). Always keep the phone in airplane mode when you’re hiking to conserve battery (with a Droid, you can use Halfmile’s app while IN airplane mode, too – which is not the same with the iPhone). Once you take your phone out of airplane mode and it starts searching for signal, the battery in any phone starts to go… fast.
Did you buy extra memory cards and mail them to yourself?
Since I didn’t use a camera, I didn’t have to deal with memory cards, which was really nice. I downloaded an app called “QuickPic,” which I’m sure there’s tons like it, but I was able to create a new folder for each day, and at the end of the day, I’d move all my photos to that folder – when I got home, all my photos were organized already. Huge time-saver! I learned to do this after my last thru-hike – those photos are still quite a jumbled mess (and I used a regular digital camera then… so this is another great feature to using your phone as a camera!). If my phone’s memory started to get full, I’d have to download some of the photos to a computer. If you don’t have access to a computer, you can check into something like Google Drive that lets you store files – but you’ll need a really good wifi connection and some time to kill to do that.
What camera did you choose?
When I did carry a camera, I used the Olympus Tough because it’s waterproof. If I were to buy a camera and carry it again, I’d do something similar. Waterproof is the way to go. That is the ONLY thing I didn’t like about my phone. The iPhone has a waterproof case you can buy to fit over it, but as far as I know, the Samsung Galaxy S3 does not. I had a water-resistant Ballistic case, and it worked well in sprinkles, but in a hard rain, I just kept it turned off and tucked away somewhere safe. I dropped it in a river once and ALMOST lost it for good… a few prayers later and a couple of hours, and it started back up… but it was a pretty scary moment.
Did you carry your ID and debit card with you the whole way?
Yes. I always had a small wallet with my ID, my debit card and some light cash. It’s always good to carry some cash, too… in case you stumble upon a small pub, convenience store, or if you want to offer something to someone giving you a ride when they pick you up from a hitch. I also liked having some cash to drop in buckets for trail angels if they had one. This can be kind of a controversial topic, and I don’t want to go there… I just enjoyed helping them continue their angeling if I could afford to.
Did you carry gaiters and a beanie through California?
I carried my beanie hat the entire hike. It’s the first thing I put on if I get a chill at night. I learned before my first hike ever that most of your body heat escapes through the top of your head. I think it’s a good idea to always carry a beanie or some sort of hat… even a buff. As for gaiters, I wore Dirty Girl Gaiters the whole way – every single day, and they were one of my most favorite pieces of gear. I have always kicked up small stones, pine needles and other little stuff when I walk, and it always goes right into my shoe from the back. Those gaiters stopped that from happening. They can also extend the life of your socks. I would still get dirty feet, but that’s because I wore trail runners, and the dirt and dust would still always seep through the mesh. It’s good practice to take the shoes off and dry off your feet on breaks, so I would just brush off as much dirt as I could before putting my socks and shoes back on. Once we hit the crazy snow storm in Washington, I wished I had tall, knee-high gaiters. If you are going to be breaking through fresh snow at any time on the trip, I would recommend higher gaiters, and probably waterproof boots at that point.
Shoes – trail runners, brands, sizing… how much did your feel really grow/swell?
I have a hard time answering this one, because I just don’t know. Before the hike, I wore a size 8-1/2 running shoe, comfortably. I bought a size 9-1/2 trail runner (Brooks Cascadias) for the hike. I wore those just fine during 300 miles of training and 500 miles on the PCT, and when I got my second pair (I happened to be at an REI), I tried on a size 10, and it didn’t feel much different, so I got them. I was glad I did. A few small blisters (that didn’t hurt much) that I was getting on the tips of my toes went away. So in all, I went up a full size and a half from my standard “at-home” size. It feels a little weird at first, but you get used to it. I’d say definitely do some training hikes in them just to get used to it. I think my feet swelled as I hiked, but now that I’m home, I think I’m back to normal – and the only reason I’m comfortable saying that is because I still fit into my Vibram Five Finger shoes. If my feet were much larger, I don’t think I could’ve squeezed my toes into the toe pockets on those shoes… and to add to that, I’m still comfortable wearing my size 10 Cascadias when I hike. So maybe my running shoe size is just a size and a half smaller than my hiking shoe size. I’m really not sure, but that’s what seems to work for me. It takes a while to get the shoe thing down, but trust me, once you do… it’s a big deal. I think the shoe/sock combo thing is the toughest thing to figure out, and mostly because every one is so very different!
What items would you leave behind if you were to do it again, if any?
If I were to do it again, I’d probably actually switch out a few things, just to save some weight. Otherwise I was pretty happy with everything I had with me and actually took very little out of my pack along the way. I had a huge piece of paracord I carried so I could hang my food bag, but (to my great surprise) became comfortable using my food as something to prop my feet up on at night… sleeping with my food! I never in my life thought I’d be doing that… I sent home a larger knife, finding that my tiny Swiss Army knife worked for everything I needed it for (it’s the one with just a tiny knife, scissors, file, tweezers and toothpick). I carried an extra spoon for a while but never used it, and since I never lost my long Jetboil spoon, I eventually took the spare out of my food kit. The rest of the stuff I’d leave behind is clothing. I only needed one pair of underwear and an extra sport bra (just in case I wanted to swim), one extra pair of socks and a dry set of sleeping clothes. I started with carrying a fleece and my Nanopuff jacket and ditched the fleece until northern Oregon when it started getting damp and chilly – then I carried both. I could wear the fleece hiking and the jacket was stashed in a gallon-size ziplock so I always knew I’d have a dry jacket for camp. Oh, I also ditched my fun foldable coffee cup and just used the cup that comes with my Jetboil. I would consider trying something other than a water bladder, which is another surprise to me. I love having the hose to drink from as I hike, but I had so many problems with the darn thing leaking (just annoying drip-leaking, not like it was pouring out of my pack), that I finally would try training without one.
If you did it again, what would you do differently?
Gear — I would save up and change out a few heavier items. I’d stay with a framed backpack, because I like having the support when it’s got a lot of weight in it – carrying lots of water in the desert, and lots of food through long stretches in the Sierras. I would consider getting something a little lighter-weight, though, even though I love my backpack. I’d get a new sleeping bag that weighs less. I’d stay with my double-wall tent. I like that the single-wall tents are so light, but I can’t stand how wet they get inside from condensation. Not being able to move around in the morning without getting dripped on drives me bonkers.
Food — I’d take some time to make a few of my own dehydrated meals (or bat my eyelashes at my mom really sweet and see if she’d make some of her awesome meals for me). They were a real treat on-trail when I had them instead of Knorr sides.
Hiking — I’d probably try to take more solo camping nights. I didn’t really face my fear of camping alone at night as much as I wish I had. Also, I’d take a few more of the alternate routes if I did it again. I love how my friend Cuddles hiked. He’d already thru-hiked the trail, so when there was an alternate bypassing a section of trail he’d already seen, he’d take the alternate. I wanted to take as much of the PCT on my first run as I could, with the exception of the Crater Lake Rim Trail (which I think is the official hiking route of the PCT, anyway), and the Eagle Creek Trail. Future PCT hikers — DO NOT MISS the Eagle Creek Trail if you’ve never been along there. Tunnel Falls is along the route and it was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced!
What were your favorite stops and resupply locations?
A few that stand out for me:
Idyllwild – it’s just a really neat little town full of friendly people, and there’s an energy about it because it’s one of the first big, famous hiker-town stops.
Kennedy Meadows North – I had a lot of fun here and enjoyed the saloon. It’s a packing station, so it was just a unique environment. The convenience store had a self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine, too. Bonus!
Burney – I didn’t actually plan to stop here, but Adam picked me up off the trail, and instead of pushing out a 35-mile day, I went into town with him, resupplied for the next section a few miles early, ate an amazing salad, visited with hikers in the store, and slept in a bed. I don’t know what it was, exactly, but Adam and I just really had a nice time in this town… maybe because it was spontaneous, I don’t know.
Mt. Shasta – Another town I just had a really fun time in. I’m not sure what it was in particular – it was probably (of course) spending time with Adam, as always, there were a lot of hikers hanging around, and the Black Bear Diner had amazing milkshakes. Oh, and the outfitter there was awesome, despite what Yogi’s guide said… Definitely give them a visit if you need anything! Pole tips, backpack, gear repairs… they were really helpful with a few hikers that needed things.
Trout Lake – I don’t know what to say about this town except that I am still in awe at their kindness. Tears and I weren’t planning on stopping here, but we got caught in the crazy rain storm and took a spontaneous hitch from one of the roads because a truck of elk hunters just happened to be driving by. We got into town and there was a wedding that had all the lodging booked… but the owner of the general store was on the phone with locals seeing if they’d pick hikers up from the trail and take them into their homes… which they did! It was like the town came together to help us all out! It was an amazing display of pure generosity!! We stayed with a local resident (Gerry, bless his ginormous heart!) who, first thing, brewed us a cup of coffee, let us take a hot shower, wash our clothes, and even borrow his truck to go into town!! Oh, and a school in town took in about 40 hikers the night we were there, too… everyone was hitching into Trout Lake to dry out – it was a pretty good soaker (record-breaking, even) of a storm!!
Stehekin – The fact that you can only get here by trail, plane or boat is cool in itself. If you can get reservations, I would try the Ranch (different than the lodge), even though I didn’t stay there. The few hiker friends that did stay there wouldn’t even explain the amazing food to us… they just smiled, shook their head and said, “I won’t do that to you.” It sounds like it was pretty amazing… and all you can eat! AND. The bakery. I don’t know if it’s because you’re coming off the trail, or what, but that bakery is unlike any bakery I’ve been to. I expected good donuts, but wow. Pies, pizza, bread, sticky buns, hot coffee, cinnamon roles, scones… it was all incredibly amazing!
I know before you started the PCT you were already able to do 20 mile days, but how did your body fare those first few days/weeks on the trail logging that type of mileage?
I did a couple of 20-mile days in training, and Tears and I did one trip with back-to-back 20’s, but we didn’t do consistent 20’s until probably a month or so into the trip. We would do one here and one there, but we probably averaged 15’s or 16’s for the first part as our bodies got used to the ‘hiking every single day’ thing. I think starting a little slow and working your way up to 20’s worked really well for us. I was really happy with how my body handled the mileage – I didn’t have any trouble with injury, and I think that maybe had to do with not pushing as much as we could every single day from the start… maybe, I don’t know. It’s hard to say since everyone is so different, especially when dealing with the hot desert conditions in the beginning.
At what point did that type of mileage start to feel comfortable and routine?
That’s a great question! I think it was about a quarter of the way through, maybe? Somewhere in the Sierras? It’s hard to say. I think it may have happened sooner, but we took quite a few zero days (zero hiking miles in one day) and longer neros (almost zero miles in one day) in the beginning of the trip, so it was pretty broken up with lots of rest… which I think helped us adjust and get used to the thru-hiker lifestyle. Once we got used to everything and worked out most of the kinks, I do remember it feeling really good to just get going and hike every day… and get into that groove.
Did you ever get lost?
I don’t know that we were ever lost. There were a few spots in the Sierras where it was a little harder to navigate the trail through some of the rocks – we had to take our time, look for cairns, trail up ahead and make our way through. Sometimes we weren’t exactly on the trail, but we knew we were heading in the general direction we were supposed to. There was one time we took a spur trail just before Fuller Ridge. It was rainy and cold, and neither of us wanted to take out our maps or phones so we could keep moving to stay warm. We took the spur trail confidently, until we started descending more and more… and we stopped and said, “aren’t we supposed to be climbing to Fuller Ridge?” We then pulled up Halfmile’s app on Tears’ phone and it told us we were 1.4 miles from the trail. OOPS! We turned around and hiked up, up and up until we were reunited with the PCT. That was the biggest “wrong turn” we made that I can remember. The rest were so small that didn’t really take much time to get back on trail, but it did happen now and again. Overall, the PCT is very easy to follow.
How easy/hard is it to accidentally stray from the trail?
I guess I kind of answered this one in the previous question, but I’ll expand a little. The PCT is a well-traveled trail, so it’s pretty darn easy to follow. We joke about looking for Cascadia shoe prints in the dirt because it’s the most popular shoe on the trail, but it actually works. You eventually learn to look for the Cascadia print, as well as your friend’s shoe prints. There were quite a few times where we’d come out onto a road or something, not sure where the trail goes back into the woods on the other side, so we’d look down in the dirt on the road and see where all the shoe prints were headed. Nine times out of ten, you can follow those tracks and they’ll bring you right to the trail. The PCT is also lined on either side with trekking pole marks. I only remember a few small spots where it was especially rocky that we maybe lost the trail for 30 or 40 yards until we were able to stumble upon it again, but we were always able to find our way back pretty easily… and this is coming from me, who’s not a navigational pro. I can roughly read a topo map, I’m good with a compass, and I didn’t carry a GPS. I only carried Halfmile’s paper maps and phone app.
Your planning process seemed extremely organized. Any favorite resources/programs that really helped you out with that?
Wow, what a compliment! :) I don’t remember feeling extremely organized, that’s for sure!! I’m going to plug the Yogi guide/Halfmile combo again here. It was the jump start I needed to feel confident going in. BUT… training hikes in addition to that are what really got me feeling ready to go. The rest of the stuff kind of falls into place and you learn as you go. It’s a fun part of the journey. Also, it depends on how much you want to know before you go – you can read a billion blogs and watch YouTube videos, movies, PCT Class Of videos, and read books – and you’ll know every major landmark and mountain along the way. I would suggest trying to find a balance there, so you leave some of it as a surprise. I was excited that I was able to point out Forester Pass the minute I came up over the hill and could see the teeny-tiny notch waaaay off in the distance, but I wouldn’t want that to happen every day, at least not on my first thru-hike. But those resources I just mentioned… they were what kept my motivation high while planning and saving for this experience-of-a-lifetime. I worked full-time in an office, and would take advantage of videos and blogs on my breaks and lunch hour. I obsessed over it, and the anticipation and stomach aches I would feel from excitement was a SUPER awesome part of this whole thing. Ahh, how I miss that anticipation! If you are in that stage right now, reading this… I am JEALOUS! I know you want to get out there, and you’re excited – stay that way – and EMBRACE this, because it’s an awesome part!!
I’m curious about your choice of footwear (Cascadias). How did they hold up on sketchy/slick terrain, river crossings, muck, etc.?
I loved the Cascadias. I used to always wear Merrell Moab Mid boots, and I’m really happy I made the switch to trail runners. I didn’t notice that they were any slippier on sketchy terrain compared to the boots, even when the soles were worn down. On rougher terrain, like the lava beds as an example, I think you probably feel more through the bottom of the shoe compared to a boot, but it wasn’t enough for me to ever wish I’d had my boots. I also wore green Superfeet insoles, so I think that helped with those times when the terrain was a little tougher, as well as lengthened the life of the shoe. As for river crossings, if I could rock-hop or walk along a log, I would. I always tried to keep my feet dry, but there were a few times it was easier and felt safer to just walk across. I stopped taking my shoes and socks off to cross. It takes some getting used to, but if you just walk across in your shoes, you have better balance and it doesn’t hurt your feet like crossing barefoot does. I crossed a few earlier streams in my bare feet and it always hurt. I found it much better to just get them soaking wet – the water would run out of them the first five minutes, then they’d start to dry out. After a couple of miles, if my feet were feeling cold, I’d stop and change my socks. But I usually was able to just keep going until my next break when I’d switch my socks anyway. As for muck, we didn’t have a whole lot of it, but when we did, I just walked through it, trying to keep as much out as possible. Wearing the trail runners allows a lot of dust to get in, but wasn’t too big of a problem. I was pretty proud of my filthy feet! On every break, I suggest taking the shoes and socks off and just wiping the dust off your feet, shaking out your socks (rinsing them if there’s water available to do so), and changing socks. Pin your used pair to your pack with a safety pin to let them dry as you hike, and on every break, switch socks. They get dirtier and dirtier as you go, but at least you’re always wearing the cleanest/driest pair you have. And it’s good practice to let your feet air out. I think that saved me in the desert, especially. And dangit, it just feels awesome to air them puppies out – and really, it only takes about one minute to take the shoes on and off. Sorry, I’m taking tangents on this one. OH!! Don’t forget Dirty Girl Gaiters! They keep small debris out of your shoes. You’ll still get really dirty feet, but the small pebbles, pine needles and debris will stay out, and the gaiters help lengthen the life of your socks. My Dirty Girls were one of my favorite pieces of gear, and I wore them every single day of the hike.
What was your scariest wildlife encounter?
I didn’t have very many scary wildlife encounters, so I would have to say the rattlesnakes. I think that was mostly because I was so unfamiliar with them. I’d never hiked anywhere that had big rattlesnakes like we saw. It was always a little freaky to hear them rattle, but once I knew where they were I always wanted to get in closer to observe them and take photos of them… but not too close, of course! I saw about five bears, but most of them just wanted to get as far away from me as possible as quickly as they could. The only one I got a photo of, which I suppose I would consider a scary encounter, was a yearling bear in the desert. I was with a group of people (thank goodness!), and it turns out this bear was a regular pest. Many other hikers also had problems with it. He was hanging around one of the few water sources in the desert, so while some of us filled our bottles, a couple of other hikers tried to ward off the bear off by yelling at it and swinging their poles around. He wouldn’t let up and kept circling us closely. At one point the bear even pawed at one of the hiker’s backpacks lying in the trail, picked up pocket knife in his mouth that was used to cut salami, and pulled my drying socks out of the tree (and spit them out!! Haha!). He also climbed a tree right where we were and stood on a branch hanging over the trail (and us)… as he was up in the tree, he pooped, missing one of the other hikers (Halfway) by about one second. Okay, that wasn’t that scary for me… more funny than anything… but I’m sure it was scary for Halfway!
Are there any trail towns you loved so much you plan to revisit?
I definitely plan to go back to Stehekin. My next hike will probably be Stehekin to the border or the other way around. I’ve got those 60 miles I still want to hike. I’d also love to go back to Trout Lake, Washington and visit with Gerry and some of the amazing town people we met there. Seriously… great town. I’ll be back to Bend, Portland and Seattle, I’m sure, since we now have some good friends from those areas. I would like to revisit Idyllwild, too. I would love to hike the section between Paradise Valley Cafe and Devil’s Slide again. I really enjoyed that section of trail.
What was the most physically demanding section of the trail?
Each section had a different challenge, and it was almost in a way that made each one equally physically demanding, just in very different ways. Just when you think it’s going to be easy for some reason, a new challenge would pop up. This is one of the things I loved about the trail, though. It was never easy. The challenges of things like this keep me feelin’ alive, so I love it. The desert was physically demanding because of the heat and lack of water, so it felt like we were constantly conserving water while feeling dehydrated and sweating buckets… and hiking in soft sand was hard on the feet and legs, too. The Sierras were tough because there was some pretty rocky terrain, hard surfaces, and steep climbs that challenged the lungs. Elevation is an issue in the Sierras for a lot of people, too. I’m one of the lucky ones people hate because elevation never really bothered me much (although I did feel it on Whitney! Everything just seems to move slower). Northern California brought more heat, but added in some humidity, so clothing didn’t dry out as easily, so quite a few of us were battling new blisters and chafing again. Oregon had long days (by choice) that were demanding on the body, as well as some wet days that wore us out to the core. Washington continued with that, too. It’s physically demanding to hike in wet and cold because it’s so difficult to stop and take any breaks, and everything starts to hurt when you don’t take any breaks and just keep moving. It also chews up your feet a little bit, since you can’t really keep them dry when it rains for a few days in a row and the trail turns to streams. Washington also brought on some good climbs again. Oh, don’t be fooled like I was – people say Northern California and Oregon are “flat” and you can do a lot of miles. You can do more miles, but it’s not “flat” anywhere on the PCT except for the aqueduct hike through the Mojave – and that has other challenges to make up for the “flatness.” So anyway, it’s all tough, but WORTH every single bit of it.
If a person decides to thru-hike solo without knowing anyone when they started, is it relatively easy to meet up/hike/camp with other PCT-ers along the way if loneliness sets in?
Absolutely. You will meet other hikers, and you will have a chance to hike and/or camp with others. I can almost guarantee that. There are some hikers that met day one and leapfrogged each other the entire way, even finishing together. If and when you find someone or a group that you just work well with, you’ll always have people to catch up to, wait for, camp with… and you’ll probably end up having a couple of people or groups that you get close with like this. One the flip side, you can still hike pretty alone if you ever want to, as well.
Now that you’re off the trail, what’s the luxury you’re most excited about indulging in?
Being geographically close to those I love and missed while on the hike and being able to enjoy their company. A few others are sleeping in a bed, sleeping in, and having constant access to water, outlets and wifi.
What is the number one piece of advice you would give to anyone who tells you they’re planning to thru-hike the PCT?
Keep a good record of your journey in whatever way is easiest for you to keep up on. Whether it’s through photos, an online blog, a paper journal – just something for you to look back on and read or look through. Also, find beauty in everything and enjoy every minute you can out there, because it will go by fast. And remember that even if you don’t feel 100% ready at the start, you’re not alone. If you’re there with your backpack on ready to hike, the rest will fall into place. You learn a lot as you go, and that’s part of the journey, too, so don’t stress too much over the small details.
Weight loss and fitness – I’ve always imagined this journey would turn anyone buff and fit – did it for you? Were you already in shape and never lost weight?
I started out in pretty good shape, but could still have stood to lose 15-20 pounds, which I did. It didn’t come off right away, though. It took a few weeks before I noticed my skirt was getting loose on me. I eventually had to switch out my skirt because it was too big, and it was starting to bunch up under my hip belt and cause problems with chafing. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to weigh myself, so I’m not sure how much weight I was losing and gaining as I went along, but I do know I felt great. I don’t know that I felt “buff,” but… I felt… “hiking efficient,” I guess.
Would someone who has 5 or so pounds to lose be thrilled by the quick shedding of pounds?
With just 5 pounds to lose, I imagine you’d lose that pretty quickly – and probably more, eventually. It seems like most people were noticeably thinner after the Sierras. Some hikers we hadn’t seen for a while were hard to recognize, even, depending on how much they had to lose… and how big their beards got. :) Men definitely seemed to lose more weight overall than the women. Either way, losing a few pounds is a little perk, or bonus to a thru-hike. A couple words of caution on this subject, though — first, be sure to eat! You will not feel good at all if you’re “dieting” while trying to hike 20 miles each day. Be sure to get the calories you need, and that number will probably be higher than you think! Don’t worry about losing weight, because it’ll just happen. If you are feeling sluggish, take in more calories and water – I can almost bet you’d feel a quick change for the better. After a while, you can tell pretty easily when your body is asking for fuel. It’s actually a really cool part of the hike when you become so in tune with your body that you know right away. Second, be careful with what you’re eating when the hike is done if you don’t want to gain too much back, which is really easy to do. I don’t have any idea how metabolism works post-hike, but I’m working my buns off right now just to maintain my weight. Again, everyone is different with this sort of thing, but in my history, I gain pretty easily, so I know that I need to be careful or it’ll pack back on pretty quick. It’s just something to keep in mind, and totally depends on how your body works.
What socks caused the least blisters?
I’m probably a bad one to ask because I don’t have a ton of problems with blisters. I wear Injinji socks (the ones with the toes) and love them. That’s all I wore, too… just one pair of Performance-style Injinji socks at a time.
What socks lasted the longest?
Even though I loved my Injinji socks, I wore through them pretty quickly. This is another very personal thing. I know people that wore one pair of Injinji socks for half the hike before having a single hole. I’d start seeing holes in a couple of weeks. So it must have something to do with how you walk. A lot of hikers used Darn Tough socks because if you get a hole in them (which a few people did, eventually – they do last a long time!), you can exchange them. Darn Tough has a lifetime warranty. Some outfitters along the trail will just swap them out for you, but you have to ask. Otherwise, I know some hikers just bought new pairs and planned to send them into Darn Tough after the hike for the exchange. I hope one day that Darn Tough will make a good toe-sock for hiking!
If you go with Injinji, I would recommend against the blue NuWool version, as those got holey really fast for some reason for me. The original-weight, regular Injinjis lasted a little longer than those, and the Performance wear ones (I think they’re for running), were great. They were a little thicker, which I liked, and they lasted longer, too. I’ll go over this in my gear review, too, when I get that up.
What shoes did you like the best?
I wore Brooks Cascadia the entire way. Loved them. A lot. I would recommend them to at least try on some training hikes if you want to try a trail runner. I used green Superfeet insoles in them, too. It helped with cushion, and I appreciated the little bit of extra support they provided for my feet. I’d like to note that I was a barefoot runner before the hike, too. I thought about wearing my Vibram Five Finger shoes for about a day. After some research I learned that pretty much everyone’s feet swell to some degree due to heat and just regular pounding, and with the Five Fingers, blisters are pretty much a certainty since your toes are crammed in their individual pockets, fitting like a glove, so you can imagine with even the slightest swelling how uncomfortable that could be! A few people wore regular barefoot shoes and those worked okay for them.
Which [shoes and socks] dried out the fastest?
As for socks, the thinner the material, the quicker they’ll dry. My injinji socks did dry faster than Darn Tough socks, but I think that’s simply because they’re thinner. Some hikers wore a thin polyester dress sock, and if that works for you, great. They’re cheap, light, and they probably would dry the quickest. The only time I had trouble with my socks drying was once I hit northern Oregon and north of there. I started carrying a third pair of socks at that point.
As for shoes, light trail runners are going to dry out the fastest. Waterproof, leather, or thicker boots are going to take a while. And here’s the thing I learned from wearing my waterproof boots during a really rainy training hike – water gets onto your legs, runs down your legs, and into your boots. Once the water is inside your waterproof boots, it’s not going anywhere. Either way, if it’s pouring rain, your feet will be wet. They just will be. I found it better to be in trail runners, so that if there was a half day of sunshine or something, they had a chance to dry out. Earlier in the hike, when I’d just walk through a river with my shoes on, it would sometimes take a whole day for them to be completely dry, but they felt dry an hour or two after crossing. I recommend trying it. It’s not nearly as bad as you think it would be.
What is the best advice to avoid blisters?
Again, I never really had too much trouble with blisters, but my number one piece of advice would be to take your shoes off often and let them air out. Switch out to your driest pair of socks each time, wipe the dust off, and if you’re getting persistent blisters, try some new things without waiting too long. Try bigger shoes. This is oftentimes the issue. If that doesn’t do it, try some different types of socks. It can be a pain to figure out your perfect, personal combination for your feet, and even when you do, you might still get a blister here or there, or a few crazy-thick calluses, but everything seems a little easier once the footwear thing is figured out.
I’m guessing blisters were the biggest concern at the beginning and tenacity at the end, right?
I suppose, in a general way, that’s pretty true. Blisters do seem to be the biggest complaint overall at the beginning, but they can pop up here and there through the whole hike. Once we got into Northern California where it was a little more humid, some of those same issues with chafing and blisters came up again. But yes, mostly in the beginning. Towards the end there are all kinds of emotions going on, and I think everyone was all over the place – wanting to be done hiking, but not wanting it to ever end. Tenacity is probably a good term for it, though.
You are very up-beat, but what did others do to keep themselves going when their mind said stop?
I think everyone just finds what they need to keep going. I can’t really speak for anyone else. I stayed pretty positive throughout, but on the days I wasn’t feeling well, or something wasn’t going as planned, I tried to refocus my thoughts on something that made me happy about where I was. Sometimes is was as simple as feeling so glad I was wherever I was at that moment, the flowers, the sky, or whatever else I could find. There was always something else I could focus on and be thankful for. Also, a lot of times the draw of food helps! “Just one more day and I’ll be in town, sitting at a table eating a bacon cheeseburger.” Sometimes that’s all you need! :) The “one stretch at a time” thing works, too. Thru-hiking is really just a whole series of short backpacking trips back-to-back. If you think about it that way it can help keep ya’ going when the going gets tough.
What food did you tire of most?
I didn’t get tired of much, just oatmeal, which really surprised me. I’m slowly starting to eat it again now, almost a month later. Oh, I got pretty tired of Gatorade powder, too. I just remembered that one.
What food did you like the best on the trail?
Breakfast: Hostess pies (I miss them so much…)
Lunch: Tortillas, salami slices, jalepeno cheese sticks and Miracle Whip (the mayo made it the best!)
Snacks: Nutrolls, Starburst jelly beans, Orchard bars, and candy bars.
Dinner: Mashed potatoes mixed with meat, cheese and crushed-up potato chips, normally. I had a couple of special meals that were homemade, sent from home.
Drink: (Besides crisp, cold, fresh spring water) A grape-flavored Nuun tablet and a packet of instant Crush drink (they have grape, strawberry and orange – all are awesome). You HAVE to try this. It’s the closest you can get to a trail soda. The Nuun tablets fizz and give you the carbonation sensation… it’s delicious!
What was your favorite treat off trail?
Cottage cheese, salads with Ranch dressing, wingies and Coke.
Did you keep the down or switch (bag & jacket) to synthetic in WA?
The jacket I carried was a Patagonia Nanopuff, which is synthetic. I carried that the whole trip. My sleeping bag is down, and I also carried that the whole time and it worked out for me. There was a point when it was so rainy and wet for a few days in a row that my sleeping bag slowly got more and more damp each night I used it. I kind of wished I’d had a synthetic bag then, but my down bag still kept me warm between town stops when I had the chance to dry it out.
What was your favorite piece of equipment?
I liked most of my equipment. I really liked my backpack. I had to get a new one mid-hike because the zippers split (I got it in 2006, so it was time). I ended up getting the same exact pack because I liked it so much. It was a Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude, which they don’t make any more. I loved the convenient panel-load design so you can access anything inside from the bottom or top of the pack. I also loved my Dirty Girl Gaiters – they kept little debris out of my shoes, and they have so many fun patterns that they’re hard not to love. Oh!!! I loved hiking in a skirt. I’m not a skirt wearer normally – never really was – but hiking? I love hiking in a skirt. It’s cooler, easier to go to the bathroom, easier to keep hidden while going to the bathroom, it’s easy to change at camp or after a swim… there are so many reasons.
Are you going to put your pictures and dialogue into a printed form?
I would really like to. I also wrote a daily journal from my American Discovery Trail thru-hike in 2006 when I hiked that with my mom (www.trailjournals.com/adtforaamds) and planned to put that into a book-form, but haven’t gotten around to it yet… so hopefully I can get that together, and I’ve been encouraged to do the same with my current one. So… maybe? I’d love to…
Tonight I love these lyrics by Imagine Dragons:
I’ve had the highest mountains, I’ve had the deepest rivers, you can have it all but life keeps moving. I take it in but don’t look down, ’cause I’m on top of the world ‘ey, I’m on top of the world, ‘ey. Waiting on this for a while now, Paying my dues to the dirt. I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ey, Been holding it in for a while, ‘ey. Take you with me if I can, been dreaming of this as a child. I’m on top of the world.