Technically I have been on the PCT before, because it overlaps with the John Muir Trail and I have hiked up Half Dome. But this weekend marked my first ever backpacking trip on the PCT.
Originally this weekend was supposed to involve an intrepid expedition to the summit of Mt. Shasta, but one by one the friends who were going to come with us ended up having to bail, so Greg (the Boyfriend) and I ended up just doing a backpacking trip along the PCT in the Plumas National Forest region, which is one of the few areas in California that does not require a backcountry permit to go backpacking. We were Good Campers and got ourselves a campfire permit, which is technically required to use stoves, which is physically required to make delicious hot drinks and meals.
I made a LOT of helpful adjustments following my adventures in Lost Creek Wilderness a couple of weeks ago. Here are some learnings from this trip:
Soylent actually works great as backpacking fuel. I kept a 16-oz blender bottle in one of my side pockets and periodically refilled it with Cacao flavored Soylent powder and water, and would basically drink from it as needed. I will definitely use this again in future trips. It was easy to pack and consume and kept me going through 40 miles of hiking and at least 9000 feet of elevation gain across three days! I ate/drank other things as well, but honestly if I were going solo I could easily do it on Soylent alone.
I strung up some Cute LED Lights in the tent. It was like a crazy dang party tent. I tucked the lights in my tent stuff sack and probably won’t use a legitimate lantern anymore.
We brought a bag with a tasteful amount of port wine. It was an excellent addition to the evenings.
More importantly – the PCT is insanely gorgeous. I already knew that the Sierras in general are compellingly beautiful, but I figured it might be less compelling in a region where you don’t need a permit to camp. But I was basically wrong. It was glorious from start to finish.
Final news you can use: the GSI Infinity Backpacker mug is optimal not only for camping but also for sipping wine in a hot tub. Alcohol and hot tubs can be a dangerous combination, but in judicious amounts, particularly after a few days of hiking, the experience can be both safe and sublime. Insert OK-hand emojis here, and maybe some fire emojis too.
Next month I will be hiking the Kendall Katwalk in Washington State in a 4-day loop I found on Halfway to Anywhere’s blog. I expect to have more photos and deeply insightful updates then!
Well, it’s still a long ass time until I need to make any concrete commitments to hiking the PCT, but I’m even more committed than before now that I have actually gone backpacking and enjoyed it.
I went with four others on a four-day trip through the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado. I learned many things! Here are just a few of my key insights.
A heavy pack is a miserable pack. It turns out I am actually not a pack animal and loads of over 50 lbs are not appropriate for my continued happiness.
With that in mind, I need a LOT fewer clothes than I think. And those heavy-duty gaiters are really only appropriate for deep snow – why did I think I needed them for rain?
I also don’t REALLY need fresh food. Bye bye carrots.
Toiletries other than a toothbrush and toothpaste are dead weight. Deodorant is pure folly.
Having a camping mug is great. I should have brought mine. Thankfully someone else had one they allowed me to use with abandon.
As far as I can tell, ankle support is fake news. I hiked this entire trip in trail running shoes (Altra 3.5) and did perfectly fine. Not a single blister – though that might be because my feet are still a hobbity callused mess from my years spent running silly amounts on them.
The main thing I learned, besides the power of friendship and teamwork(?), is that backpacking is indeed as rad as I thought it would be, and I haven’t really lost much hiking fitness since switching from running to cycling, so that’s neat. I learned some basic camping skills (I’d never pooped outside before since I never had to on a day hike) and now feel confident I could take a trip on my own. We’ll see if I actually feel that way once I someday find myself alone in the wilderness…
I’m not gonna lie, I feel kind of lame and embarrassed as I write this. But those are silly things to feel. Society has conditioned me to be embarrassed of introspection, and that’s wrong. It’s important to think about things sometimes!
So here we go. At the behest of Zach Davis, who wrote the book Pacific Crest Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I am going to take a moment to commit to writing the current state of my innermost desires regarding my grand ambition of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (ideally in its entirety) in 2019).
List #1: Why I Want to Hike the PCT and What I Hope to Achieve By Doing So
I want to test my physical limits
I want to test my mental limits
I want to try something I have a very real chance of quitting / otherwise failing… and have the chance to succeed anyway.
I want to take a break from the life of the mind
I want to take a break from the life of the gainfully employed
I want to introspect hardcore and gain some deeper insight into my existential desires
I want to see some pretty dang nature. Let’s be real, mostly mountains
I want to be able to look at a US map and trace my finger from Mexico to Canada and know that my feet covered that
I want to exhaust my wanderlust so that I can feel happy “settling down” (no major resignations from regular life) for a couple of decades
Or… if I’m not ready to settle myself after an adventure like this, maybe that means I won’t ever BE ready. And if that’s true (I doubt it, but I’ve also never hiked the PCT so how should I know?), then I want to find that out rather than spend a life of low-grade, intermittent dissatisfaction.
I want to get in touch with what really matters… both physically and mentally/emotionally.
I want to be an outdoor badass so that I can do any kind of outdoor adventure I might want with confidence, expertise, and gusto (at least in the domain of standard backpacking, not mountaineering… yet)
Frankly, I want to be a revolving door of calories to the highest degree
I want to leave my comfort zone like I never have before… and stay out of it, and learn to be OK with that
I want to meet and talk to other people whose existential crises and proclivities have sent them on a similarly absurd adventure
That seems like a decent number of bullet points to begin with. I wonder how I’ll feel in a few months?
Now to get back to reading the book…
…And it turns out there’s another list to write. Here we go again:
List 2: What Will Happen if I Quit the PCT
I may never have another chance to try again
I will feel like all my planning and excitement was for nothing
I will regret quitting my job and putting my career on hold
I will lose my reputation as a badass
I will have to live with the knowledge that when faced with the one challenge I wanted to struggle through and overcome, I decided instead to turn my back
If I quit for any reason besides insurmountable health problems or injury, I will feel like I didn’t ask my body or my mind to try hard enough
I will doubt myself in ways I’ve never doubted myself before
I will always wonder whether if I’d just kept at it a little longer, just tried a little harder, asked just a little more of myself, then maybe I would have made it through the whole thing
I will become discouraged from taking on big scary challenges and leaving my comfort zone