Oh, PCT Data Book, how obsessed I am with you.
I pour over your pages as if they were oracles, but I don't understand you. When you say 21 miles without water, is that really true? Or will there be tiny trickles where I can use my Aqua Mira tablets? When you point out the campsites at mile 2445.5, will there be others?
It's easy to get obsessive about maps and daily mileages. Washington Section K is supposed to be the most tough after the Sierras, and the Sierras were mostly a breeze, except for two slogs where we gained and lost thousands of feet in elevation in the same day, 11,000 feet to 8,500 and back up again. Section L, the last push to Canada, is supposed to be less severe. On the JMT there were days when we hiked twelve miles by one in the afternoon.
I pore over the Data Book. Can I hike fourteen miles a day? Fifteen? Will I want to stop at the "delightful cascade" or the "Semi-Clear Reflection Pond"? In the end I will have to ignore my scribbles and just adapt to the landscape. I have an end date--August 23--and a probable start date--August 9, and 190 miles to hike. The first day I will probably only have time to get to Lake Janus (9.2 miles). The rest is a big question mark, and it's good to leave it that way.
The Data Book is just that--data. It doesn't offer more than mileage, water sources and resupplies. It can't tell me how it will feel to walk above treeline on a summer day, how many people I will meet, how long it will take to slip back into the long trail life.
One decision I've made is to go stoveless. I don't eat a hot breakfast or drink coffee, and the thought of cleaning up dishes isn't too enticing. Last summer on the JMT cooking was a chore, especially in thunderstorms. I've discovered that Packit Gourmet makes some freeze-dried food that only needs cold water for rehydration (apple waldorf salad, carrot salad) and I can supplement with cheese, tuna, tortillas and peanut butter. Hot drinks are sometimes nice, but I am willing to ditch them to lose the stove, fuel, and cooking pot. Besides, it's only two weeks.
I'm debating the bear bag issue. I lugged a canister for the 230 miles of the JMT Plus, because they are required. They aren't on the Washington section, and it would be good to lose the bulkiness of it. But the bear bag dance can take a good half hour, locating a tree, finding a rock, and hanging the food so that a) you don't get struck by the rock and b) you can retrieve it successfully. One product I am considering is an Ursack, which is made of kevlar; you knot it in such a way that a bear (supposedly) can't chew it open.
Because I am bringing a smaller backpack, I am going to take the advice of a thru-hiker and carry a small waist pack with camera, snacks, bug repellent, and sunscreen. Yes, I will be carrying a fanny pack on the PCT. Don't hate me because I will be so stylish.
With a snap I put the Data Book away. It's good for dreaming, imagining what these miles between Stehekin and Rainy Pass, between Grizzly Ridge and High Bridge will look like. Dreaming can be the best part of an adventure, the anticipation, the lifting above the ordinary.
I can't wait.