I now have an organizing system for my longer-length backpacking trips. It's called "The Empty File Drawer." Over the last few weeks I have been throwing in random items I plan to take on my PCT section hike in about five weeks. So far I have my water filter, maps, a few Larabars, blister treatment, Shower-in-A Bag (liberated from fire camp this summer--big wet wipes!), and BodyGlide. You know, the desert essentials.
Backpacking in Southern California requires some thought. For example, there's not a lot of water. Some trail angels provide water caches, but it's bad form to rely on these. So I am taking food that does not require a lot of water to prepare (wraps, tuna, peanut butter, hummus.) Instead of doing a resupply, which takes time, I am going to power through with seven days of food for the 110 miles. And though I say desert, there is a section that goes to 10,000 feet. Already this winter a couple of hikers have fallen to their deaths from nearby locations due to ice. (By the time I get there, it should have melted, but if not, there's a road walk. Thus, the importance of maps.)
I'm less prepared than I have ever been for a section hike, due to lack of time. I haven't looked hard at the maps. I don't know where I'll camp. I don't have a plan for Idyllwild, a cute town on the way where I might decide to stay for the night. But I'm going with it because lately I've been really frustrated with the need for connection I see among the thru-hiking bunch. People are asking all sorts of questions, like what tent should they get, what shoes they should wear, how many days off during their trek they should take. Some have said they wished there was cell service everywhere. What? You take a day off when you need one. You can ask a few people about gear, but strangers on the internet? You need to check Facebook in the wilderness?
I guess I'm old school. I first learned to navigate in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park backcountry as a volunteer, when I was handed a map and told to write a guidebook for the trails. I made a lot of mistakes. I ran out of water once and couldn't find the seeps on the map. I got turned around, because the "trails" were marked by insufficient cairns. I once mistook cow tracks for elk (and got mercilessly teased). I also tried out a lot of gear. Some worked, some didn't. I learned not from asking other people, but from trying it myself. But I also gained a lot of confidence and skill. I think once we take discovery away, we are losing something important.
Anyway, back to section hiking. My last one, in July, was really difficult. It wasn't just the terrain. The mental desire wasn't there; both Flash and I felt it. I'm not sure why, except that it's good to reexamine your goals once in a while and see if they are still what you want to do. Maybe I don't need to hike all the PCT. Maybe half is enough? We'll see what this hike brings in terms of discovery.