Sunday, August 24, 2014

What I Learned From Hiking 720 Miles of the PCT

Some questions are just unanswerable. On a long 23 mile day, we played Would You Rather...

Change gender every time you sneeze or be unable to tell the difference between a baby and a muffin?

Hike the PCT with George W. or Mitt Romney?

Have as your daughter, Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus?

Other things are easier to answer. You don't hike this far on a long trail without learning some things about yourself. In a 12 hour day there is plenty of time to think and only so many Would You Rathers or Two Truths and a Lies that you can dream up. There's time to listen to the crunch of your feet, the wind in the trees, water off a cliff. Your mind kind of goes into a free flow. If you're lucky, you can pick out some polished stones.

  1. In the Sierras, I learned to choose companions wisely. With other people that have decades of friendship behind them, it can be lonelier than being alone. On long trails, it helps to know someone well, because sooner or later a decision will have to be made when all of you are hungry or tired or under the gun from a thunderstorm.
  2. In the Sierras, I also learned that I love hiking alone, but that I love having company at camp. It's tough to find companions who want to put up with this behavior. But it's also nice to find people who can hike your pace--harder than it sounds--to pause with on top of a pass, to  point out a lake far below.
  3. In the North Cascades, I learned that it's all about the people. I go to the mountains to get away from people, to be honest. My work days are swimming with them. I am constantly on the phone, on email, and in video conferences. But on long trails, things are different than they are on short ones. We leapfrogged with the same people over 200 miles, and we would look out for each other. We sat together on breaks and camped in some of the same places. The last week of our hike, we met an unforgettable hiker named Cherry Pie, whose aptitude for twenty mile days upped our game. 
  4. In the North Cascades, I learned how tough I could be. Torrential rain, hail, 60,000 feet of elevation gain and loss--I thrived on it. Hiking, I learned, was my thing, my reason to get up in the morning, my reason for putting in ten hour days at work so I could do it all over again.
  5. In the South Cascades, I learned that there is no way I can make it to a thirty year retirement. I'm not going to quit my job and become a professional wanderer, but I need to figure out a way to drink life in now, not just in chunks on the weekends.
  6. In the South Cascades, I learned that I can thrive on big miles, water carries, dry camps, and no showers. I really didn't want to go into town. I didn't want town food or showers or laundry. It just didn't seem necessary. (It might have after a month). For better or worse, being in the mountains just feels real. It's where all the insecurities, stress, and problems just melt away. I belong there. I really do.
A few other things I learned:

Toe tubes rock for blisters! Best invention ever.  
People think I'm a little kid with braids. Especially when I wear a hat too.
DEET really is the only thing that works.
Sierra Designs hiking skirts are awesome. Better than skorts, or god forbid, pants.
Skyscape tents stand up to 40 mph winds.
I might not be allergic to poison oak?

SO WHAT'S NEXT? I'm sure you're all waiting to hear! My plan A is to hike the PCT from Tolumne (maybe from the Valley, since I think I've done some of that section when I did the JMT) to Sierra City. I want to do a lot of it solo to see what I am capable of, but I also want to invite a few people along to meet me and do a few miles, especially if they can hike in my resupply, heh heh heh. It's 11 months away, so things can change, but I am excited about this idea. If I do it, that means I will have done almost 1000 miles on the PCT, and maybe will pick another trail (Colorado?) to play with.

That's it from the PCT, folks! I've done a couple of backpacking trips since then that I will write about soon! 


  1. You are a hiker with a capital H...and a wonderful writer/thinker, too. Re the 2nd question: I would turn around and run in the opposite direction if those two were my only choices.

    1. Haha. we decided that George might have some backcountry skills.

    2. Well, that's a good point. I guess he could cut brush from the trail.

  2. We play "Would you rather" on the trail sometimes too. Also, DEET is the only way, even if it eats the waterproofing off my raincoat. Peppermint oil is for people that never go outside in REAL bugs.


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