I know that for many people the thought of planning a thru-hike is daunting, paralyzing, and one of the biggest reasons people shy away from this amazing experience. I am not one of those people. I love to plan and planning something like PCT for me is like the plan-gasms of planning. Now that my trail season has officially come to a close and I am back working nights at a restaurant I have all the free time I need to start organizing our 2016 thru-hike of the PCT. I also have the unique opportunity to analyze exactly HOW I plan and pass on that secret information to you. Or at least that was my goal…
What I realized about how I plan, not necessarily how everyone plans, but how I plan is that it is not, in fact, very organized. It isn’t easy to write down or sum up, there is no secret tip or carefully devised spread sheet of steps (at least not yet). In the beginning stages of planning my method is actually very organic. Let me explain it this way:
This last summer, as you may know, I worked at King County on their Backcountry Trails Program. We worked all over the county at varying sites building all sorts of structures and maintaining trails. We were at this one site on Taylor Mountain for a couple of weeks, milling material for a puncheon we were putting in about three-quarters of a mile down trail. We were responsible for moving the materials down to their eventual resting place and this proved to be a difficult job. We had to move fourteen 5′ by 1′ by 4″ deck boards, three 14″ by 16″ by 4′ sills, and three 14′ by 6″ by 4″ stringers. That is a lot of very heavy wood for four people to heave down the trail. We tried everything. Some of the pieces were the right size that we could attach them to a log carrier, some we used straps to carry, some of the smaller boards fit into an external frame pack, but eventually we had a couple of deck boards left that seemed impossible to move without two people just carrying them down trail. No one seemed to want to do that so I just jumped in and stood one of the deck boards upright and teetering it from corner to corner began to walk down trail with it. Everyone else proceeded to the work site to begin assembly but I just kept walking my board along, and eventually we made it there.
Sometimes when there is a job to do, maybe it is building fifty feet of new trail or writing your final paper for biology or moving a heavy board, the job itself can seem so huge and overwhelming that where to start isn’t exactly clear. You could stand around for a long time, trying to plan where to begin, the steps after that, but there are so many possibilities, so many options, any one could be the right one, and you are paralyzed by indecision. I totally know how this feels, and what I strive to do in this moment is to just jump in somewhere, and start chipping away. I do something to get the ball rolling and then proceed from there, staying flexible enough to step back after a little while and reassess, reorganize, remove clutter and continue on. Sometimes when a job seems too big you just need to start at one small corner and after a while you will look up and notice how much you have done!
That is basically how I started planning for the PCT. I don’t have any magical tips or secret formula. I just picked a spot and I started. Things I have done so far:
- For months I book marked pages online that I had come across randomly that I thought would be useful when I started planning for the PCT. My first step was to go back through these.
- On one of these pages a past thru-hiker reviews guides and maps that she used and makes her own recommendations. After reading this I bought Yogi’s PCT Handbook, Halfmile’s maps (the paper version, but I plan on downloading them onto our iPad as well), and a couple of other books about lightweight hiking.
- Then I read the entire PCTA website. I feel like this is a fairly obvious place to start but maybe not. It has a lot of good information and I took notes while reading, writing down things to remember, download later (like the water reports), check on, do. They suggest the Wilderness Press Guidebooks but after seeing that they haven’t been updated since 2004 and reading reviews on them I decided not to buy them… yet. I might end up getting them later because I don’t think too much information is possible when preparing for a thru-hike.
- By this time Yogi’s book had arrived and so that’s where I am at now. I am reading that, taking notes, underlining things, making to do lists. I am going to let that book inform me as to where I should head next, remind me of things I need to get organized, give me a structure for the future’s planning.
Those are the steps I have taken. The steps that I will take are still forming in my head. Sometimes I think about all the things that need to be done, I step back and look at the whole, and yes, I feel kind of panicked. There is SO much. But that just makes me realize that I am not ready yet to see the whole. I still need to stay small, focus on organizing and planning more general and basic things.
So, my secret tip? There doesn’t have to be any secret tip. It is tempting to look at someone who plans a trip like this and think, “Oh, well I could never do that, they must have all their shit together. They must be super organized and anal and have a million to do spread sheets. Not to mention they knew where to start. I’m not like that.” Well take it from me, my room is probably just as messy as yours, my hand writing just as bad and my to do lists just as crazy and all over the place. That doesn’t mean that I am not good at planning. For me, what I love about planning is how rich it makes the overall experience, how awesome it is to realize how much work goes into something like this, and for that to follow me down the trail. What I have found is that it’s just about taking those first steps, both on trail and off. The rest will fall into place.