#Startgate: Decisions, Decisions…

So far Kyle and mine’s biggest decision we have to make about the PCT is when to start. We have two important dates that are like bookends on our hike, the only problem being they aren’t ideally spaced…  My brother Cameron graduates from college May 7, 2016 and Kyle’s very good friend Chris (who actually hiked with us for a bit on the AT)  is getting married September 22, 2016.   We know that we want to be off trail by September 22nd, for the wedding and for weather purposes.  We don’t want to risk not finishing because of an early season storm, which happened to a lot of PCT thru hikers in 2013. That leaves us with one question: when do we want to start, before or after my brother graduates? Here are the two scenarios:

Option April, starting before my brother graduates:

If we choose this scenario we would probably start the second week of April.  Our plan would be to hike as far as we could in the ensuing four weeks, hitch out to a town on May 5th or so, rent a car, drive to Washington, hang out for graduation and maybe a tiny bit longer to help our time our arrival into Kennedy Meadows (plus there is the potential that people might be preparing to come hike with us, more on this later).  Then we would return to the trail where we left off and continue hiking.  By taking around a week off we will basically have started around the middle of April, which is when it is recommended you start.  With this plan we have 165 days, roughly 5.5 months, to finish the trail before the wedding in September.  That puts us at an average of only 16.15 miles per day, which I think is a little low, but it allows us more zero days, more visits from family and friends who might hike at a slower pace, and a generally more relaxed trip.  Honestly, we would probably finish in less time than that but that isn’t a problem, it just puts us back into the real world sooner so we can start making money again and planning the next adventure.   So, here are the pros and cons broken down in a more organized manner:

Pros

Cons

Allows us more time in the desert and a lower average number of miles per day – more flexible schedule

Have to leave trail for about a week and come back after Cameron’s graduation- this might feel really weird
Desert might be cooler in April Might end up in Kennedy Meadows a little bit early
Potentially more people starting when we are Loose a month of money-saving
Get to quit our jobs sooner and start hiking!
More relaxed pace and time for people to visit and join us – more time for side trips like Glacier Peak and Mt Shasta
Might be a better time for Cameron to join us because we will have put some of the desert behind us

Option May, starting after my brothers graduation:

The other option is to start immediately after my brothers graduation, on May 10th.  This would involve us driving or flying directly to Campo, setting out and then, we’re off!  In this scenario we have 133 days, just under 4.5 months to finish the trail and we have to hike an average of 20 miles a day to do it.  To me this average seems high, but then a lot of PCTers say it is easy to average high days on trail.  Of course, all I can think of is the AT and how impossible it would have been to keep that kind of mileage up.  Do I think we can do it?  Yes.  But I think we have very little room for error and I’m not sure I want to bet on a perfect flawless thru hike… Here are the pros and cons I have thought up for this scenario:

Pros Cons
Extra month to save money Hotter in the desert
Start a little bit later than the crowds, more solitude Have to average significantly higher days to finish by Sept. 22 – very tight schedule
Less concern about snow in the Sierra Nevadas Because of higher days it might be difficult for people to visit us and hike at our pace
Don’t have to leave trail for Cameron’s graduation- starting right afterwards Might have to flip-flop if we are behind schedule
Might have to leave trail in September for Chris’ wedding and return to finish

So, there you have the two different options.  Really it seems obvious that we should just start in April, it gives us the most flexibility and the highest likelihood of reaching our goal.  The thing that really make May appealing to me is the possibility to make more money, which means fewer loans, less debt, and more security in the future.  Also, I don’t love the idea of leaving trail for a week after having been out there for a month, I think it is going to feel really weird… but who knows, we might really want to take a little break at that point.  Some where deep down there is a fear we wouldn’t want go back.  But starting in May scares me too.  I know that people say you can hike a lot faster on the PCT but I will just have to see it to believe it, for now I feel like averaging 20 miles a day is fairly impossible.  I hate the idea of us being rushed, or tired, or hating the trail because we have such a strict schedule to stick too, and I hate the idea of us not finishing.  But there is something about the shorter schedule that I like too, some element of badassery, the idea of having to push ourselves hard and hike long days that appeals to me.

Then of course there are factors that could affect our hike.  Money for example.  Maybe come April we will feel totally great about the amount of money we saved and have no problem starting early.  Or maybe April will come and, because of unforeseen circumstances, we realize we haven’t saved enough and it is in our best interest to wait another month to start.  Snow is another factor.  Currently Washington is being pounded with snow and rain, ski resorts are opening early, the snow season is looking pretty legit.  But what if we don’t have a lot of late season snow and starting early is seeming smarter and smarter?  These are factors that we won’t know for a couple more months.  All we can do is be flexible and prepare ourselves for whatever happens.

Other things to think about:  Cameron is thinking he wants to come hike with us for a while right after graduation.  I say thinking because I would love it if he joined us but it isn’t set in stone yet.  However, I have been considering it when I think about the different options and I think it would probably be easier for him to jump on trail with us if we choose the April option.  We would have already put a significant chunk of desert hiking behind us and he would probably have the pleasure of enjoying the Sierras with us.

What are your thoughts, especially if you have thru hiked the PCT before?  Should we just start in April to be safe?  Is 20 miles a day no problem?  I would love to hear people’s thoughts and opinions on this one, because every morning I wake up feeling sure that one option is better than the other and the better option changes daily!

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

18 thoughts on “#Startgate: Decisions, Decisions…

  1. Well never done a long hike but I think you should go for April. Your red flags are warranted and I would hate the thought of you hating your rigorous schedule. Life has enough badass moments to attach them to one of the most memorable trips of your life, if it becomes a drudgery. You never know how many moments will become those challenges which are unforeseen. Enjoy your time with Cameron, your break for the wedding. Debt, money issues, and opportunities are always there, waiting to be conquered, a lifetime of it. Focus on the trail and the pure wonder of it, not on getting back to face tomorrow which will come, warts and all. love you guys and go for it.

  2. Decisions, Decisions. I agree with jimfetig, If you can break it up somehow and work around the weather challenges (and people), that may be your best bet. The movie “Wild”, I’m sure is part of the reason they are expecting higher numbers on the trail this year and those higher numbers could be people who have no clue what they’re doing. That in itself could create another set of hurdles for you. You may want to start in the middle and go up or down. I wish you the best and hope it will be a wonderful experience!

  3. It’s probably going to be a tough year to schedule. On the one hand, el nino is expected to dump a ton of snow which would suggest a later start. On the other hand, the PCTA is projecting a record number of starters this year suggesting crowds. I decided to section hike starting with the second half first. Next year I’ll do California in hopes of fewer people. I would also note that I was stationed in the Mojave for four years when I was in the Army. It gets hot early, so beating the heat is no sure bet unless you can hold at Kennedy Meadows for a long time.

    1. Great thoughts, thank you. We probably can hold or slow down right before Kennedy meadows. Personally I want nothing more than o beat the crowds, but I also want to finish. I’d rather deal with people than risk not finishing…

      1. Do it while you can – before kids and payments redirect your priorities. For my part, the AT taught me that thru hiking can be a grind a I want to have more fun.

  4. (And I think you two won’t have trouble going back to the trail after the break. You both are very determined and “badass”. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble returning! Plus you may need the break about then. Just my 2 cents!) 😉

  5. I really enjoy reading your adventures and hearing about your planning, as it helps me with my hiking planning (just short trips so far). My instinct is to go with the earlier start date. If it were me I would feel more relaxed & less stressed if I had more time. Like you said, room for things to go wrong. You never know if someone may get a minor injury or just be exhausted and need a break. Or more snow than expected. Or bad weather, etc. It would be nice to have that freedom & flexibility to move faster or slower depending on how you feel. You can always finish early if you’re really moving fast and just make more money after the hike. Plus like you said your brother can join you easily. That’s what I’d pick, but of course it’s up to you! Can’t wait to hear about your continuing adventures! 🙂

  6. I have just discovered your blog and I am really loving it. No useful advice to offer on your dilemma above I’m afraid – I completely agree that leaving the trail would feel a bit weird!!! I was travelling for a year (sailing across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean) and after about 6 months I went home for 2 weeks. It was slightly different as I went home by myself, leaving the other travelers on the boat, and I had absolutely no choice but to return, but I did find the first few weeks after I got back from my “holiday” at home pretty difficult. It wears off though!

    1. That is a great insight! Man a six month sailing trip, that sound awesome. My family dreams of doing the inside passage on our sailboat, maybe some day! Glad you found the blog and are liking it. When we were on the AT we knew a couple that got off trail for a week for a trip to the beach with their family. One of them didn’t come back. Just freaks me out, you know? You feel like you know yourself but how well can you really know what you will want and need at that point in your life? Thanks for stopping by!

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