You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers

These are some of the questions we are commonly asked about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

What is the PCT?

In general, about half the people we talk to have no idea what the PCT is.  Some people have a vague understanding or have heard the name but don’t know much more than that.  I usual explain it by saying it is a 2,665 mile trail that starts at the US/Mexico border and runs all the way through California, Oregon, and Washington to end a few miles past the US/Canadian border.  We plan on thru-hiking it which means walking the entire trail in one season, although potentially not in one continuous line, from Mexico to Canada. The whole trail (reroutes and all) will be walked this season (fingers crossed).

So how long are you out there?

When people have no prior knowledge of the PCT they often assume it’s a couple weeks of backpacking.  So when I tell them we will be gone for five, maybe six months, they are shocked.  And a little bit appalled.  This is basically the question that leads to every other question on the list.

How much weight will you be carrying?

We get this one a lot and I think people have either seen Wild, or maybe went backpacking once themselves in the 80s and are under the impression that we will be carrying GIANT packs.  They actually want us to say our pack will weigh 80lbs.  We usually disappoint them by saying our packs should weigh 25 pounds at the most, with food and water.  Maybe 30 pounds if we are doing a big water carry. This is often disappointing information, and understandably so. We would be much more badass if we were luging around massive packs.

So are you doing this because you read Wild?

Nope, we are not hiking the PCT because we read Wild.  We are doing it because we acquired an addiction for long distance hiking on the AT and we can’t wait to get back out there.  But more on this subject later.

Then why are you doing it?

That is a huge question and one that deserves its own blog post. Or a couple of posts.

Do you get cell phone service?

I have read and been told that much of the trail has cell phone service, but not enough to always rely on it for emergencies and what not.  With that being said we will not be using our cell phones on trail.  The AT also had service much of the way but we kept our phone tucked away except for the occasional musical pick-me-ups.  One of the best things about hiking is getting away from it all: the technology, the facebook, the media.  That is why it is nice to disconnect while on trail and only plug back in when in town.  The only difference being that I plan to be a better blogger on this hike.  This will either mean writing my posts on an iPad every night, or writing them by hand and typing them in town.  Either way I plan to post more frequently than on the AT.

Are you going to carry a gun?

It really says a lot about our country that this is the number one question we get asked.  No, we are not going to carry a gun.  Guns are heavy and we go light.  Guns are dangerous, we don’t really know how to use them, and what do we have to be scared of anyway?  I would be more scared of another hiker with a gun than a bear.

No weapon of any kind?

Nope, no gun, no numchucks, no sword, no ninja stars, no bazooka, no weapons of any kind.  This is more of a peaceful hike.

How bout bear spray?

We won’t be carrying bear spray.  Yes, there are bears and yes, they can get mischievous at times, but we aren’t in grizzly country.  We will practice good bear safety like cooking dinner in a different spot from where we sleep, hanging our food and using bear canisters when required.  By employing these techniques we should minimize the likelihood of bear run ins.

At least a knife?

Of course we will carry a knife, it is one of the ten essentials and it is useful for making dinner at night.

Do you have to mail yourself all of your food?

On the AT we put together six mail drops and then bought the rest of the food on trail.  People recommend this for a couple of reasons.  First, mailing food can be tricky and involves a lot more planning.  Second, if you buy your food on trail you are able to buy the food you are craving right then and there.  Mail drops, on the other hand, can get repetitive because you planned them months in advance.  Third, it is good for the trail’s relationship with small towns to support their economy by buying food there.  So on the AT we bought almost all of our food on trail.  To be quite honest it sucked a lot of the time.  Many small towns do not have a wide selection of food, especially healthy food.  We ended up eating ramen and pasta sides all the time.  If that’s not repetitive I don’t know what is.  Also it was a pain to have to spend a majority of our zero day at the grocery store trying to decide what to buy.  So this time round we are going to do a mix again but lean more heavily on mail drops.  We are planning on dehydrating many of our own dinners and buying dehydrated and freeze-dried meals, creating such a diversity of options that we will rarely eat the same thing more than once.  We also plan on buying a huge variety of snacks from stores that will not exist on trail, but also leaving out certain things that we know we can buy in small towns, like Snickers and Pringles.  In towns that have good resupply options we will buy our food locally.  This way we support small towns but also eat healthier than we did on the AT because we have more dehydrated veggies and good dehydrated dinners.

Who will mail you all of your packages?

My parents have agreed to take on the mailing burden, given that we reimburse them and make it super simple.  Our plan is to pre-order a bunch of USPS priority boxes and sign up for a Click-N-Ship account online.  This allows you to print for and pay for your postage at home.  We will also itemize and label every box with a number, keeping a list of those numbers and where each number is going with us.  This way we can call up and say, “So box 14, can you ship that to Wrightwood instead?  Thanks, here’s the address…”  Hopefully this will all work out flawlessly!

Are you starting down in Mexico somewhere/where do you start?

Yes, you start on the border between Mexico and the US.  You start right by the wall.

Will you keep your AT trail names or get new ones?

This a great question and it varies from person to person.  I will keep my AT trail name, Ponybear, because it has a fabulous story to go along with it: a true trail story.  Kyle on the other hand cannot wait to get rid of his trail name and receive a new one.  Kyle’s trail name was given to him because he had this hat that looked kind of like an Indiana Jones hat, hence Indy.  But the hat quickly became too hot and once it had been sent home the name just didn’t quite make sense any more.  The bigger problem was that we had felt rushed on the AT to give ourselves trail names.  I think we decided that he should be Indy and I should be Wisp on day three of our hike.  While I was renamed later on, Kyle was not.  Don’t feel rushed to get a trail name.  You have months and months of hiking ahead of you, wait for something that feels right.  Kyle is looking forward to seeing what new name finds him.

When are you going to start?

Well there is some discussion surrounding that exact topic… A lot will also depend on when we can get a permit!

So where are you going to sleep?

In our tent on the trail.  Using the maps we will try to find the recommended camp spots but we might end up wherever we end up any given day.  Unlike the AT there are not shelters every eight to ten miles.

How many miles will you hike a day?

I think it will vary but we have heard tell it is much easier to do big miles on the PCT than on the AT so we plan on doing as many miles as we can!  On the AT we averaged around 16 miles a day.  I would like our average on the PCT to be 18 or 20 miles a day. Of course we will start out a little bit slower, but our goal is to be in good enough shape that we can hike bigger miles right off the bat.

How long will it take you to finish?

We are calculating that it could take us anywhere from four and a half months to six months to finish the trail.  Any number of things could happen to slow us down and we have a couple of people who want to come out and hike with us so we want to be flexible and prepared.

Is it going to be harder or easier than the AT?

We won’t know until we are out there!  A lot of people claim the AT is the hardest of the three trails because of the way the trail is built.  The PCT on the other hand is supposed to be relatively smooth and nicely graded, even if it does climb bigger mountains.  But there are some unique challenges to the PCT: there is the desert and the lack of water, the mail drops, the planning and the fact that the window in which you can start and finish is significantly more strict.  There are also factors like forest fires that one has to take into consideration when hiking.  So, like I said, we will just have to wait and see.

Are you going to grow out all your armpit hair and leg hair again?

On the AT I just let it all grow, but I don’t know if I am going to take the same approach to the PCT.  On the AT it seemed like a rite of passage, like a form of proof that I was thru hiking and that I didn’t shower frequently and that I was living in the woods.  And while many women love the way they look with hairy legs and pits, I didn’t love it.  It didn’t make me feel sexy and I got quite the shock whenever there was a mirror around and I reached up to scratch my head.  I do not plan on carrying a razor but if a hotel happens to have one I don’t think I will be so strict about my no shave policy.

What about your period?

A very important thing to plan for.  On the AT I just took birth control continuously and never had a period.  On the PCT my plan is to use a Lily Cup, akin to the Diva Cup, which is reusable, light, and compact.

Where will you charge your Sonicare?

My incredibly sassy manager at the Golden Beetle asked me this question.  I giggled.  But it does pertain to a bigger topic, where will we charge all the things that need charged?  The phone and iPad and camera?  Cords, cords and more cords!  We will use electronics (except our camera) sparingly and charge them we get to town.  Of course our phone is going to have some important aps on it that we will want to use (Halfmile’s and Guthook’s) so we are looking into getting a rechargeable battery.  You charge it in town and then it is good for three or four full charges while out on trail.  But the camera will have to be charged in town and we plan to carry an extra battery for it so it never runs out of juice.

Where will you shower?

In town.  Every five or six days.  I make no apologies for my stench.

Any other questions? Fire away!

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

17 thoughts on “You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers

  1. Good idea to take the pill nonstop for periods. I had a friend in around 1967, who before they knew it was okay to do that short term, who was attacked and killed by a grizzly in Yellowstone. I know that is not where you’re going but it was speculated that her menses is what attracted it to their campsite. Her sleeping bag zipper stuck and she was not able to flee like the rest of her friends.

      1. It was very sad. I only mentioned it because I want you to be careful, (the mom in me) so you can come back and share all your marvelous adventures!

  2. Fantastic roundup of questions. I smirked when I read about the gun thing – I’ve been asked that quite a bit when solo traveling and I think it’s sadly indicative of our culture but also just really strange (do I/you look like the kind of person to carry a gun?!). Anyway, I know you both are looking forward to it; I’m definitely looking forward to reading about it.

  3. Great post! I can’t wait to live vicariously through your posts of the trails!
    If you haven’t got a battery cache yet check out limefuel. I have been using their unit for the past 6 months and it is bomber!

  4. So I mentioned that two of my kids and I are thinking this through. (They’re both daughters, by the way, so your comments about the female perspective are valued.) We’ll likely take in a few sections a year, going for a fifteen-year completion goal. But there’s the thought of trying to tackle it all in six months–like when I’m on a sabbatical or can get a leave of absence.

    If so, my thinking would be to start not on the south end but the north, at about May 15. This should put us in the high Sierras and into the Mojave Desert and down to San Diego county at reasonable times of the year climate-wise. But if you start from the southern end, the Mojave sure is hot by June, when the snowpack can still be deep in the Sierras. And this is supposed to be a doozy El Nino year, meaning potentially a very late snowmelt.

    But I’m a southern California native. I don’t know the northern half like I do the southern. Can you give me some thoughts about starting at the southern end, and possible optimal times to do so?

    1. There is no way you could start the up North that early unless you all have some serious mountaineering and navigation skills and are ready to do some snow camping. Usually if you start in the Washington and head south you have to start late, like July. Then you have a very short window before the Sierras start getting snow again. That is why so few people do it SOBO. Sounds like no matter what you do the desert is hot!! If you do start on the southern end you are supposed to start anywhere from middle of April to beginning of May. The biggest thing is you need to be going through Kennedy Meadows between June 10-15. That is your window. So depending on how fast you hike you work backwards from there! Hiking with the kids sounds awesome, and I think a very life changing experience for them. The AT would be easier on kids because you have a MUCH larger window to complete it in, but the PCT will be much easier on their bodies. So many decisions.

      1. Thanks for the info. Rethinking. Maybe I’ll start mid-April down here and hope for the best when I hit the Sierras. Maybe it won’t be such a snowy year when I finally get to it. The kids now, btw, are 19 and 15–good ages. As for the AT vs. PCT, I’m a huge fan of low humidity and tall mountains. Oh, and I deal much better with rattlesnakes than copperheads. Anyway, very much looking forward to following you on this trek. Sure to learn much!

      2. Well then you have certainly picked the right trail! Mid April is a very popular time to start, I think that’s what we are thinking as well! And those are hardly kids!! That will be so much fun!

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