Kyle and I finished hiking the Appalachian Trail two years, four months, and ten days ago. Now we are about four months away from our next thru hike. We would be idiots to not have learned anything from our first go at it, so here are the things that my past AT self learned and will be passing on to my future PCT self.
Don’t be scared to tell people what’s up!
Often on the AT I felt scared, bashful or embarrassed to tell people when something that they were doing was bad LNT or pack it in pack it out ethics. I didn’t want to be bossy or act like a know it all. Other times I went a little over the top or got passive aggressive about people’s bad habits, which didn’t make me feel any better about myself afterwards. But now, looking back… who cares? I think there are ways to do it that are kind and instructive, and if I am just confident about it and have a good sense of humor people will understand. The bottom line is that sharing knowledge and making everyone better environmental stewards is more important than my pride.
Hike your own hike is a popular saying on long trails. I was shocked on the AT how hard it was to actually live this saying every day. There was so much pressure, both intentional and unintentional from other people to hike their way. When you ran into people throughout the day everyone was always comparing their hiking plan to yours. Often times you would walk away from them wondering if you should be doing more miles, or less. Was your plan the right one? And then there were the friends who made, who wanted you to stop in the town they were going to stop in, stay here, stay there, match their plans. It was hard not to get caught up in the whirl wind of the AT culture. Kyle and I actually did a remarkable job of going our own way, but we certainly still felt the pressure to do things we weren’t comfortable with, to hike bigger days, to not stop early. It is those pressures that I want to try to ignore more successfully on the PCT. Our personal plan is all that matters. I know that of all our goals that will probably be the hardest but we will continue to try to be independent and impervious.
Eat healthier during your zero days…
Oh my gawd did we eat crap on our zero days. We would each get our own Ben and Jerry Ice Cream, we would each have our own bag of chips, I would eat my own bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms paired with a whole packet of Oreos… We were bad and we justified it by saying, “Oh, well we need it, we are going to be burning so many calories tomorrow.” I know everyone did this and I think for many people it is one of the many amazing things about the trail. I know I loved it. But it never left us feeling good. Our first day on trail after a zero day was always miserably hard on our bodies, it felt like we were 100 years old. I think much of this pain was due to our terrible diets and habit of laying down all day while we were in town. On the PCT I want to take advantage of zero days and town days to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and make sure that we do some light movement and stretching. This doesn’t mean we aren’t going to eat our personal pints of Ben and Jerry’s anymore… just after we have eaten a couple of carrots first.
Avoid the heat of the day.
On the AT you don’t actually spend a lot of time with the sun beating down on your backs. Instead you are under tree canopy most of the time, enveloped in moist folds of humidity. We were never very good at breaks on the AT. We took three or four quick ones throughout the day. Whether it was our strategy or the heat or Lymes Disease Kyle ended up getting a couple of very terrible migraines. The PCT is going to be a whole different game when it comes to heat. The heat on the PCT is drier and more direct, similar to what we dealt with while we were working in Arizona. The dry wind that blows around the desert can dehydrate you in no time and even though it doesn’t appear like you are sweating as much as you do in a humid environment you are loosing a massive amount of water. We trying to be more prepared for the heat and the direct sun. We both bought sun shirts, Kyle got an umbrella to help give him shade, and we also purchased a super light weight tarp that we are hoping to throw up in the middle of the day to give our selves some shade so we can rest during the heat of the day.
Stretching, protein and cooling down.
On the AT Kyle and I hurt a lot of the time, our legs and hips ached and often it was hard to sleep at night. One of our biggest goals on the PCT is to be healthier, on trail and in town. This summer on the Wonderland Trail we tried out a couple of techniques. To begin with we started stretching more. This seems like a “no duh” but it is actually hard to make yourself do on trail. We stretched in the morning before starting, at all of our breaks and right upon getting to camp at night. We also instituted a cool down mile at the end of the day, which is torture because at that point all you want to do is get to camp, but definitely helps. Upon getting to camp we immediately whipped up a protein shake, to help build up muscles. Overall I felt really good on the Wonderland Trail and hopefully these techniques will benefit us on the PCT.
Laugh it off.
Something that Kyle and I were good at on the AT and that I want to continue to do on the PCT was being able to laugh things off. Mostly at each other. If one of us was having a tantrum all it took was the other person trying to keep a straight face and eventually snorting with laughter to diffuse the situation. This was the way we got through many tough days and I expect us to continue doing it on the PCT.
Change up your hiking schedule.
I think on the AT we tried new things but we also got into routines and habits. There are a couple of hiking things I want to try on the PCT, like stopping around 5:00pm for dinner and then continuing to hike afterwards, until 8:00pm. At 8:00pm we will stop and set up camp, eat desert and hop into bed. This is the way many seasoned hikers suggest organizing your day. It allows you to cook very far away from where you camp, which is great for bear safety and it allows you to get right into bed, retaining some of the heat you have from hiking.
Keep taking pictures and videos.
By the end of the AT Kyle and I weren’t snapping nearly as many photos or taking as many videos as we had been at the start. Afterwards we regretted it. Yes, on trail we felt like we had already seen it all and we were antsy to just keep walking, but once off the trail our pictures and our video were our best connection to that time and those memories. So future PCT self, never stop whipping that camera out.
Blogging on the AT was hard, we only blogged in town on library computers, which often had time limits and were slow and hard to upload pictures on. On the PCT we want to up our game considerably. We are going to purchase a tablet and portable keyboard to go with it so that we can blog in the field and on our days off without restrictions. Our goal is to be putting up multiple posts a week compared to the AT where we were maybe averaging two a month. I am super excited to take you along for the ride.