Besides “you’re doing what?”, I’ve been asked quite a few interesting questions over the past couple of months as I talked about my plans to people.
How far do you hike each day? About 21 miles, on average. This is the pace you have to keep in order to do the whole trail in a season, between spring and fall snows. It’ll vary a lot, too: slower at the beginning and in the High Sierra, faster in the middle as we come out of the mountains and are in great shape.
What do you eat / how do you get food? The amount of food required is prodigious: over 4,500 calories per day just to maintain body weight. Between the two of us, over six months, that’s over one million calories. The food preparations alone deserve a separate post, but the short version is that we’ve packaged up 36 boxes full of freeze-dried food, and are having Clare’s parents ship them to us over the summer at various points along the trail.
Aren’t you afraid of bears? Not at all. Black bears, which are the only kind you find on the PCT, are actually quite terrified of people and stay far away. (Grizzly bears are another matter, but that’s Glacier or Alaska, not the Sierra.) Most sightings I’ve had of black bears are of them running really, really fast directly away from us.
How often are you around civilization? With a broad definition of “civilization” (that includes tiny little towns, or even just a “resort” that’s a few trailers in a field somewhere), on average, about once a week.
How can you communicate with the outside world? We’re taking our iPhones with us. (Increasingly, this is something nearly everybody does.) We also have an external rechargeable battery that holds up to six iPhone charges. (We’ve tried solar chargers, but they just aren’t reliable enough — clouds, rain, etc.). Any time we’re around cell service — we’re expecting once every week or two — we can check email, update blogs, and so on.
Do you need maps? The PCT is extremely well-marked — not as much as the Appalachian Trail, but still generally not something you need to worry about too much. Still, we each have a full collection of USGS 7.5′ maps for the entire trail (only 4.3GB!) on a great iPhone app, two excellent PCT apps that have maps (and much more!) built in, a Garmin GPS with tracks and 0.5-mile-resolution waypoints for the entire trip, and a whole set of printed maps done by the amazing Halfmile (who has provided an astounding service to the whole PCT community) sitting in our resupply boxes. We’re not about to get lost.
What happens if you get sick? It happens. You go to town, take medicine, sit in a hotel, and rejoin the trail as soon as you can.
How many pairs of boots do you go through? Likely five or so. 500 miles is a good rule-of-thumb for how long trail runners last, which is what nearly everybody wears on the trail these days.
How much do your packs weigh? Our “base weight” — that is, excluding food, water, fuel, and other consumables — will be around 18 pounds (her) or 25 pounds (me). Once food (2–2.5 pounds/day) and water (2.2 pounds per liter, usually carrying 2–4 liters) are taken into account, that can end up being as much as 45 pounds. But a load around 30–40 pounds, total, is a lot more typical. It’s definitely heavy, but not insane. (We try pretty hard to stay on the ultralight backpacking kick. Some folks have a base weight around 8 pounds, but typically by not carrying, say, a tent, or raingear. We’re not quite there yet, and we’re happier this way.)
What are you doing with your cars/apartment/etc.? We were lucky enough to find a great subletter for our apartment — so that one, at least, was easy. My car went up on jack stands in a storage unit in Stockton (much cheaper than Oakland), and Clare’s car we’re driving to Louisiana to stay at her parents’ place for the summer.
Do you know what you’re doing? (OK, to their credit, nobody ever actually asked me this. But I know they thought it.) It takes a certain kind of crazy to attempt something like this. But we’ve hiked the John Muir Trail (220 miles over three and a half weeks), the Collegiate Peaks Loop (160 miles over two weeks), and a 70-mile week-long expedition through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks (in the snow, nonetheless!). We also took a three-day-long Snow Skills course (which was fantastic — highly recommended!). We’re pretty prepared.
Did you know Reese Witherspoon hiked the PCT in 1994? Yes, we did! We even read the book. The short version: our plans involve much less heroin, much lighter packs, and, well, finishing. Also, not losing a boot off a cliff. But toenails are probably inevitable.