There’s been a big change in how we’ve approached the trail since leaving South Lake Tahoe a week ago, and I haven’t talked about it yet. Up until now, while we’ve had a general idea of about how many miles per day we should be hiking, we haven’t set ourselves a specific per-day goal. This is the way most folks do it; in the desert, you’re getting started and shaking out your gear, and, in the Sierra, you’re usually going up and down so steeply that it’s nearly impossible to make any seriously long miles.
Once you hit Northern California, however, the terrain is easier, you’re in shape — and you start becoming much more aware of the limited time left and how far you have left to go. Serious snowstorms can start hitting northern Washington in late September or early October, so you need to be done by about that time in order to complete a through-hike. And, as far as we’ve come so far, we aren’t even halfway yet (! — but close; it’s less than a hundred miles to the halfway marker at this point), but we have less than half the time remaining. (Again, this is pretty standard.) So we figured it was time to calculate what kind of miles we need to do in order to make Canada in time (and still allow ourselves the periodic zeroes we so treasure)…and so, based on that, we set ourselves a goal: twenty-three miles a day.
This is a big increase for us compared to what we were doing before — eighteen miles a day or so, on average. Those extra five miles might not sound like much, but that’s about two and a half hours more hiking, and close to a third more distance. It pushes us from the “we should hike as far as we can reasonably manage” category up into “we need to be efficient about time and make sure we’re moving during as much of the day as possible”. Twenty-three miles a day is a lot, and, so far, we’ve been making it — but feeling it, hard, every single day, both in how our muscles ache and in trying to squeeze in enough sleep, too.
It really brings up a fundamental part of through-hiking the PCT. Up until now, it’s possible to experience the PCT as, yes, a lot of work, but primarily just an amazing journey through so much beautiful stuff. Once you have to start making your miles, though, the true nature of the challenge really makes itself evident. It’s so much hard work, and requires such focus. You have to force yourself to leave town only a few hours after you get in to make your miles, or to only stay in town one night instead of two. In other words, it can’t just be play any more — it has to be work, too. It raises the question: how much of what brought you out here was just to have fun, and how much is for a sense of achievement, too?
In fact, we’ve begun to see this split among people we know on the trail, and it seems like it’s all happening right around now. Some people buckle down and are pressing ahead hard, but actually quite a lot of people seem to be shifting in their intentions out here. We’ve seen people move into “jump around on the PCT” mode, where they start taking rides among towns based on what looks fun or interesting. We’ve seen people we always assumed would make it to Canada before us — young folks who can easily throw down a 30-mile day — quit the trail entirely. We’ve seen others play in towns for a long time, falling farther and farther behind, and wonder if they’ll hike through and catch up, or simply grab a ride farther ahead.
I guess what I’m really saying is this: it’s becoming clear that doing this entire thing, a complete through-hike, will push us to the very limits of our abilities. And yet that is, in many ways, exactly what makes it feel so important and valuable to do. Being able to say we did it — and, more importantly, know we did it — would be something to be proud of for the rest of our lives. So, at least for now, we keep our eyes on that goal and keep pushing ahead, hard.
In less philosophical news…our hiking today has continued to be really interesting, and a different sort of place than we’ve been in before. We come across roads often, the forest has been logged in places, and we largely keep going up and down these ridges that are beautiful and valleys that are lush. All afternoon it seemed like it’d pour rain on us as it did yesterday, and we braced for it — but it never quite came, opting instead to remain grey and cloudy all afternoon. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing; staying out of the heat is wonderful.