It’s close enough now that I can get weather forecasts for Day 1. The time has come. Finishing up a few last minute chores around the house (hello fence, hello gates, hello chicken coop), and dialing in the final things on the pack. The logistics of packing a pack on an airplane are suddenly relevant – use a throwaway duffel bag.
Nice to see some rain coming in beforehand to freshen up the streams. Per the pctwater.com website, the sources are still flowing, so no need to carry 6L of water on Day1! Of course, since the snowfall levels are still epic (here), there will be too much of a good thing later on.
Answers to common questions I’ve been getting.
Q: Why are you doing this?
A: Why are you NOT?
Q: How long will it take?
A: I’m banking on 5 months. Anish did it in 60 days, but I’m not as bad-ass as she.
Q: How long is it? How high? Etc?
A: It’s around 2700 miles, with a few rerouted sections due to old fires or closed-off habitat areas. The highest point is Forester Pass, at 13,153 feet, but I plan on doing a side trail to Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet. At that height you have 2/3 of the normal oxygen that sea-level people do. Temperatures will crest over 100 in the desert, and I have no doubt that before I finish in Washington State, I’ll see temps down into the teens, maybe single digits.
Q: What does your wife think? Is the going?
A: She’s staying home to mind the farm, and is super supportive. I’ve wanted to do this strongly for about 4 years, and kinda-sorta wanted to do this for about 17. A big part of the reason I’m doing this is her support.
Q: How do you get there?
A: I’m flying to San Diego, staying at a youth hostel for a few days to get my bearings, then getting a ride from some Trail Angels to the southern terminus. Yep, people just donate their time to fellow hikers. When I get to the Canadian border, I’ll cross over, and catch the 1:50 am (yes, AM) bus to Vancouver, and from there, back to some sort of civilization.
Q: How much does this cost?
A: 1-2 dollars per trail-mile, plus equipment. Since I had most of my gear, the only significant thing I had to buy was a new backpack, and the ice-axe. It’s the bills waiting for you at home (hello, mortgage. hello, Blue Cross) that kill you.
Q: How much does your pack weigh?
A: 17 lbs, loaded with all the gear, although a few last minute things like diaper rash cream, a dozen or so pages of maps, and some vitamin and other supplements will probably make it an even 20. With 1.5-2 lbs. of food per day, and anywhere from 0-6 quarts of water, it might touch close to 40 lbs, and then shrivel back down over time.
Q: Why are you carrying diaper rash cream?
A: Butt chafe. Google it.
Q: How do you get water, are there bubblers (water fountains) along the way?
A: There are no bubblers. Some water supplies are cattle-fouled streams or drinking troughs. I have a Sawyer filter straw, and carry a small bottle of bleach. 1 drop per quart, let it sit for a bit and you’re good to go. If you think about it, that’s what the city does to your drinking water.
Q: Where do you go to the bathroom?
A: Anywhere off the trail 150-200 feet. For #2 you have to dig a 6-12″ deep hole, and then pack out your TP, at least in the desert. This is what those extra thick ziplock “freezer” bags are for. Yes, it’s gross, but, it doesn’t break down in the desert, and with 1000s of people trying this every year, imagine the environmental impact!
Q: How do you get more food?
A: Get to a road, put out your thumb, and hitch-hike to town. Yep. Not all hitch-hikers are axe-murderers, and not all people who pick up hitch-hikers are either. You need to trust your fellow man, and more importantly, your gut instinct. I have planned out all the places along the way I’ll need food, never more than about 8 days apart. Most of them are places where I can hit a grocery store, but a few will require a “maildrop”, or a package from home sent to the Post Office for me to pick up.
I’ll also get some gear this way, like my ice axe and bear cannister (since its required in the mountains). No point in schlepping the axe through the desert where it’s not needed!
Q: Where do you sleep?
A: Anywhere you can find a place, although campgrounds with water and facilities are of course preferred! I carry a Sierra Flashlight 1, a small tent. It’s not the smallest or the heaviest, but since I own it, it’s free.
Q: What about wild animals?
A: You have to worry about (in order of most likely to kill and eat you): Mountain lions, bears, coyotes, rattlesnakes. The lions are in the southern California desert, along with the snakes. The bears are in the higher areas like Yosemite National Park, where bear cans are required – because so much food gets lost to the bears due to poor planning!
Q: How do you train for this?
A: A Stairmaster, with 30lbs on your back. Lots of it. Also, a lot of good upper back and shoulder exercises. Training hikes – the best way to get good at something is to just do it. The biggest part though, is your desire to win.
Q: Will you have a phone?
A: Cell service is better than you’d expect, but it’s the batteries that are the problem. I have a Galaxy S7 Active, which has a huge battery vs. the normal S7. I bought an extra power pack for it; it weighs 8 oz, but will charge the phone twice. All told it’s nearly a pound of electronics, but it’s lighter than my camera, and hey, it’s also a phone! I also store my maps in it, have electronic copies of my permits, can do online bill pay and bookings for travel, and can send pictures home for those following along.
Q: What other weird equipment do you carry?
A: I have a metallic/reflective umbrella called the “Chrome Dome” – it reportedly keeps the temperature 15-20 degrees cooler beneath it. Come the mountains I’ll have an ice axe (Camp Corsa 70cm) and Katoola Micro-spikes, K-10 crampons if I can source them in time. I also have a cooking pot made out of titanium.