An Imagined Conversation Between You And Me About My Upcoming Thru-Hike On The Pacific Crest Trail

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Hi hello welcome this is the blog post where I announce that I am thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year! Come on in, I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Hi Vanessa! What’s up?

Oh, not too much. I’ve just become totally insufferable because all I want to talk about 24/7 is the fact that I’m going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year and I leave in just a couple of months and I’m excited and terrified and preoccupied about which sports bra I should wear on this journey!

Woah, what is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650 mile “wild and scenic pathway” that stretches from Mexico to Canada, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington. It is one of three major trails in the United States (the other two major trails are the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail). If you live in Oregon you’ve probably heard of it or know someone (or 42 people, depending on what your social circle looks like) who has hiked it. If you live on the East Coast you can think of it as a West Coast version of the AT, though the trails themselves are actually pretty different.

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This tattoo belongs to Dora, an experienced thru-hiker who I’ve followed on Instagram for several years. It’s one of the most beautiful Pacific Crest Trail tattoos I’ve ever seen. You can follow Dora and all of her hiking adventures at @dora_la_explorer – she’s majorly inspiring.

So you’re going to…walk it?

Yes.

The whole thing?

That’s the plan!

Why are you doing this?

Because I want to. I’ll probably write a more detailed post addressing this question soon, where I try to figure out why I am the way I am and why this specific adventure has been calling to me, but the bottom line is that I want to do this, so I’m going to do it. If you know me you know that I am both pretty stubborn and often drawn to a major adventure on a whim – nothing if not a Capricorn sun/Gemini moon/Virgo rising babe – so honestly it’s not that weird for me to get an idea in my head, set my mind to it, and get it done.

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Does this not look like the face/tiara of a girl who will get an idea in her head, set her mind to it, and get it done?! // Birthday hike in Forest Park, December 21, 2016 // photo by Binky

Okay but, we haven’t spoken in like three years and last time I saw you, you were a city girl who canceled plans when it so much as drizzled. What happened?

Life happened, people change, I’m not the same person I used to be and I think that’s pretty cool. I wrote an essay about it in December 2015 – here’s an excerpt that I think speaks to this question:

I don’t know when I stopped being an indoor kid. I left suburbia for a large city when I was 17 and I stayed there for a long time. I left to visit other big cities and then I came back and I thought I might stay forever but then one day I didn’t want to anymore. Yes, I read Wild, but no, Cheryl Strayed isn’t the person who inspired me to love the outdoors, to move to Oregon, to aspire to hike the PCT. (She inspired me to do a ton of other stuff, don’t worry. In a lot of ways Cheryl Strayed is the reason I moved to Oregon, is the reason I want to hike the PCT. But it’s more complicated than that, and that’s another story. I just mean I wasn’t one of those people who picked up Wild and finished it and the next day decided to go on a long hike. Everything was a little more jumbled up than that.)

I just woke up one day and felt so bored in the city. So confused about why I was attached to a screen 24/7 and why I wasn’t outside more often. Maybe I picked the outdoors because I’ve always loved a good adventure story and the most adventurous thing I could do was turn my back on the whole way I had lived my life up to that point. I don’t know. Isn’t it so weird how life works like that? Some of the most important decisions we will ever make, the most life altering ones, the pivotal shit, it’s just like: I have no fucking idea why I made that choice. There were many choices to be made: stay, go, where, when, etc. I chose to be outside more. I chose to be online less. I decided I didn’t want to be afraid anymore.

You can read the whole essay, Nature vs. Nurture: Tales of a Former Indoor Kid, right now if you want to. Just click on the link. (It will open up in a new window, so you won’t lose this page, don’t worry!)

Neat, okay, I hear all that. Congrats on no longer being a huge flake based on weather patterns! So are you hiking with friends or will you be alone?

I’ll be alone, sort of.

What I mean is: No one I know was interested in taking a five month vacation from their life to walk from Mexico to Canada, even my friends who really love to hike. So I am not going with my girlfriend or my BFF or my roommate. When I get to the trailhead on April 20 I will be standing in front of the southern terminus monument posing for a dorky photo by myself. When people ask if I’m with a group or hiking solo, I’ll say I’m hiking solo. Because I am, technically.

But here’s the thing: as the PCT becomes more popular and garners more publicity (through books, movies, word of mouth, and blogs/Instagram/social media), more and more people attempt to thru-hike it. For perspective, the Pacific Crest Trail Association reports that in 2006, 138 hikers successfully completed their thru-hike of the PCT, whereas last year in 2016 a total of 692 hikers successfully completed their thru-hike. That’s a big increase! (And, for the record, that doesn’t include all the people who applied for permits and completed a portion of the thru-hike each of those years. It’s difficult for the PCTA to keep track of everyone who attempts a thru-hike for a variety of reasons, but anecdotally, I’ve heard that in 2006 there were a total of about 600 hikers attempting to complete the trail, whereas last year in 2016 there were 2,000+ hikers attempting it!) This means, from the stories I’ve heard from hikers who have gone on this journey before me, that one is now rarely actually alone for very long on the PCT. While I will probably (hopefully!) have stretches of time where I’ll be walking by myself, and while I will probably (hopefully!) sometimes camp alone at night, I anticipate meeting many fellow hikers on the trail, making friends with some of them, and generally seeing other human beings every single day.

Are you scared to be starting solo, though?

I mean, a little bit, in so much as I think I will probably get homesick at times and miss my girlfriend and my friends and my family. But I’m not scared to actually embark on this hike solo, and I’m not scared about the prospect of being by myself in the woods, if that’s what you mean. I like doing things by myself and I don’t feel scared when I hike alone – I feel strong and happy and powerful, and I’d like it if we as a society could focus more on that narrative when we talk about Women Going On Adventures Alone, instead of focusing on the boring narrative that a woman must be Scared or Incompetent or Looking For A Man To Save Her when she wanders into the wild solo.

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Day hiking in Utah, May 2015 // photo by Ariel

But are you scared of bears?

No.

What about snakes?

No.

I heard it’s a high snow year. Are you scared of the snow in the Sierras?

Honestly yeah, a little bit. This is probably the thing I am most intimidated by on the trail. But I’m preparing for it as best as I can in a variety of ways, and it’s going to be fine. While I’ll obviously be careful and will not take on anything that seems legitimately unsafe, I am also taking to heart the advice of a few very badass babes who have hiked the PCT before me: Death to fear mongers. So! We’ll see what happens when I get there.

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Practicing snow hiking in the Columbia River Gorge! Dog Mountain was a tad snowier than we had anticipated on February 14, 2017 – we did it though! // photo by Taylor

Are you bringing a gun?

Absolutely not. What the fuck would I do with a gun?

Oooookay. Moving right along… How long will the hike take you?

Hopefully about five months. That’s pretty standard. My start date is April 20 and I hope to finish by the end of September. Timing is important on the PCT because you’re aiming to beat the snow in Washington/Canada in the fall. If I don’t make good time there’s a possibility I won’t finish.

How will you be able to carry everything you need for five months in your backpack?

This question can be answered in two parts.

First of all: I won’t need to carry all my food, water, fuel, etc. for the course of five months when I begin. At most I’ll probably be carrying five days worth of consumables, because the PCT has plenty of spots to hop off the trail and resupply.

Second of all: I tried my best to get the lightest gear I could afford, and am only taking with the essentials. As such, my base weight (the weight of all the things in my pack, not including consumables like food and fuel) will be between 10-15 pounds. I’m going to make a post about my gear soon wherein you can nerd out over the exact stuff I’m taking, if you’re into that sort of thing, and I’ll include how much everything weighs and my exact base weight in that post, too.

Tell me more about resupplying.

Honestly, the idea of resupplying was initially one of the most stressful part of planning this hike for me (second only to finding a decent sports bra, to be honest). When I first learned about the PCT, I figured there was no way I could ever do it because the idea of creating a million boxes of prepackaged dehydrated food to have some poor friend send to me while I was on the trail sounded like the true definition of a nightmare. I expressed these thoughts to Carrot (who, for the record, has been the kindest, most generous support system as I prep for this hike and always answers my questions patiently and often hilariously) who surprised me by assuring me that it is actually super easy to resupply as you go on the PCT, and that unless I had intense dietary restrictions I could send myself zero food boxes and be totally fine.

So, without offering too much boring detail that would only be of interest to future thru-hikers, I can explain that I’ll mostly be resupplying as I go. I do have some dietary restrictions – it is ideal for my body to not ingest any dairy or gluten, along with a few other random things – but I am going to attempt to consume gluten over the course of my hike and will see what happens. If it’s awful I will switch my strategy, but I’m hoping it will be fine. I will be avoiding dairy, but that seems doable without much stress. I will also receive a few pre-made boxes along the way (I need to send myself maps and specific gear at certain junctures, and if I’m receiving a box with that stuff I figure I will treat myself to special food that I don’t think will be available in trail towns) and my incredible friend Susie will be shipping me those boxes because she’s the best.

If you are actually interested in reading about resupplying for the PCT in much more detail, I strongly recommend reading this post, PCT Class of 2016 Survey: The Resupply Guide, over at Halfway Anywhere. That blog is an amazing resource for anyone planning a thru-hike of the PCT and explains everything in far more coherent detail than I ever could.

Have you heard of Cheryl Strayed? Did you read/see Wild?

LOL, yes. People on internet forums in the long distance hiking community love to hate on Cheryl and Wild (both the book and the movie) but I think those people suck and a lot of the hate is rooted in, surprise, misogyny! And also a weird territorial ownership of The Great Outdoors, which never belonged to them in the first place. So!

To answer what I think you’re maybe really asking: Cheryl Strayed did not inspire me to hike the PCT – my friends did that – but her writing has saved my life on more than one occasion and I get very tongue-tied and fan-girl-awkward anytime I meet her at literary events. (I have told her that her writing changed/saved my life at no less than 3 book signings, and she is always exceptionally kind and gracious.) I love her work and her vibe and if you want to talk shit about her I will take you to task for it, you’ve been warned!

But also, it’s very boring that any time a woman wants to go on a long hike y’all have to ask her about this one woman who once went on a hike and made art about it, ya know? Do you ask every dude who goes on a road trip if he’s heard of Jack Kerouac? Just wondering.

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Remember that time I accidentally moved to Oregon? Thanks for the inspiration and the guts to leave Brooklyn, Cheryl Strayed. You rule. // Columbia River Gorge, December 2016

This is so cool! Can I support your hike in some way?

Yes! Inspired by Amanda/Zuul from Brown Girl on the PCT, I’m going to create a fundraiser for Big City Mountaineers to go along with my hike. I would really like to use my hike as an opportunity to bring a tiny bit of good into this world, and after doing a lot of research I’ve decided that is an organization doing a lot of good that I would like to support. I will make a post about this fundraiser very soon, and I would be very very honored if you donated (if you have the means) or shared it with your friends / families / lovers / exes / etc. Thank you for asking, truly.

I’m gonna miss you! Can I send you snail mail while you’re on the trail?

Yes, but it’s a little bit complicated. I’m working on a post that will include detailed instructions about how to do this. Thank you for wanting to send me snail mail, I appreciate that so much!

Is there something I can do to show I love you and support you during this hike that is less complicated than sending you a thing?

Yes! The post I’m working on about sending snail mail/packages will also include details about this! THANK YOU FOR WANTING TO DO THIS!

(Real talk – so many friends/family members who I’ve told that I’m going to hike the PCT have asked how they can do nice shit for me while I’m on the trail, and I don’t even know how to express my gratitude about these offers. Honestly, I feel a little awkward writing out the “questions/answers” above – like I’m expecting all these Grand Gestures on the trail – but I swear I am only covering them because real people have asked! I will be so happy and grateful even if no one sends me a damn thing on the trail – just knowing I get to be in the wilderness for five months, and hike and camp and exist, and that back home y’all love and support me and think I can do this thing is enough. Thank you, simply for believing in me and loving me – everything else is icing on an already perfect cake. I love you all a lot.)

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Green Lakes, July 2016

How will I be able to keep up with you while you’re on the trail? Are you going to blog and/or post to Instagram?

Yes, though I’m not sure exactly what that will look like.

Some of my personal favorite trail blogs include detailed accounts of every single day on the trail, but everyone agrees that it takes a lot of time and energy to do that, and most writers end up finishing those trail logs when they’re off the trail, because it’s just too much to keep up with in real time. I’m not sure I want to put that kind of pressure on myself, but at the same time, I love those accounts so deeply, and I know I would value a personal day-to-day log for the rest of my life.

That said, plenty of other amazing hikers/writers update their blogs occasionally over the course of the trail and those accounts are also wonderful. I followed a section hiker last year who updated once a day via Instagram, including her favorite photo of the day and a long-ish caption, as a way to hold herself accountable to her journey but also to keep herself free from making her hike into something other people felt ownership over or had expectations about. Everyone approaches Blogging While Hiking differently and I have no idea what my style will be.

I do know I’ll be posting a lot of photos on Instagram. That I know for sure (and feel no shame about!).

Okay well wow, cool. I, the imaginary question asker that you conjured up to do the heavy lifting in this post, have run out of questions to ask you. I hope you have a fantastic hike. I’ll be sure to read your blog and follow you on Instagram and send you good energy and tell all my friends how cool you are.

Awwww, imaginary conversational buddy! Thank you! You know all the right things to say!

***

So that’s it, babes! My big announcement. Incase it wasn’t clear from the above, I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year and I am going to share the experience on this blog. I’m working with Alley to make the blog more PCT-focused in design, and hopefully I’ll find a way to blog a little bit from the trail without stressing myself out too badly. My official start date is April 20, but until then I’ll be blogging about the preparation that goes into getting ready for such a long hike. In the upcoming weeks I’ll likely be writing about gear, food, mental prep, training, community, and all my many and varied feelings. (What, you didn’t think that just because I’ll be hiking for five months I’d stop Sharing All My Feelings On The Internet, did you?!) I’m really fucking excited about this and I’m grateful to anyone who chooses to follow along as I do this thing! Thanks for reading. XOXO, V

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Upper Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park, August 2016 // photo by Diana

 

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18 thoughts on “An Imagined Conversation Between You And Me About My Upcoming Thru-Hike On The Pacific Crest Trail

    • Vanessa says:

      THANK YOU! Your blog is so inspiring — thank you for letting me live through YOU all winter long. I only hope my trail updates can be as entertaining and tangible as yours were/are. ❤

  1. Jill A Hector says:

    Loved your blog V!!! Having so much explained does much to allay my fears. I look forward to hearing more thoughts from you. Love ❤ you, sweetie!

  2. colleen says:

    This was awesome! Hope to see you out there 🙂 I’m impressed that you’re not afraid of snakes or bears. I definitely am. And mountain lions. But I’ll be walking anyway!

  3. Carly says:

    Wowowowo this is so exciting! Looking forward to your gear post, as this summer I plan to start making all my lightweight purchases for the AT ☺

    • Vanessa says:

      Awesome! And yes, the gear post is in the works…it’s taking me so much longer than I expected. Probably because I’m needlessly fixating over it being perfect, haha. It’ll definitely be posted before I start hiking, so look out for it in the next few weeks…so excited for you that you’re planning an AT hike! The planning is part of the fun!

  4. themountaincrone says:

    Good Luck tomorrow! May the Goddess of thru hiking watch over you!
    (note to self- create art piece of thru hiking goddess- combo of Dora, Zuul and Carrot)

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