PCT Prep: To Do Lists For Forever

Oh my gosh you guys, the responses to my post announcing that I’m gonna hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year have been THE BEST. Seriously, every single person who has reached out to me (or reached out to my mom, hi all of my mom’s friends who are reading this blog now, I am genuinely so pleased to have you here, welcome!) has been so nice and so enthusiastic and it is bringing me so much joy in what has honestly been a pretty dark time!

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Angel’s Rest, March 7th 2017

Spoiler alert, because if you’re gonna follow along with my PCT journey you’re gonna be getting to know me really well, so we may as well get this out of the way now: I wanted Hillary Clinton to be president. I thought she was gonna be. I’ve been really sad and anxious since the night of November 8th. There’s a lot to unpack in those sentences – obviously Hillary wasn’t going to fix everything for everyone, it’s a privilege to have felt safe in some capacity prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration, etc.

But without unpacking those sentences too much, I think I can still write them and have them be true – I have been so sad and anxious since Donald Trump became president. Most of the people in my life feel the same. Finding joy now has been harder than it was six months ago. It feels, in some ways, incredibly luxurious to choose to hike the PCT this year of all years. In other ways, it feels absolutely necessary. I’ll write about that more, I’m sure. But for now mostly what I want to articulate is that I am so happy that I am committing to this hike, and I am so happy to be receiving support and encouragement and enthusiasm from all of you! This blog is for me, but it is also for you. So hi, thank you for following along and being excited with me. It’s a pretty cool feeling to know y’all think this is neat and want me to succeed. Thank you!

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Driving home to Portland from the ALDHA-West Cascade Locks Ruck, February 2017

So what the heck have I been up to since I posted my big news two weeks ago? Oh, only seven million things (or so it feels like). Alley and I get in the car and drive south to San Diego in exactly four weeks, and I start hiking exactly one week after that (we’re taking our time on a sweet road trip down the coast that should take us about 7 days – it’s pretty hilarious that we’re doing the drive in about a week and that I will then take about 4 months to walk that same route but backwards…why do humans choose to do any of the things we choose to do?!) and I think I will probably be in a whirlwind state of productivity and anxiety from now until then! Here are a few of the things I’ve been doing to get ready.

(Gear post is still on the way, I know a lot of you expressed specific excitement about that, it’s just taking longer than I anticipated to format it and write it all up in a way that I am satisfied with! Oh, the perils of blogging as a perfectionist. Insert a million eye roll emojis here.)

+ ALDHA-West Ruck in Cascade Locks

Did you know there is an American Long Distance Hiking Association? No? Well I sure did not either! But there is, and it’s pretty cool, and they host these things called “Rucks,” and I went to one in Cascade Locks a few weeks ago! What is a Ruck? Glad you asked. From the ALDHA-West’s website:

Ruck is the German word for Backpacking, and has been used through the trail community as a name for an event that helps you get out and backpack. This day-long event is designed for all sorts of backpackers (from novice to expert) to prepare themselves for the hiking season.

There was a lot offered over the course of the day, including a gear panel, a nutrition talk, and breakout groups for specific hikes. The main thing I was excited about at the Ruck was the gear shakedowns they offer. A gear shakedown is when an experienced thru-hiker goes over all the gear you’re planning to bring on your hike and gives you their opinion about your stuff! My friend Chance, who has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail four times and has hiked 14,000 miles total over the course of her long distance hiking addiction, was one of the experienced hikers volunteering at the Ruck, and she is the one who did my gear shakedown for me. I was really happy that she approved of most of my gear choices, and was grateful for the tips she gave me about where I could shave down grams and ounces.

Also, she and her friend Delightful, another super experienced thru-hiker who was volunteering the event as well, were really into my bright pink quilt from Enlightened Equipment, which made me really happy. Of course there were a couple of older dudes who made weird snarky comments about all my pink and purple gear, but to the man who said, “Huh, you think everything’s gonna be okay on the trail if all your stuff is pink?” in a mean tone, yeah sir, I do, because pink is my favorite color so it’s sure to brighten my mood even if everything else is going to shit. WHAT OF IT.

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All pink everything for forever, thank you very much (also sheesh, my gear isn’t even all pink, SIR – some of it is PURPLE or BABY BLUE okay?!)

+ Snow Clinic

As I mentioned previously, the thing that is currently intimidating me the most about this undertaking is the snow in the Sierras. We’re having a high snow year (or rather, we’re having a regular snow year but the past five years have been drought years so the hiking community was getting used to a new not-so-ideal normal?) and whether you’re prone to fear-mongering or not, there is no denying the truth that there is going to be a lot of snow in the Sierras this year. That’s just a fact.

I have been trying to ignore the people who are convinced anyone who hikes this year is definitely gonna die (spoiler alert: we won’t, probably) but I’m also taking into account that I do not personally have a ton of snow experience, and I am more than a little bit nervous about the sections of the trail that will require snow skills.

Some people are dealing with this fear by taking expensive snow skills classes either before the trail or actually on the trail. I can’t afford that, and frankly, I don’t want to take a class. No shade to any hikers who are choosing to go that route, that’s totally fine and I’m not here to judge anyone’s choices. But I personally don’t want to do that. I was hoping to practice my snow skills around town (living in Portland I’m lucky enough – or unlucky enough, depending on your perspective – to be near quite a bit of snow this year), or on high elevation spots on the trail before the Sierras (contrary to popular belief, the first 700 miles of the PCT are not “just desert” and there are actually a few spots that will probably be covered in snow this year before I even hit Kennedy Meadows, the “entry point” to the Sierras), and kind of hope for the best. I mean, watching a lot of YouTube videos about how to wield an ice axe is effective planning, right? (I’m actually not kidding here – I have been watching a lot of those YouTube videos and I do think it is helping me, at least a little bit?)

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Taylor and I hiked Dog Mountain on February 13th, 2017 and it was very snowy and gave me an excellent opportunity to try out my microspikes and also conquer some fears I had about hiking in soft snow (conclusion: it’s hard but doable but be careful!)

But the hiker community is cute and sweet and helpful, and amidst a lot of fearful chatter about snow on the PCT Class of 2017 Facebook group, a couple of experienced hikers and snow campers came forward and offered some free snow training clinics in Washington and Oregon! I was really touched by these gestures – these dudes, Steve and Darren, were just offering their time and expertise for free, out of a general desire to teach hikers the skills they know and make more people feel confident and empowered to head out into the snowy backcountry. I talk a lot about the lack of diversity in outdoor spaces, and the casual misogyny that runs rampant in the hiking community and the world at large, and it’s not that I think this gesture magically erases any of that, BUT — it’s also important to focus on the good and highlight the people who are doing the work to make us all feel comfortable in spaces that should belong to all of us. THANK YOU, Steve and Darren.

So on Saturday, March 4, I headed to Mt. Hood to take a free snow tutorial with Darren and several other intrepid future PCT-hikers! And it was awesome. We went over some basic snow skills, talked about how to look out for avalanche conditions, went over glissading and self-arresting with an ice axe, and generally got comfortable in cold, snowy conditions. At the end of the clinic Darren even showed everyone how to cross a stream with high snow on either side – I’ve gotta admit, I avoided this particular exercise, because I hadn’t brought a change of clothes and I didn’t think I could handle being wet and freezing for the drive back to Portland if I accidentally fell in. Obviously I won’t have the luxury of opting out of any river crossings when I’m actually on the PCT, so uh, here’s hoping I get brave real soon!

Thanks again, Darren, for driving all the way from Bend, OR to share your knowledge with a bunch of strangers. I’m really grateful and appreciative.

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This is the stream crossing that I elected not to participate in…I’m curious what the PCT crossings will look like in late June…will there be this much snow on the banks? Will the water be deeper and more terrifying? Only time will tell! I’ll have to get brave eventually… // photo by fellow 2017 PCT thru-hiker, Abi, who was a badass and DID cross this stream – she starts her hike in just a couple of weeks and you can check out her blog at Abi Hikes the PCT

+ Unlikely Hikers

Some very exciting news to share is that I’ll be one of two PCT thru-hikers that Unlikely Hikers will be following this year! If you don’t know what the Unlikely Hikers project is, allow me to gush for a moment!

My badass friend Jenny Bruso started Unlikely Hikers as a way to reflect a segment of the hiking community we don’t often see in mainstream publications, advertisements, or sometimes even in real life on the trail. Like it or not, for a very long time, hiking and being “outdoorsy” has been marketed (both through capitalism and through socialization) as something that belongs to a very specific group of people – white, thin, male, wearing fancy gear, confident, etc etc. But we all know that’s not an accurate picture – being outside should be something we all feel comfortable doing, and we should be able to find representations of a diverse group of humans doing the damn thing, right?! Duh. Thanks to Jenny and Unlikely Hikers, we are making moves in the right direction.

Here’s an excerpt from Jenny’s blog that speaks to how this project came to be:

I started calling myself an “Unlikely Hiker” around the time I started this blog in October 2015. It’s ironic, tongue-in-cheek, reclamatory. There is nothing unlikely about wanting to enjoy and explore nature, it’s one of the most natural things any of us can want to do. This label, or phrase, clearly struck a chord with others, too, because I started seeing it crop up on blogs and web-based articles. Exciting! It’s a thing.

It is totally a thing, and I can personally attest that following Jenny’s #unlikelyhikers tag on Instagram has made my Outdoorsy Social Media Experience (you know what I mean, right – that thing we all do where we fawn all over perfect images people post about their ~outdoor experiences~ that don’t include any of the suffering it takes to drag your ass up the mountain but do include a million gorgeous views – I’m totally guilty of doing this too, I just think it’s funny and important to laugh at ourselves for doing it, ha!) 1000% more enjoyable, interesting, and inspiring.

Because Jenny is a babe and a goddess and a champion of diverse voices in the outdoorsy world, she has decided to feature two Unlikely Hikers who are thru-hiking the PCT this year. I’m one of them, and the other is Will “Akuna,” an army vet struggling with PTSD and depression who found himself hiking the PCT last year and will be giving it another go this year. I’m really honored and stoked to be one of the two Unlikely PCT-Thru Hikers this year – I told Jenny it feels like I’m getting the ultimate hiking sponsorship! Be sure to add @unlikelyhikers on Instagram to get regular updates about my hike and Will’s hike, and also to be inspired on the regular by all the diverse, powerful humans out there getting their life in nature every damn day.

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The two Unlikely PCT Thru-Hikers of 2017! Me on the right, Will on the left.

Oh, and if you’re in the Pacific Northwest and day hiking is more your style than thru-hiking, you must check out Jenny’s blog, I Take The Long Way. She is my absolute favorite day hiking blogger, and her trail write ups are super accessible and fun and will make even the most novice of hikers feel confident in taking a jaunt outside.

***

Whew, okay! Almost 2,500 words later, that’s “all” I’ve been up to over the past couple of weeks! This blog post is indicative of something I’m already thinking about – I’m chatty as hell (surprise!) and a total perfectionist, so it’s hard for me to write a quick blog post or just throw some words up online without worrying about formatting, photos, etc. I know this will make blogging on trail even harder than it already is – and blogging on trail is not super easy, because of the nature of being in the backcountry, wanting to stay in the moment, being exhausted at the end of a long day of hiking, etc. I’m really uncertain what my blogging style will be like on this adventure. I am trying really hard to leave myself space to do whatever feels right. I also don’t want to overwhelm my readers – I know some people prefer 300 word blog posts that get to the point and don’t meander quite as much as mine do…I don’t know. We shall see where this adventure takes both me and this blog, I suppose!

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I took this photo last month when I was flying home from Phoenix, Arizona. Mother Earth is so beautiful and I can’t believe I am going to get to walk her paths and sleep under her stars every day and night for five months. I may be stressed getting ready for this journey, but don’t think for a second I’m not grateful – I am, I really, really am.

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12 thoughts on “PCT Prep: To Do Lists For Forever

  1. Jenny Bruso says:

    Geez girl, I was not expecting such a huge shout out. Thank you so incredibly much! And thank you for giving Will a shout out, too. I could not feel luckier to be in cahoots with the two of you.

    It is so fun and exciting reading these prep posts. Honestly, my stomach is a little twisted with anxious excitement. Empath problems! I love all of your pink and purple gear and am psychically punching that guy in the face because why the fuck wouldn’t your shit be all pink and purple? It is because it can be!

    Sounds like you’re on the right track, hon. I don’t know if thru-hiking is in my future, but I will definitely be living the journey vicariously through you ❤

    • Vanessa says:

      Thanks so much, Jenny. And yeah, of course I gave you a huge shout out — you’re such a big part of my hiking inspiration, I can’t really be on trail without thinking of a few specific people and you are absolutely one of them! I feel so lucky to be in cahoots with you, too. Love you! ❤

  2. Not a Chance says:

    Watch out for those mansplainers! They can’t handle the fact that women are capable in the outdoors, it makes them feel less manly. It’s fun to bewilder men!

    You got this! Enjoy Mother Nature

  3. Ray says:

    I’m so so excited to follow your hike and I definitely followed Unlikely Hikers on Instagram! I had no idea such a thing existed and I’m really glad it does. This is inspiring me to finally plan some of my own long distance hikes this summer…

  4. Anna says:

    I’ve been following Carrot and Notachance for a while now and have just stumbled upon your blog. I’ll definitely have to follow you this year! Best wishes from Australia.

    • Vanessa says:

      Thanks so much, Anna! Carrot and Chance were my original inspirations for hiking the PCT (and Jess/Orbit!) so it feels very flattering to be grouped with them, even just in a small blog comment. I hope following my hike is as fun for you as following all of theirs have been for me! I have dreams of visiting Australia one day so perhaps we’ll get to meet in person then 🙂

      • Anna says:

        I love following hiking blogs so I’m sure yours will be great too! If you ever get to Perth I’ll buy you a drink for sure! Best wishes x

  5. myoutdooronline says:

    Hey Vanessa,
    you are very lucky. I love hiking but not possible for me. I always time thinking when i going to hiking my favorite place. Relax time i read blog and feel good. i want to visit that place and hiking. You share your experience and effective information. thanks

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