I had a very productive day yesterday with regards to prepping for my 2017 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, so even though I am actually currently gripped with intense anxiety about everything from handling the snow in the Sierra to which rain jacket I should buy to how I will handle being so far away from Alley for five whole months, I thought now might be a good time to check in with another handy dandy bullet point list re: my preparation. Here’s what’s up, aside from that pesky Anxiety Brain I’m experiencing.
- I hiked 6 miles in Forest Park with Alex yesterday morning, and I’ll be hiking another 4-6 miles (also in Forest Park) with Hadley today. I’m lucky that almost all my friends love being outside as much as I do so asking them to hike with me is no great hardship, but I still want to point out how grateful I’ve been over the past few months that my friends have been understanding that for the most part, unless we’re taking a training walk/hike together, I can’t really hang out. Another thing I’ve been feeling anxious about is being far away from my friends and my community for almost six months, so I’ve felt extra lucky to be able to spend meaningful time with my loved ones before I leave.
- I set up my SPOT device! I know I said I was going to do it a few days ago, but, well, I didn’t. But that’s okay, because yesterday I did! The SPOT Gen3 is very cool – it is a 4oz little gadget that you strap to your pack and that “gives you a critical, life-saving line of communication using 100% satellite technology” (according to its website). Basically, with this device, I’ll be able to send a little text to my parents and to Alley every morning to say that I’m safe and starting my hike, and then I’ll be able to send another little text to them when I stop to set up camp to say I’m safe and going to bed. There is also a tracking feature that will allow them to access a special password-protected web page and see my movement in real time (well, in 30 minute intervals). There are two “help” options on the device. The first sends a text to a select group of people (for me it’s my mom, dad, brother, Alley, and a few other responsible friends) to say I need help – it includes a prerecorded text (“I need help!”) and also my exact GPS coordinates. The second “help” option, and arguably the most important button on the whole device, is the SOS button. If I press this it will directly alert GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center. This is the equivalent of a 911 call in the backcountry. I am obviously very much hoping never to have to push the SOS button, but it makes me feel safer knowing that in a true emergency, I have that option. Full disclosure, my mom bought me this as a gift, because it makes her feel much safer to know she’ll be getting daily check-ins from me and can see where I am on a virtual map at any time, and that if I were in true life-threatening danger I could call for help. That said, I am very grateful to have it, and I think particularly seeing as it’s a high snow year in the Sierra, I’d be lying if I said I was “only” carrying it for my mama’s peace of mind. I’m carrying it for mine as well! And my cute concerned girlfriend’s, too! Peace of mind for all! (Seriously, thanks mama for this great gift!)
- I also set up my tent for the first time! I received this tent as a gift as well – it’s my most expensive piece of gear, and while I probably would have splurged and bought it for myself regardless, I was very grateful to be able to put that money toward other PCT necessities. Thank you, Dad, for this incredibly generous gift! So what tent do I have? I am the lucky owner of a beautiful blue Zpacks Duplex! I’ll talk about this tent more when I eventually publish my gear post, but for those reading who are familiar with thru-hiking and ultralight gear, you already know that Zpacks is popular (and expensive!) for a reason! For my friends/family/lovers/haters who are reading this and have no idea what Zpacks is, it is a company based in the USA that makes ultralight backpacking gear out of Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF), which was formerly known as Cuben Fiber Fabric. Sidenote: It’s funny to witness language in different communities – we all have a specific common set of words we assume others will recognize or be able to converse in, and that’s useful and natural of course, but it can also serve to unwittingly (or sometimes purposely) exclude people who don’t have the same vocab. I notice this in the queer community, and I imagine it’s the same in any other community, too. Shared language can be so sweet and meaningful, but it can also be intimidating and elitist. Anyway, I do know that once we’re immersed in a specific community’s language, we often forget that others have no idea what we’re talking about! The very first time I mentioned cuben fiber in non-thru-hiker company was in the car with Alley and Diana, on our road trip to Montana last summer. They both looked at me like I was nuts and I even started second-guessing myself, thinking maybe I’d misremembered what the fabric is called…but no, I was right, it’s just not something a person who has no interest in ultralight hiking would know about. If you do wanna geek out and learn more about what the heck Dyneema Composite Fabrics/Cuben Fiber is all about, you can check out the Zpacks Materials page. (A small note: Until I googled “Cuben Fiber” so I could tell y’all about it, I had never heard it called “Dyneema Composite Fabric” or “DCF.” Clearly that’s the new name for it, but I would say in the hiker community it definitely has not caught on, at least not yet.) ANYWAY YOU GUYS, the point is, I pitched my tent in the backyard for the first time yesterday! It went well! It’s an incredibly easy set up; I’d say it took me 5 minutes, max, and it was my very first time. And! And and and – it was sunny and warm(ish) enough that I was able to wear shorts while setting it up! My first time wearing shorts in Portland in 2017 (after months of nearly non-stop chilly rainy weather)! Not sure what was more exciting – my sweet new tent or the sweet, sweet feeling of the sun on my bare hairy legs.
- I decided that once I was trying out new gear, why not cook lunch outside with my backcountry kitchen set up? This includes the MSR Pocket Rocket stove, the Snow Peak 900ml titanium pot, and the Sea to Summit long spork. I had picked up a random Knorr’s rice sides package at Walgreens with Alley the night before, and while it definitely had more wheat, milk, and sodium than I’d choose to eat on a regular day in Portland, I am open to incorporating those things into my diet on the PCT. Honestly, some people seem super invested in eating “healthy” on trail, but I just can’t stress myself out over trail diet too much. (I put the word “healthy” in quotation marks because I really hate when people preach their specific way of eating as the Only Right Way To Do It and also because it’s almost impossible to talk about food and healthy without judging and shaming people. No shame to the people who are really just interested in putting good stuff in their bodies and who are finding joy and fun in prepping their food accordingly – that’s rad, but more work and effort than I’m able to commit to prior to starting my hike. But if you’re making people feel bad about their personal food choices, even if you truly believe from the bottom of your well-intentioned heart that you’re helping them, you should probably rethink your strategy! I’ll write more about this at some point – there’s a lot to unpack here, and I think it’s worthy of more than just a bullet point in a general prep post.) Anyway, in my day to day life I try to avoid gluten, dairy, nightshades, and alcohol (emphasis on the word try) because they all make me feel sort of sick. I had a parasite a few years ago and that plus the antibiotics I took to treat it messed with my gut, and even though things are much better now, my body and my digestive system never quite went back to the way they used to be. I am planning to avoid dairy as much as I can on the PCT, because my body still really rejects it (like, 20 minutes after I ingest it! Sexy!), but I’m hoping to eat gluten and nightshades and drink the occasional beer and be okay. If I really don’t feel well while doing that I’ll rethink this strategy, but for now, that’s the plan. ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY, I cooked this Knorr’s rice side with my backcountry kitchen setup yesterday and it was delish! I anticipate eating more on the trail, and probably adding dehydrated veggies when I have them and olive oil whenever I can (for extra calories).
Wow guys, I’m so glad I’ve decided to start doing bullet point lists to avoid being overly wordy…at four bullet points and 1600+ words, I shudder to think what this post would look like if I’d written the “long version.” Insert major eye roll at myself here. I JUST LOVE TO CHAT WITH Y’ALL, OKAY?!?!
Let’s conclude with a short, brief chat between us, shall we? (We shall!)
You: Vanessa, is the title of this blog post really a reference to that children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?
Me: Why yes, yes it is. Thank you for noticing!
You: Don’t you find that child, Alexander, annoying and entitled and sort of The Worst?
Me: Well yeah, Alexander is sort of irritating, but I would argue that Caillou is more annoying and entitled and sort of The Worst, wouldn’t you agree?
You: I don’t know who Caillou is, and I would also like to suggest that perhaps you spend too much time with toddlers and should try avoid referencing children’s books and naptime and cute things “your kids” say 400+ times a day, don’t you think??
Me: Once I start hiking all I’m gonna talk about is food and poop.
You: You know what, I think I would like to hear more about this Caillou fellow…