These are some “Frequently Asked Questions” that I’ve either already been asked, have been told I will be asked, or I think are just interesting enough to jot down. If you have a question, please ask below, and I’ll include it!
When are you leaving? I am planning to start my hike from the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) In very late April or very early May of 2011.
Why are you doing this? I am doing this primarily to raise funds for an organization that helps liberate women and children from human trafficking and prostitution in the Indian city of Mumbai. They also rehabilitate and house them during this process. It’s an amazing organization, and one I can’t speak highly enough of.
How long will it take you to complete? If things go well, my plan is to complete the trail in 4 to 4.5 months. I will be hiking an average of between 18-22 miles per day, every day.
What is the trail like? It depends on what section! They are all so different. The portion from the Mexico border to Kennedy Meadows (known as the ‘Southern California‘ leg) is 702 miles of sheer blazing hotness. Hiking through the Mojave desert where your best friend is a Joshua Tree is usually not on anyone’s Top 10 list. Water is harder to come by here than anywhere else on the trail, and from what I’ve read, if there’s just one part of the PCT that hikers could skip out on, it’s this section. Then, there’s sections like the Sierras, where snow hiking and camping will be common. If you don’t time it right, or there’s a heavy snow year, you might not make it through, and that’s no fun. Crossing high mountain passes with narrow trails and sections where you might have to carve a path in the snow with your ice axe are prevalent. Some sections are very buggy…mosquitos and flies especially. There’s nowhere to escape, unless you have a shelter/tent with bug netting. Oregon and Washington can be cold, and rainy, or warm and rainy. But rain seems to be the main theme. Some years are dryer than others, though, so it’s never known how much rain, snow, etc., might affect a thru-hike. With snow melt in the Spring, you get swollen rivers and streams, and these can be tricky at times to cross. Wet feet can be expected, and so can really stinky shoes! There are only about 300 miles of the 2,650 of the PCT that are close to level. It’s steepness is well documented. I’ve read that if you were to take all the elevation gain and loss and add it all up, it would equate to 50 vertical miles straight up, and 50 vertical miles straight down. Awesome!
Will you be hiking with other people, or alone? (Thanks to both of my sisters for being concerned about this one!) There are generally about 300 people who start out to hike the PCT, and all leave about the same time (within about 4 weeks of each other). Add in some who are section-hiking, and I will see people along the way, and even hike with some for a time, but I will be setting out alone and will be that way most of the time. I will encourage anyone that wants to either meet me in a town stop, or hike a portion with me, let me know!
You mentioned about 300 people attempt a thru-hike of the PCT each year. How many will make it all the way to Canada? Usually the one with the car. No, I’m joking! On average, according to PCT stats, about 50-65 will make it successfully.
Why help people in India? Aren’t there people here in the United States that can be helped? This is a valid question, and have heard it several times. I would respond, “Yes, there are. But I have decided to help these people. If you wish to help others anywhere in the world, including the USA, please, by all means do it. I’ll even sponsor you!” My response may sound abrasive or uncaring or even flippant at first glance, but it is honestly not meant to be so. No one alive can help every person in the world. I am just one man. I just happened to be led to a place where I came face-to-face with something that hurt me, disgusted me, haunts me, and amazes me in its scope and destructive power on human lives. I came away from it changed, and vowed to help. That’s what I am attempting to do. The people I am attempting to help just happen to be in India. Jesus cared little for borders, other than to be knowledgeable about them in regards to traditions and social practices of the people he came in contact with. A border never made him love or desire to help someone any less. I want to be like that.
How will you be staying in touch while on the trail? I will be carrying something that might seem like a luxury item, an iPhone + solar battery charger. The battery charger will be able to charge multiple pieces of electronics, but I will only need to charge the iPhone and a little iPod Shuffle. The iPhone will be used to jump online when possible to add updates to this blog, and add pictures and video as well. A good friend of mine is developing a pretty intense iPhone App that will be able to edit and score video footage, so I will hopefully be able to upload videos as well as pictures. That is my hope. I want you to feel as if you are on the trail northwards with me. The shuffle will more than likely come out after the desert section (I’ll want to hear the snakes on the trail) and definitely at night on occasion. I’ll download several books I want to read (and definitely download the bestselling, “Proper Care and Treatment of Rattlesnake Bites”) as well as my favorite tunes. Anyone have a special song they think I simply MUST have for the hike, let me know, I’l add it to the playlist.
Where will you be sleeping? I’ll be sleeping under the stars! I will be carrying a tent, sleeping quilt, and sleeping pad. My pillow will be whatever clothes I do not have on while I am sleeping, stuffed in a stuff sack. On clear nights, I may not set up my tent at all, and ‘Cowboy Camp,’ which essentially means throwing my sleeping pad down and crawling under the quilt and cozying up for the night. If the weather is inclement (anything from rain to extreme cold/windy) I will break out the tent. Ditto for those nights when it’s very buggy. Waking up to a face full of mosquito bites isn’t really in my plans. There may be occasions where a “Trail Angel” will invite you to stay at their house for a day or two of rest and food, or a resupply stop in a town where getting a motel room for the night will be a good break, and chance to clean equipment (and self!).
What will you eat? (Thanks to Sylvester Rumpler, in Tuscaloosa , Alabama, for this question). The most simple way to answer this is to say, “The thing with the most calories per ounce.” Poor nutrition can end a thru-hikers’ dream of successfully finishing the hike. I will be responsible for carrying all of my food on my back for 7-10 days at a time, between resupply stops. Therefore, weight is a key issue. I’ll be eating dehydrated meals a lot. I will dehydrate the food myself, vacuum seal each meal/food item, then ship those meals ahead to predetermined spots along the trail. Usually, these are small, out of the way towns way out in the middle of nowhere, within hitchhiking or walking distance of the trail. Other main food items will be energy bars, my special peanut butter goo mixture (made with Laura Schudder’s Crunchy peanut butter, Nutella, fresh organic California honey, chopped up Hershey’s chocolate/almond bars, all mixed up. Yum!), Snicker’s bars, Pop-Tarts, and boxed mashed potatoes and stuffing mix.
What’s the best thing you’ll eat on the trail? I’m looking forward to the fresh blackberries, huckleberries, and wild onions that are going to be growing wild at certain spots along the trail!
What are you most worried or fearful of about the trip? (Thanks to T. Bean, Anchorage, Alaska for the question) I guess there’s a couple of things. One, I am not a big fan of heights, and on the PCT, there are many high elevation passes I will have to hike over. Apparently from what I have read, in some passes the trail is pretty narrow and steep; in others, I will have to carve my path as I go on snowy hillsides with my ice axe. A big part of me likes to have both feet solidly on the ground…another likes the idea of pushing myself where I have never been before. The other concern would be rattlesnakes, of which there will be plenty. How many I run across, or vice versa, will be interesting to note. The lowest figure I have heard of so far has been eight encounters, whereas Bob Holtel, in his book, “Blood, Sweat, and Survival on the Pacific Crest Trail,” encountered over 45.
How far will you be hiking each day? Most hikers hike 12 – 14 miles each day at the beginning of their hike, then slowly work up to 16 – 22 miles per day. They may begin with higher mileage days if they had been training prior, but the heat during the first portion (desert for the first 700 miles) may sap the desire for more miles. Most hikers will eventually have a few 25 – 35 mile days. How many will I do? Follow along on the blog each day to find out! (Subscribe to the blog, and you will get an email alert when I post a new entry from the trail! It’s free, and everybody’s doing it…) :)
What’s one thing you wish you could take with you on the trip but can’t? My cat…errrr…tiger, Pittsburgh. She’s my buddy. She’s been my bestest little buddy the last 7 years, and I’m a very proud dad. I’ll miss her like crazy! I have a very strong feeling some other hikers may find me walking along the trail talking to an invisible cat. It’ll happen.
What do you think your trail name will be? Wow. No idea. I have flirted with the idea of being the first or one of the only hikers to ever complete the trail while wearing a kilt, a nod to my Irish/Scottish side. But I would end up with some wild trail name from that. It’s funny, usually trail names come about from a peculiarity about you, or a funny habit or quirk. If that’s the case, the other thru-hikers will have a field day with me. :)
How much does it cost to hike the PCT? Since the trail is on public property,the hiking part is free. Some states or national parks require hikers to stay in regulated campgrounds, so that may cost $10 here or there. Most hikers claim that their cost was approximately $1.50 a mile. This figure can be reduced dramatically by eliminating big restaurant meals and overnight stays in motels in the trail towns.
What kind of weather can be expected on the PCT? On the PCT, being prepared for almost anything in terms of weather is key. Start too early in the spring, and you are likely to run into snow (lots of it) in the desert mountains and you may reach the High Sierra before the snow melts. Start too late, and the temperatures in the desert will be extremely hot, often 110 degrees (F) or above. Further north in the Sierra, snow and hail can be encountered just about anytime and the night time temperatures can be very cold. In Washington and Oregon, rain is common, and both heat and cold should be planned for. In late summer and fall, snow may be encountered. Hiking in ‘white out’ conditions could get a hiker lost, or worse. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke and hypothermia are very real threats on the PCT. I will need to know how to avoid, recognize and treat all three, and caution against getting too close to any of them, ever.
What will you wear on the trail? Not much, really, since I will have to carry everything. Wherever I am able, I will try to find the lightest weight yet comfortable clothing as possible. The following are what I have planned thus far. Click on the items, and it will take you to a visual. This is all I will have with me, and as potentially yucky as it sounds, this is it. A) Long sleeve synthetic base layer top & bottom B) Synthetic button up shirt C) Synthetic surf trunks D) Mid-weight fleece/wool shirt E) Puffy pullover jacket F) One pair boxer/briefs. G) Cotton bandana H) Wide brimmed hat I) Rain shell J) Gloves K) Wind shell & wind pants L) Baseball cap M) Headnet (for mosquitos) N) Balaclava O) Socks x3 (one pair strictly for sleeping) P) Shoes (4-5 pair through the whole trip) Q) Gaiters R) Short sleeve Poly top
What have been your informational/inspirational resources for the trip? Well, besides a lot of reading, I’d say a few main ones and I’m sure there will be more to come. First I’d say my Dad. He taught me a lot about camping, a love for the outdoors, and a lot about being resourceful. He was an aerospace engineer for much of his life, and a farmer for the last 25+ years before passing. Add in military, skier, airplane pilot, sailor, patriot. A little intense at times, but a great guy. My Mom…She loved to travel, was extremely fond of growing her own fruits and plants, and really taught me that all life, even plant life, was special and deserved being cared for. Like my Dad, she was also an airpline pilot. An amazing listener, strong, intelligent, resilient, and beautiful…and also my biggest fan. She would be excited about this trip and that I was doing it to help others, yet would want me to call home often. I’m very much a mix of these two very good people. My friends from college, Steve Markovich and Mike Felder, and our crazy weekend we trekked out into the Arkansas wilderness with nothing but a little water and a package of Pilsbury Pop’n’Fresh bisquits to share. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any sleeping bags or anything. We started out that little adventure hiking for two hours…to find we had pulled a complete loop and ended up right back at the trailhead. Yep. I may be doomed. My friend Chris Esparza, who expertly guided my youth ministry staff that he was a part of on a 4 day staff retreat into Tuuolumne Meadows in Yosemite…incredible. My first foray into fixing blisters with duct tape. I’ve thought often how I could navigate the way he does…in life as well as the wilderness. Comet, who is currently on his thru-hike of the PCT and whose website held many good things PCT thru-hike related. I’ve enjoyed following along on his adventure, and though my site is different than his, it kickstarted my search for other PCT thru-hikers, past and present, who are or have hiked the trail, and has been immensely helpful. George Spearing, a hilarious and tenacious Kiwi who wrote a fantastic book, “Dances with Marmots,” which documents his successful thru-hike of the PCT. He took a leave of absence from his position as a firefighter in New Zealand, and with no real experience hiking, took on the PCT. His book is a fantastic read, very fun, and was the first book I read on the subject of the PCT. I actually found it online quite by accident, and read a couple of the chapters available on Amazon, and had to buy it. A very good read if you have the time. A few good websites, but especially BackpackingLight.com (or, ‘BPL”). They have really good, helpful reviews of products, ways of lightening pack weight, alternative ways to make your own gear, and the readers there are more than willing to chip in their two cents on any questions one might have about ultra-light or lightweight backpacking. Good stuff. And of course the women and children who are ministered to by Bombay Teen Challenge. I think of what those amazing women and those beautiful kids have been through, and I’m humbled that God brought them into my life. I’m walking for them, and for those that have yet to be freed, and for those that will experience this nightmare in the future. I’m walking so the world won’t look the other way.
More to come…..