PCT Prep: Heading to the Desert

I’m heading out for my big section hike on the PCT soon. Apparently I am a LASHer: a long-ass section hiker. I’ll start at the southern terminus and hike north for six weeks or to Kennedy Meadows (mile 702), whichever comes first. I will hike until just a few days before my 40th birthday, and then head to Colorado for a shortish birthday hiking trip with Cyn. I’ll be attempting to blog from the trail this time, instead of waiting until I get home to recreate it, but posts will be intermittent, as I reach areas with cell service. (This post is an experiment to test the WordPress phone app features before I leave.) I’ll also try to post photos along the way on Instagram (where I am prof.hiker — professor, not professional).

This will be my first big solo trip, though these days no one is ever really alone on the PCT. My biggest anxieties about this solo endeavor are (1) missing Cyn, both in general and as my hiking partner, and relatedly (2) not finding any people I really connect with along the way, or feeling overwhelmed by the social aspects of the trail. A distant third anxiety is rattlesnake danger.

My training hasn’t been great for this trip. I fell into a slump after the election and just never got back on a consistent gym schedule. And over the last month or so almost all of my time has been spent feverishly trying to meet my writing deadlines before the hike. But I’ve been walking around town regularly and doing some longer day hikes with a full pack (less to strengthen my legs than to condition my feet), so that will have to suffice. The terrain will be a lot less challenging than the huge elevation changes on the JMT, at least. 

My pack’s base weight (everything I’m carrying except for water and food, but including the pack itself and the weight of my empty water bottles & food bag) is a little under 13 pounds, which is not too shabby. I’m going stoveless and taking a little more than seven liters capacity for water, though in this wet year I hope to only have to carry 3-4 liters at a time. I’ve only made two noteworthy gear changes. I’m carrying an umbrella to help fend off the desert sun — I rigged my pack like this so I can carry it hands-free while on the move, but mostly anticipate using it for shade breaks mid-day while I wait out the hottest hours. And I bought myself an early birthday present of a super lightweight solo tent. I’ve practiced pitching it a few times, including one incredibly windy afternoon after a day hike. That one took me two tries to get the tent up, but it was good practice for the wind that’ll be whipping across the desert! 

(Can’t figure how to make a photo caption in the app — here I’m celebrating my successful pitch as the wind billows out my little spaceship tent that weighs only about one pound!)

Otherwise, I’m just trying to get comfortable with the idea of going with the flow and making decisions as I come to them. I might ship my microspikes to Idyllwild to help me cross Fuller Ridge and a few other still-snowy high-elevation spots, but those areas could be melting out by the time I’m there, or I might just take the alternates. I’m only shipping three resupply boxes and plan to buy in town for the rest. I will be relying on the generosity of trail angels at various points along the way. And I may get to meet a hiking blogger I admire, who lives in Tehachapi!

It is an especially intense year to be hiking in the U.S./Mexico border region — to walk both voluntarily and freely there, knowing I can safely ask for help if I need it, while the ban, the wall, the raids carry on all around me. I am using this hike to raise money for Border Angels, a non-profit organization in San Diego County that delivers water and other lifesaving resources to migrant crossing routes in the desert area around San Diego County. (They also have several other projects to support immigrants in the area and to educate the public about border politics and immigration policy.) If you are moved to contribute to their work, you can do so through my fundraiser here. I will send a postcard from the trail to anyone who donates $25 or more! I have excellent handwriting and will endeavor to tell you a good trail story on the postcard. 

But before writing those stories, I’ve got a pile of manuscript revisions to get through. Until the southern terminus, then…

–Toby


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