It was in the first week of January that I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year. Not much time to prepare for the hike given my lack of equipment, knowledge, and conditioning, but for the first time in my adult life I had both the time and resources needed to hike the PCT. Faced with “if not now… when?”, I decided that this was the right time to have a go at this. So in mid January I started researching, purchasing, and training in preparation for this Mexico to Canada hike.
UH OH… MY OLD GEAR IS WAY TOO HEAVY FOR THE PCT
My first hiking gear discovery was that everything that I already owned was old and heavy. I had a pack, sleeping bag, stove, and other odds and end items stashed away in the garage that I figured would get me off to a good start. Most of the gear was no more than 10-15 years old (practically new!) and in perfectly good shape. Having started my PCT gear research on google I had learned that successful through hikers (the ones that complete that entire trail in one season) were starting with pack base weights of 18lbs or so. (everything minus food and water) Grabbing my fish scale I trotted out to the garage to weigh some of my gear. Yikes! There was no way I was going to get my starting pack weight down to the 18lb range with any of the gear that I already owned. My old pack was well over 6lbs alone. Time to heat up the credit card and buy new hiking gear.
My REI dividend is going to be huge this year. The last two months (Jan-March) have been a whirlwind of gear research and purchases. Fortunately there are plenty of good articles, blogs, and videos on the internet by people who have already done all or part of the PCT. Unfortunately I am dealing with a compressed window of time so I am relying on some of the research consensus rather than being able to develop my own preferences. So I’ve spent hours and hours researching and deciding what I hope will work for me and then buying it. I’ll get into my PCT gear list in a later post, but buying hiking gear in a relative hurry is not cheap. If I had to put a round number on it I would bet that I’ll be running about $100 per pound for my base pack weight. On the up side this stuff is way cheaper than photography equipment which is what I am more accustomed to buying.
UH OH… I’M OUT OF SHAPE AND NOT READY TO HIKE THE PCT
The other big issue with getting ready to hike the PCT in such a short window of time is conditioning. Just a few months from now I’ll be asking my body to put in 20 plus mile days. While I was an athlete many years ago, I’ve done nothing in the last ten years or so prepare myself for this sort of physically demanding journey. I can say with all confidence that as of January 2018 I was in the worst shape of my life. Gear be damned, if the body doesn’t hold up it won’t matter wether or not my equipment choices were correct. I could very well be broken down within a matter of weeks of starting the PCT. So… yes, I have been doing some training.
I’ll get into some of the specifics of the training I’ve been doing over the last few months in another post, but the two biggest hurdles I’ve faced so far are the crappy western Washington winter weather and the fact that I’m not in my 20’s anymore. As a former athlete and coach I know that the best way to train for a thing, is to do that thing. So if a person wants to train to hike the PCT, their primary training activity should be hiking. While it is not impossible to hike in western Washington in the winter months, we get rained on pretty constantly around here which puts a damper on hitting those trails that are available this time of year. While I am not adverse to hiking/training in the rain (it will rain on the PCT at times) it makes staying at home and working out in the garage the more reasonable alternative more often than I would like.
As for not being in my 20’s anymore… my body does not respond to hard training the way it used to. Mentally I still have a tendency to want to train the way I used to when I was a competitive athlete in my 20’s. Hard. I have a difficult time not getting competitive while training. Now I’m 50 and training hard results in… broken. Progress comes slower, but it does still come, and I’ve had to adjust to the fact that this is not a competition that I am training for. I won’t be in peak physical condition when I start my PCT hike in May but I will be in better shape than I was in January when I first started getting ready for this adventure.
Accepting that there will be no way that I will be 100% prepared to do a through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is simple reality. At the beginning of May I’ll stand on the U.S. / Mexico border, face north, and start walking. I’ll just have to have the flexibility to work out whatever issues I face as they develop. Hopefully I will finish in better shape than I started.