A Ride to the Southern Terminus

Yesterday I sent an e-mail and filled out a form on Scout and Frodo’s website.  You need to do both.  They answered me today.  I now have a ride from the train station to the Southern Terminus with an overnight stop at their house.

I wanted to stay there for three main reasons.  First, they supply at cost a couple of items I will need for the trail that I don’t want to take on the trip down.  The biggest item is a gas canister for my stove.  Second, it is going to give me an opportunity to meet a couple of my fellow hikers leaving on the same day.  While we are all hiking our own hikes, for the first couple of days, these are the people I am going to walking and camping with.  Finally, it will give me a chance to take some items on the trip down and mail them home before I leave for the trail.  I will do one last shakedown, so some will be from my kit, but mostly it will be the clothes I wore for the train drive and my tablet and charger.  I will bring a prepaid box from the post office.

Most importantly, they do not accept donations, so it allows me to thank them for being so kind to strangers.

Going on a Train Ride

On November 1st, I successfully applied for a permit to hike north on the PCT starting April 6th of 2018.  Successfully applied is not the same thing as approved.  Today, I received my approval.  It is go time!

Transitioning from running around like a chicken without a head to hiking a major trail is going to require some adjustment, especially my concept of time.  I need to slow down.  I need to clear my head.  So, instead of flying down the day before, I’m going to take the train.  It will be a long ride, but it is one I have always wanted to do.

With the trek approved, I purchased a one-way ticket from Milwaukee to San Diego starting on April 3rd and arriving on April 5th at 1:00 p.m.  I just need a way to get to the trail.  There is a bus that will take me, however, I’ve decided to ask to stay with Scout and Frodo.

Scout and Frodo are a husband and wife from San Diego.  When they do not thru-hike, they host hikers.  International hikers can stay three nights.  National hikers can stay overnight.  They will pick you up, feed you, let you sleep in their back yard, and take you in the morning to the Southern Terminus.

I am completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers to complete this hike.  I’ve never lived like this.  I just need to have faith.

Shakedown Hike Day Three

Today is a much shorter day.  I promised to take the kids to see Thor and we prefer to go to the matinee, so I will be ending my hike early today.

It is sleeting hard this morning, but the ground is warm enough that it is melting right away.  I pack everything inside my tent where I am dry.  I had put up my tent on top of a hill, so I had plenty of air movement and the condensation was limited.  I’ve learned from previous hikes to use my garbage compactor bag over my feet to keep that part dry.

I did a much better job of packing up.  I’m ready to go in just fifteen minutes.  I unzip the tent, toss my pack outside, and in wet weather gear crawl out.  My tent is packed in mere moments, I count my stakes, and pack it in my backpack.

I have a method for packing my backpack.  My quilt is on the bottom.  It makes the bottom of my pack softer and more comfortable.  On top is my tent.  If it is raining (or in this case sleeting) It is the first thing I can get to.  I hike down to the shelter were I meet my backpacking friend I made last night.

We eat, drink coffee, and I ask to take a picture of him.  I want to remember him, but not share him to the world without his permission.  I know his first name, but I do not know his last.  It isn’t important.  This is the type of friendships that I will have on the PCT.  I will meet someone just once and never see them again.  As we are all hiking the same trail, we all have something in common so friendships are created fast.  However, everyone is also hiking their own hike.  These friendships are not meant to last more than this moment.

He offers a hand to shake, but I have not showered in three days.  I offer an elbow.  He asks for a hug.  Hugs I can do.

I’m a bit stiffer today, but I warm up in due time.  The sleet stops.  I text the wife where to pick me up.  As I get closer, I send a text with a Google Map link so she can find me easily.  I reach the meeting point first.

Not a terribly long hike, but I put in two 18 mile days.  Still, it is a good nine miles.  I’m in good shape for the hike.  This proves that I can do it.  There is still work to do.  I want to loose another 18 pounds before I start, but with five months to go, there is no reason I cannot be successful.

Lessons Learned

I learn something every hike.  My feet held up well.  No blisters.  No pain from Plantar Fasciitis.  I lost no equipment.

  • The quit and sleeping pad are much more effective if I properly set them up.  That means using the straps and snaps.
  • I need to figure out what I’m going to do to correct my vision.  I prefer contacts when I’m hiking, however, they do require maintenance.  Glasses are easier.
  • Slow and steady really do win the race.  Hiking just to the point of sweating meant that I was able to hike for eight hours straight without getting tired.  I still had some gas in the tank.  Trying to muscle through with a 3.5 m.p.h. pace simply killed me.  Cruising at 3.0 m.p.h. was much more efficient.

Shakedown Hike Day 2

I woke up at 6:30 a.m., but it was still dark.  I waited until it was light enough to put on my contacts.  As I knew that it was going to get below freezing, I had my phone in one pocket of my jacket and my water filter in the other.  I forgot about my contacts and when I opened the case, the solution had froze.  Fortunately, they were old, so I put on my spare set.

I got up and stretched.  I was expecting to be sore from the 18 miles the day before, but I was not!  I did my stretching exercises as I boiled water for coffee and ate two Cliff bars.  Shelter #2 is eight miles away.  Shelter #3 is 17 miles.  Shelter #4 is 22 miles.  Because of the early sunset, my only real goal is Shelter #3.

It takes me an hour to get packed up.  I’m going to need to improve that on the PCT.

The hike goes smoothly.  I make Shelter #2 by 11:30.  The sun came out and it was just warm enough to take off my jacket as long as I was out of the wind and in the sun.  I sat and ate my lunch there.  It was beautiful.

I hiked another three miles to a water source.  I ran into two day hikers there.  I filled up my water containers there as Shelter #3 is a dry shelter.  I continued on.

I made Shelter #3 at about 4:30 p.m.  As I approached, I saw another backpacker crossing to the shelter.  Technically, you are supposed to reserve these campsites. I didn’t because I didn’t know how far I would go and it is late in the season.  Its freezing and it is raining.  You’d have to be mad to hike and camp in these conditions.

I had no real choice but to approach.  It was getting dark.  Hopefully, the other backpacker is cool.

Turns out, he was.

He had reserved the site, so I paid him half.  We put up our tents and started to collect wood for a camp fire.  We ended up staying up to nearly 11:00 p.m talking.  It was a great time.

When I went back to my tent for the night, this time I properly set up the quilt.  Instead of using it like a blanket, I used the straps and attached it to my sleeping pad.  That made a huge difference!  I stayed much warmer that night.

My contacts?  In my jacket this time.

Total miles: 17.6.

Shakedown Hike Day 1

Now with my start date secured, the preparation truly begins.  The good news is that based upon the two PCT Class of 2018 groups on Facebook, I am well ahead of many of my fellow hikers.  I have been physically training now for two years and my entire kit has been purchased and is in my possession.

My gear has a base weight of 13 pounds, 11 ounces.  Ideally, I would section hike some of the PCT to get more experience with the ups-and-downs I will have to do, but that isn’t feasible.  I do have my local national trail, the Ice Age Trail.

My goal for this hike was three fold.  First, I would test my gear under some colder and wetter conditions.  Second, I am going to cook meals as though I bought them in a store instead of freeze dried backpacking food.  Finally, I want to put on some miles and test my legs.

The best place for me to do that is to drive up to where I work in West Bend and park my car there.  My office is just over a mile away from the IAT.  In this section, I have limited options to lay my tent.  I can only camp at designated shelters.  In many ways that is good.  I’m going to have to hike at least 17 miles today.  I also have to battle the dark.  As it is late in the season, it does not get light until 7:00 a.m. and it turns dark by 5:30 p.m.

I stopped in my office for a quick bit, and I started to “Walk in a Relaxed Manner.”

My first shakedown hike back in August was up in Taylor County.  The conditions of that hike were rough.  I pushed myself too hard too quickly. I would hike 16 miles, but I was sweaty and pretty much destroyed.

I was given a book named Walk in a Relaxed Manner from my Pastor friend Ann.  It tells the story of the exploits of a 60-year-old nun hiking the Camino Trail in northern Spain. She was told at the start of her hike by a wise old man to drink plenty of water and be relaxed as you walk.

I did not walk in a relaxed manner in Taylor County.  I’m committed to doing that today.  I’m going to hike just fast enough that I do not sweat.  The slower pace suits me much better.

I entered a park where they are doing construction.  One workman is trying but failing to start a cement cutting saw as his co-workers stands over him.  They stopped and look at me.  Without thinking as I pass them I say, “the saw won’t start until I’m back on the trail.”  I walk past confidently.  They keep on pulling the starter, but it wont start.

My foot hits the trail again.  The saw starts.  I hear one say “Whoa!” and the others chuckle.  They are going to have an interesting story to tell at lunch about the backpacker with the Jedi mind skills when it comes to machinery.

Strangely, I knew it was going to be that way.  The trail did not want my meditation to be interrupted.

I hiked until noon.  On the top of an esker, I found a bench and ate my lunch.  I ate and rested for about fifteen minutes before I packed up and continued.  By two-thirty I reached the Designated Camping site.  It was a dry site that did not allow for a camp fire.  As it was early and couldn’t light a fire, I decided to continue to the next shelter.

I made it to Shelter #1 by four-thirty.  There was water nearby.  I put in a good 18 miles.  I could keep on going, but Shelter #2 was eight miles away and I wouldn’t make it until after dark.  In less than 15 minutes I had my tent up, my bed made, and water boiling for dinner.

For dinner I had instant mashed potatoes and bacon.  For dessert, I mixed instant pudding mix and powdered milk so that I could make pudding by just adding cold water.  It was dark by six.  I sat and read until I was ready to fall asleep.  Because it was going to be cold, I was wearing my down jacket and thermal base layer.  In my pockets, I had my water filter, cell phone and spare battery.  Unfortunately, I forgot to put away my contacts.

I woke up once rather cold.  Cold air was getting into my quilt.  I got up in the middle the night, did some jumping jacks and climbed back into my tent and ate a Cliff Bar.  That warmed me up enough and I was good for the rest of the night.

Day #1.  18.2 miles.

I Start April 6th!

Yes.  That was nerve-racking.  As expected, about a thousand thru-hiker wannabes rushed the PCTA website all at the same time.  The mosh pit grounded the website to a near halt.

The way the process works, now that I have seen it, is that when you first select your date, they give you exactly thirteen minutes to complete all the pages of the application.  I would fill out the form and click next and it would take nearly a minute before the next page would appear.  I would frantically fill out the form and then sit there watching a flashing “Processing…” message.

The final page before hitting the submit button required me to enter my credit card if I wanted to make a donation and to purchase a permit to climb Mount Whitney.  I had one minute to do it.  I typed as fast as I could, but I wasn’t fast enough.  When I hit the submit button, my application timed out and I had to start over.  I did that right away only to find that 32 of 35 slots of April 6th were taken!

The second time I skipped making a donation.  I have already done that before, so hopefully it will not make a difference in my application approval.  I clicked the submit button.  Processing…

My phone beeps.  I received a new e-mail from the PCTA with a confirmation notice that my application has been successfully submitted.  Now I wait for the formal approval which should be in about three weeks.  As I gave myself a window of April 6th to September 15th, I do not expect for it to be declined.  The first major step of this hike has been successfully completed.  Now I pack for a three-day, two-night section hike of the Ice Age Trail to celebrate.  It is supposed to be cold and rainy.  It is ideal conditions for a shakedown of my gear.


My heart can now stop beating so fast.

Permit Day

The very first step of hiking the PCT does not take place outside, but behind a computer.  Seems only fitting for me.  You need a permit from the Pacific Crest Trail Association if you are hiking for more than 500 miles.  Getting that permit from the PCTA saves you from having to get a permit for every single National and State Forest you’ll pass through.

To protect the fragile ecosystem only a limited number of permits are issued.  Today, 35 permits will be released for each day in March, April and May.  Later in January, they will release another 15 permits for the same window.

Here is where it gets complicated.  There is a time limit to this race.  Everyone who hikes north needs to make it to Canada by October 1st.  Once you get past October 1st, the weather in Washington becomes dangerous for hiking, even for an experienced winter camper like me.  So, it would seem to make sense that a starting date like March 1st would give you the most time to complete it.  However, you have to cross the Sierra Mountains.  They might not be safe to cross until June 15th.  Generally, it takes forty days to hike from Mexico to Kennedy Meadows, the traditional town where you swap your desert gear for your mountain gear.  Therefore, most thru-hikers aim for April 20th.

I have decided that I want to start my hike on just one date — April 6th.  It is the one year anniversary of my best friend, Dennis passing away.  I will walk with a relaxed pace to start to avoid blisters and to build my hiking legs.  If I get there early, I have friends in California I can visit.

So I sit in an empty house waiting for 12:30 Central Daylight Time, when every single person thinking about hiking north is going to sign up for one of those limited number of permits.  It is going to be a mad rush!  I’ve heard horrors about this process.

Yes.  I am nervous.