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Big Bear to Wrightwood

By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 369.4
Completion percentage: 13.9%
Hiking days: 25
Zero days: 11
Total Ascent: 65825 ft.
Total descent: 58979 ft.
Blister count: 9
Notable injury count: 1

My stay in Big Bear was highlighted by the staff at the Big Bear hostel. The hostel is a relatively small operation run by a former marine who goes by ‘Sarge’. The place is operated with military efficiency, which was a joy to observe during my extended days of couch surfing. Sarge had an explicit set of rules to follow that rubbed some of the more ‘laid back’ hikers the wrong way. The number of people who couldn’t follow the “get the hell out of the hostel by 9 AM” rule was comically high.

In total, it took 8 zero days in Big Bear to let my infected blister heal. It was significantly more time than I wanted to spend, but the design to give myself enough time to heal paid off. During the 6 day trek into Wrightwood I didn’t experience any pain and the blisters have retreated under new layers of skin.

On the first day out of Big Bear I was essentially kidnapped by a group of hikers who aggressively friend people. We were planning on getting to Wrightwood in the same length of time, so we ended up camping at similar locations every night. Its a pretty laid back group that allows people to do what they want for the most part. We decided on specific meeting times and places for each stop, and then everyone gets there according to their own hiking style.

From left to right: Brightside, 70/30, Hot hands, Danish, yours truly, Carjack, Firesocks, Casper, Spartan, and Muscle. (not pictured, T-Pain)

The first few days of the trek were pretty uneventful, but the third night brought some unexpected weather. Near freezing temperatures and uncharacteristically heavy rain made for a tough night’s camp. The morning after, we were met with more rain, and it made for a nasty hike. Luckily we had something to look forward to in the afternoon. About 10 miles from where we made camp the night before was a set of man-made hot springs. Luckily, the weather cooperated and the rain cleared up as the crew assembled at the small desert oasis.

A few locals at the hot springs

We spent a few hours there lounging on the beach and drinking a bag of wine gifted to us by a fellow hiker named ‘Tonka’. Afterwards the group split up, and a small number of us decided we were going to hike an additional 4 miles to an established campsite while the rest would hike out about 9 miles. After a few hours we reached our intended destination and were met with heavy winds. The gusts were blowing sand and dirt in the air and we very quickly decided it would not be a good place to camp. We decided to hike and meet the rest of the group ~4.5 miles out. We begrudgingly moved on. About a mile in we were met with some trail magic from ‘Papa Bear’ and by pure coincidence met up with the rest of the trail family.

At roughly the same time, the weather was starting to take a turn for the worse and dark clouds were rising in the distance. Most of the trail family decided to take an Uber off trail and get a hotel for the night but I was not really interested in getting off trail so soon after my extended break. Like a true college freshman I skulled an already opened bud light that a stranger handed to me and made a decision to do something potentially dangerous, but would make for a great story. Brightside, T-pain, Danish, muscle, 70/30, and I decided to push on into the storm.

Brightside hiking into the oncoming storm.

As it turns out, the storm was all bark and no bite. Strong winds and light drizzle all-but completely faded by the time we got to camp. The next morning we were met with perfect hiking conditions and made it to Cajon pass, which is famous on the PCT as it has a McDonalds only about 0.1 miles off trail. After an extended stay and countless calories, the group headed out and we began the 4200 foot climb to Wrightwood.

As planned we made it roughly halfway to Wrightwood and camped on the mountainside. That night we were met with freezing conditions. When I awoke the next morning, my tent was covered in a sheet of ice. It was so dense it had to be broken off of my rainfly. Luckily, we had cell service and were able to check the forecast for the final push. The forecast predicted snow staring between 10 and 11 am. We broke camp at 6 am and hiked as fast as we could hoping to beat the storm. The elevation and incline made hiking slow, and we made it roughly 10 miles before the storm hit at 10:30. Luckily at that point the remainder of the trail into Wrightwood was relatively flat.

As the day progressed conditions got worse and the snowfall increased. Originally, I thought that the storm was a mix of snow and hail, but it turns out it was a very specific type of precipitation called graupel. It is not something I had encountered before, but Muscle is quite knowledge about weather and was nice enough to educate the group about it. If you want to read more about it you can do so here: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/frozen-precipitation-defined-23431. As the storm got worse our pace slowed and our spirits dropped. It took roughly 3.5 hours to hike the remaining 7 miles, which is a glacially slow pace given the terrain. Carjack and I were the last two hikers off the trail at Highway 2, and it took us an excruciating 15 minutes to grab a hitch into Wrightwood .

The weather in the desert this year is sporadic at best. This photo was taken roughly 48 hours after the hot springs.

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Idyllwild to Big Bear

By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 266.6
Completion percentage: 10.0%
Hiking days: 19
Zero days: 2
Total Ascent: 45575 ft.
Total descent: 41513 ft.
Blister count: 7
Notable injury count: 1

Warning, This post contains graphic images. If you do not wish to see them, do not continue.

After taking a great zero day in Idyllwild with the trail family, I decided to temporarily break off alone and try to catch my friend who was a few days ahead. At the same time, Anna announced that she was going off trail indefinitely due to pains in her foot. It was unfortunate to see her go, but one of the metatarsals in her foot was causing her quite a bit of pain for a while and she simply couldn’t continue. 

I had a very successful couple of days traversing the San Jacinto wilderness and Fuller Ridge. My legs felt strong and I had hit a groove. I decided not to Summit San Jacinto Mountain as all of the reports I got from other hikers said that conditions were terrible. There was a considerable amount of post-holing, and a number of hikers needed to be rescued off the mountain for various reasons.  Over the course of two days I was averaging 20 miles per day, and felt like I was firing on all cylinders. After Fuller Ridge, I camped under the 1-10 highway overpass and was ready to tackle Mission Creek. A few years back, a flood had knocked out about 4 miles of the trail and it required bushwhacking/route finding. A group of a few other hikers and I teamed up and decided to hit it in the morning. 

Mission creek

It’s amazing how quickly things can go from good to bad on the trail. After drinking some water in the morning that had been filtered from a sketchy looking stream, I immediately had an upset stomach. Of course the water was filtered, but the ceramic filters don’t capture any sufficiently dissolved particles like dirt or iron. Knowing that my upset stomach was caused by something that wasn’t bacteria and the fact that I did not want to push through Mission Creek alone, I decided to press on with the group. It never got to the point of being painful, but my stomach was churning all day and I failed to take care of myself in other ways that were necessary. Most days during lunch I take my shoes off and let my feet dry out. During lunch that day I sat up against a rock in a bit of a haze and didn’t dry me feet out. That, plus the multiple stream crossings, plus about 6,000 feet of elevation gain, all combined to severely exacerbate the blisters I had, and gave me multiple new ones. The worst blister formed on the toe pad of my right foot, under my second toe.

The next few days were difficult, but I didn’t really have a choice except to continue, as I was about halfway between towns. When I woke up the next morning my stomach felt normal again, but I now had the blisters to deal with. Hiking into Big Bear was only mildly painful, until the last day. On the morning of the last day I experienced excruciating pain when putting my shoes on in the morning. As I slipped my right shoe on, I noticed a searing pain in my second toe. I took my shoe and sock off to investigate and found that the base of my toe was swollen; turning my foot over I found that the blister that had formed had grown immensely and crept its way between my toes. I reasoned that all of the extra volume of the blister had caused my toe to crash into my shoes and had injured my toe somehow. I drained the liquid out of the blister, took a handful of Aleve and pressed on. 

The 18 miles into Big Bear were not as bad as I had envisioned, but were still pretty brutal. After about 30 minutes of walking, the pain had mostly subsided but was still present with every step. I stopped after about 5 miles to eat a snack and the pain immediately returned. I’m not sure why, but the moving prevented the pain. After eating, I decided to hike the remaining ~13 miles without stopping. I needed to get into town as soon as possible and ended up hiking the 18 miles in about 7 hours.

After getting food and checking into the hostel with ‘Beast mode’ and ‘Bubble wrap’ I reevaluated my blisters and didn’t see anything concerning. I cleaned my feet and grabbed dinner with some other hikers. I had cell service for the first time in days and was informed that Lt. Anne had broken her ankle and could no longer continue. The trail claimed another victim from the trail family. Her husband, Heisenberg, is going to continue. Additionally, I found out that my friend I am trying to meet left that morning. Given the condition of my foot and how long I need to let it heal, it’s unlikely that I am going to be able to catch them.

The next morning my foot heath was about the same and I figured that I could just wait for my blisters to heal. Maybe two days off trail. Feeling like my feet had swollen, I wanted to see if I still had the right shoes. Luckily, there were a few people from Germany, ‘Bear bait’ and ‘OJ’ who had rented a car and were driving over to Pasadena which has an REI. They offered me a ride and I quickly accepted. The drive took over an hour, so naturally we talked about politics. Godwin’s law was in full effect and Hitler entered the conversation at about the 30 minute mark. I explained the fatigue I (and many others) experienced from the news related to the Trump administration and how I had become desensitized to the news. Both Bear bait and OJ very emphatically told me that that was exactly how Hitler seized control of Germany preceding WWII. Fun stuff. 

Before REI, we stopped at In-N-Out. It was their first time eating the American classic and they absolutely loved it. At REI I got my feet measured and they had indeed swollen by almost a full size. After talking to the shoe expert he agreed that I had the right pair of shoes, but just needed a larger size. I also picked up some different socks and some toe liners. The trip to REI took almost 4 hours and we were hungry again, so we headed back to In-N-Out for seconds. On the way over, ‘Bear bait’ mentioned that she was a nurse and offered to take a look at my blisters. We sat in the parking lot and she inspected my foot. She was pretty adamant that it was infected and that I needed to go to the doctor. Unfortunately by the time we got back to Big Bear the clinic was closed, but I was able to make an appointment for the next day. I checked my feet again and the blister had started oozing puss; it was pretty clear that it was infected. 

My blister right after being inspected by Bear bait

The next morning I hit the clinic and the diagnosis was confirmed. I was prescribed Clindamycin and told to stay off my feet for at least 72 hours. I’m guessing I will need 96. It should take the antibiotic about 48 hours to kill the infection, and another day or two for the unattached skin to re-adhere to my foot. As of this posting I have been off trail of five days, and am looking to get back on the trail on the 18th. It’s a big hit in terms of schedule, but according to my current plan, I am actually about 5 days ahead, so it’s not a complete decimation of my schedule. In addition, the weather surrounding Big Bear is pretty miserable. I have already seen multiple groups of hikers leave the hostel, only to return later in the day due to cold temperatures and rain. The timing of this could not be better for me, so I’m treating it as a blessing in disguise. This is the first real adversity I am facing on the trail, but spirits are still high. 

Canada isn’t going anywhere and the snow report still shows that the Sierras are very far away from being traversable. I have time to let myself heal properly and am going to make sure I’m in good shape before I get back on the trail. This is a marathon (100 marathons actually), not a sprint. There is no reason for me to rush back into anything.

The blister as of 5/13. new skin is forming, which is a great sign.
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Julian To Idyllwild

By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 179
Completion percentage: 6.77%
Hiking days: 14
Zero days: 2
Total Ascent: 30204 ft.
Total descent: 24999 ft.
Blister count: 3
Notable injury count: 0

Large gains in elevation and steep uphills made the trek to Idyllwild significantly more difficult than the first leg of my journey. I have been treating each day as a training session for the Sierras, and it has been producing good results. The ’training’ involves taking as few breaks as possible when walking uphill, while making sure I keep my heart rate in check. It was particularly challenging the last few days into Idyllwild as the trail ascended over 8,000 feet. The perceived lack of oxygen (roughly a 20% reduction from sea level) is noticeable and it was nearly impossible to keep my heart rate from spiking when scaling a steep section. Even so, I feel stronger every day.

Leaving Julian after my first real zero was difficult because I knew what lay ahead. Straight out of Julian there is a somewhat steep climb with no water sources snd extreme sun exposure. The group hit the trail at 10 AM and we pushed through it. Along the way we were witness to a series of military jets doing some sort of training exercises in the valley. It was odd seeing the juxtaposition of untouched nature against the highly engineered unnatural machines; but it made for spectacular viewing. The terrain for the next day would be much the same, so we decided to camp at a small creek a few miles out from Warner Springs and then take a nero (nearly zero day). At the creek we were surrounded by other hikers. War stories were traded and bucket showers were had. In Warner Springs we added three hikers to our group: a mother/daughter team of Anna and Greta, and an unbelievable 75 year old solo female hiker named Jill.

From Warner Springs we set out for a three day trek to Paradise cafe. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the social interaction, so I hiked this section by myself and met up with the group at the cafe.

Along the way to Paradise, there is a famous stop called “Mike’s place” It’s a small haven in the middle of a dry stretch. Not only does it offer a critical water cache, but the owners offer soda to hikers, and if you catch them at the right time they will even make a pizza for you in the oven. Sounds pretty great, right? Well as it turns out, the place is run by some pretty questionable characters. Someone I know who is hiking a few days ahead sent me this text the day before I got there:

Obviously, this was pretty concerning and I mentally committed to skipping it. The next day I met a pair of sister SOBO (South bound) hikers in their 50’s and asked if they had stopped at Mikes. They in fact had, and said it wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. At this point I was pretty torn and decided to play it by ear. That day ended up being brutally hot, and I was running low on water. Another hiker and I decided that we would stop at Mike’s solely to get some water, and then head right out. Much to our surprise, the water tanks were a couple hundred feet from the house and we were able to fill up there with no issue.

Also at the tank was a German prison guard that went by the name ‘dirk’. We all took refuge in some of the highly sought after shade by the tanks and relaxed for a while. After about half an hour, some hikers walked by us who had come from Mike’s and let us know that it seemed to be pretty chill. The hikers also mentioned that they were giving out beers. Dirk immediately perked up and started to head down. Think beached whale transforming into cheetah. The other hikers and I decided to follow and were met with the following scene:

Not exactly the most inviting of places. This is actually only a small part of the property and doesn’t show the main ‘house’. I failed to get a photo of it and am really regretting it, as it was quite the scene. After dropping off our packs and putting a few dollars in the donation bin, we were given beers as promised. We joined a circle of other hikers where there were a few pretty lively conversations going on. ‘Strange, the caretaker, sported a clip-on fox tail and was clearly pretty high on weed. He basically talked pseudo-gibberish to me and Dirk for 15 minutes. The most tangible thing I was able to pick up on was the following idea: Memorize every line in you favorite movie, and then watch the movie in French while also having German subtitles so you can learn two new languages at once. I had a pretty skeptical look on my face at that point, and a man sitting next to Strange offered me a bowl freshly packed weed and said “it’ll help”. I politely declined. While all this was happening, there was also a semi-heated debate going on between ‘CIA’ and a European man whose name I did not catch. CIA is a retired IT specialist who set up secure email systems for government agencies. He and the European were sparring over different tax policies and how effective they were. CIA staunchly took the position that taxation is nothing short of theft, while the European claimed that he made more money than he needed and was happy to give 40% of his money to the government. Behind them a heavily bearded man who often hung around Mike’s cheered on the debate and emphatically claimed that ‘real discourse is finally coming back!’.

Feeling a little uneasy about the situation, I finished my beer and decided to hike a few more miles before I made camp for the night. I had just completed my first 20 mile day and was beat. I ended up setting up camp in a nice saddle, knowing full well that it was not a great spot. I was surrounded by a few other hikers, and we ate dinner together. We caught a nice sunset and I fell asleep to calm weather around eight. At about nine I was woken by intense winds contorting my tent. It was pretty clear that the strong gusts were going to destroy my tent, so I decided to remove my rain fly. With my tent now significantly less susceptible to the wind, I went back to bed. At around midnight I woke to the sound of my teeth grinding which is quite odd, considering I don’t usually grind my teeth. It turns out that the intense winds had blown a large amount of sand and dirt into my tent, and an ample portion of it had entered my mouth and nostrils. The sand was getting caught between my teeth and abrading them as my jaw moved. After cleaning out my mouth and sinuses, I headed back to bed. At roughly 1:30 I was awoken again unexpectedly, but not because of dirt. This time my knee was sitting in a puddle of water that formed in the base of my tent. It turns out the winds had brought quite a bit of precipitation with them and we were basically camping in a thick cloud. Naturally, the forecast had predicted no rain.

Everything I owned was absolutely soaked, and most of it was covered in a thick sand slurry. After seriously contemplating my decisions over the last 12 hours I decided to break camp at around 2 AM and hike to a better spot. As I exited my tent, I was met with the scene of about 5 other hikers doing the same. I descended down about a thousand feet and made camp in a much calmer spot. It was a hell of a 24 hour period, but I made it out unscathed. When I woke up the next morning, I was met with the most crisp and pristine rainbow I have ever seen.


You can actually make out a faint double rainbow on the left side

From that point on into Idyllwild, the trail was mostly uneventful, yet challenging and beautiful in every way you would expect. The elevation brought with it beautiful vistas as well as our first snow. The Paradise Cafe came as advertised and provided us with delicious food to consume. We ended up eating there for dinner and breakfast the next morning. The owner and staff were unbelievably generous and welcoming through our time there. It was Lt. Anne’s birthday and they gifted us a bottle of wine to drink and even let us sleep on their patio overnight.

The next leg of the journey is one I am looking forward to immensely. I’ll be taking the alternate route that summits San Jacinto peak which comes in at 10,800 feet. My next stop will be in Big Bear, where I have it on good authority that there are some homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting for me.

“Just another random Beautiful vista”
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Campo to Julian

By the numbers

  • Miles hiked: 77
  • Completion percentage: 2.91%
  • Hiking days: 6
  • Zero days: 1
  • Total Ascent: 11,004 ft.
  • Total descent: 11,608 ft.
  • Blister count: 0
  • Notable injury count: 0
One of the countless beautiful vistas that can be found in the desert

After spending a few days with friends in San Diego it was time for me to begin my trek. I was lucky enough to receive a free ride to the southern terminus from a woman named Stephanie, whom I met through Facebook. She gave another hiker (Rob from Seattle) and I a ride in her brand new Tesla and refused any form of compensation. She said she was headed down that way to do some trail running anyway.

After getting to the terminus, a few unceremonious photos were taken, and I made my mark in the log book. Shortly after, we were off. Rob and I hiked for most of the day together in the brutal heat. It only peaked at around 85, but the sun exposure really compounded on it. We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of water available and ended up making camp at mile 11.2. There were a few other hikers there, including ‘White Noise’ from the UK who hiked the AT in 2016, Myerta from Holland, a young couple from Canada, and a man in his mid-forties named David. After shooting the breeze for a while we found out that David had very limited backpacking experience. He was extremely gung-ho about the trip and brought a great energy to the camp. It was clear his enthusiasm was invigorating everyone around him.

I broke camp at roughly 6 am on day two and made quick work of the 8.8 miles into Lake Morena. After getting a sandwich and a shake at the famous malt shop, the plan was to hang out in the shade for the rest of the day. The malt shop employees let me hang out there to avoid the heat. Throughout the day the other hikers I had made camp with rolled in and we talked about our treks. The highlight of the afternoon was meeting one of the locals that wore a shirt with “I support Trump” emblazoned on it. The shirt also sported a small InfoWars logo on the sleeve. After approaching our table and asking about gear, he started to talk about some pretty serious conspiracy level stuff including, but not limited to, God breaking off Africa from Pangea first, vapor domes, the Great Flood, and incorrectly claiming that Pangea was actually called Patagonia. After David, Myerta, White Noise, and I politely did not respond, he left. David and I had the pleasure of informing the foreigners at the table that this was not so uncommon in America. After the Malt shop we made camp at the campground and I shared a Natty Daddy with a hiker named ‘Cheeks’. For the uninitiated a Natty Daddy is a tall boy of 8% Natty Ice, and it is just as disgusting as it sounds.

I broke camp early again hoping to beat the heat and hiked solo until mile 26. After drying out my tent there and eating a quick snack I was met by Cheeks, TJ, and Peter. All three of them were men in the low to mid-twenties from various parts of the US. Cheeks and TJ were previous ultra marathon runners and Peter was a seasonal worker who had just spent 6 months at Outdoor research. They were a great group of guys and we decided to hike together. After summiting a hill a few miles from our break site, we were met with day hikers who looked to be in their 50’s. They were exceptionally tan from head to toe. How do I know this? Because they were butt ass naked. One sported a Yosemite Sam tattoo on his butt cheek with the text ‘back off’ under it. You can’t make this stuff up. When passing them they let us know that a few miles up the trail there was a great watering hole where you can get naked and hang out. We decided not to take their advice and pushed on to Cribbets Flat, where we were met with some incredible trail magic.

Holly, ‘Tacos and beer’, and ‘Fruit Bowl’ have been providing trail magic for 19 years, and their experience shows. They had a full array of grazing food, sandwiches, beers, and candy that they shared with us. We hung out there for a few hours, and just as we were leaving, a full spread of Mexican food arrived. Who could pass that up? We happily waited while some of the group wolfed down a burrito and then we hit the trail. Throughout the day we leapfrogged other hikers we had seen on previous days and ultimately made camp at Mile 38. There we were joined by a French woman named Marion. She spoke very broken English, but made an effort to get to know us. Marion was interested in what states we were from, but had not heard of any of them. We ended up drawing a big map of the US for her, states and all. After a brief dinner, the group crashed.

We hit the trail as a group at 6:30 and we made quick work of the four miles to Mt. Laguna. TJ and Cheeks were in incredible shape and were committed to doing nearly 20 miles every day. Peter and I were feeling sore and our plans didn’t have us putting up those kinds of numbers until a few weeks in. We decided to hang out at Mt. Laguna for the day and said our goodbyes to TJ and Cheeks. Unfortunately, the small town of Mt. Laguna has become a bit hostile to hikers over the last few years. We heard a few horror stories from other hikers about how they were scammed by the lodge or taken advantage of in some other way. Peter and I headed over to the campground and were met by the ‘PCT Wolverines’, an organized group of trail angels who provided hikers with food and drinks. As it turns out, Peter knew one of the wolverines (an angel named ‘Climber Steve’) as they had worked together at Outdoor Research. The Wolverines gave me a pack shakedown and then we were about to be on our way. But first, the Wolverines had to pawn as much food and drink off on us as possible. They were about to end their weekend of trail magic generosity and wanted to get rid of everything. On top of the food we ate while we were there, Peter and I were given 2 bags of chips, a quarter bottle of Irish whisky, a 12 rack of PBR’s and a few grams of weed (even though we told them we don’t smoke). Not wanting to pack out 9 pounds of beer, Peter and I spent the afternoon distributing and drinking the PBR’s with other hikers we found in town.

Even though we had hiked 18 miles the day before and had already put up 4 that morning, Peter and I decided to head out and made camp at mile 47.8. Miles 45 to 55 are located on a ridge known for high winds. The campsite we found was not an official one, but was a small clearing in shoulder-high brush. The bushes provided decent wind protection and we ended up not having any issues. We were later joined by Myerta and another woman from Holland. After eating the chips and drinking the whiskey we headed to bed.

The next day started at a sleepy 7:30 as we were a bit hungover and only planning to hike 10 miles. After getting some water a few miles from our camp, we heard that there might be rain in the afternoon. Knowing this, plus the fact that the rest of the trail until Julian did not contain any water sources, Peter and I put together the following plan: 1) Hike fast to the last water source before Julian and make camp there. 2) Break camp at 2am the following morning. 3) Night-hike the ~16 miles to Scissors Crossing before the sun gets too intense.

This plan rewarded us in a couple of different ways. After high-tailing it to our campsite at 61.5, arriving at roughly 2 PM, we set up our tents and it immediately began to rain. All of the other hikers we talked to in the following days said they got rained on while hiking. We spent most of the afternoon napping and eating dinner in order to prepare for our very early start. The Plan to night-hike worked out beautifully as we were met with cool temperatures throughout the morning. We broke camp at 2am and were on the trail by 2:30. We hiked the 15.5 miles to Scissors Crossing nearly non-stop and arrived at 9:30. After waiting with a few other hikers we got a hitch into town from the wife of one of the hikers we met on the trail. She was a very jovial woman and gave Peter and I a pretty serious ‘Mom talk’ that culminated in making sure we didn’t talk to any trail hussies. Again, I will be ignoring the unsolicited advice from strangers. 

Peter and I after the sunrise during our final push to Scissors crossing

After arriving in town, Peter and I got a free slice of Pie at the famous ‘Mom’s Pie shop’ and then parted ways. Peter said he wasn’t ready to be back in civilization yet and caught a hitch back to the trail. I was still ravenously hungry as we had not stopped for breakfast that morning and went to Miner’s Diner for a burger. Feeling a food coma coming on, I got a room at the Julian Lodge and proceeded to take a very well earned shower and a nap. A few hours later I woke up and headed to the post office to pick up my bounce box. Even though I have used the USPS hundreds of times with no issues I was still nervous about my package not being there. Of course, there were no issues and I was able to pick it up.

I’m writing this as I take my first zero day on the trail. So far I have been able to avoid any injuries and my legs are feeling considerably stronger than when I started. Things are going according to plan for the most part, but I am actually quite a bit ahead of my schedule. I was planning on taking roughly eight days to make it to Julian, but it only took me six. My plan of averaging 10 miles a day for the first week felt reasonable, but I ended up averaging 12.8. My body felt comfortable with it so I allowed it to happen and went with the flow. I’ll be carefully monitoring my mileage over the next month or so in order to prevent any overuse injuries while my body is adjusting to life on the trail.

I’m excited to head out for the next leg of the journey. It’s a short 33 mile stint to Warner springs where I will take a zero day and resupply for the trek to Idyllwild.

The last leg of the trek to Julian
Photo credit: Peter King
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The Gear

Throughout my training, my pack has continued to evolve. Each training session at Henry Coe State park revealed new things to me and my pack changed accordingly. Originally, it came in at just over 20 pounds. With constant reevaluation, consideration, and planning I have reduced my base weight to 14.3 pounds. A respectable number, but a far cry from the ultralighters coming in at 5-7. I’m confident with my pack as I feel like I have everything I need, and it comes in at a full pound lighter than the average thru-hiker that completed the journey in 2018 (per the annual gear survey).

The absolutely indispensable ‘Halfway Anywhere’ PCT gear survey: https://www.halfwayanywhere.com/trails/pacific-crest-trail/pct-gear-guide-2018/

Now that my trip is just four days away, I feel comfortable claiming that this is my final, final gear list. Below is a gear list of everything I will be starting out with.

The Big Three

  • Osprey Talon 44 Pack
    • Large Rain cover
  • REI Magma 30 quilt
    • Cocoon Sleeping Bag Hood Pillow
    • Thermarest z-lite SOL sleeping pad
    • Stuff sack
  • Nemo hornet 1P Tent

Water System

  • Sawyer squeeze
  • Cnoc Vecto water container 3 Liter 
  • 2X 1L smart water bottles
    • 1x screw top
    • 1x flip top

Clothing

  • Outdoor research Helium II Rain jacket
  • Mountain Hardware Stretchdown hooded Jacket
  • Nike Therma-Sphere Element dry fit Shirt – long sleeve
  • Nike Running dri-fit running shirt – long sleeve
  • 2X Aididas Synthetic underwear
  • SmartWool Merino 150 Long underwear
  • 2X – Wrightsock Double layer silver escape crew
  • REI Sarah Roll up pants 
  • Outdoor Research Sun runner cap

Toiletries

  • Toothpaste tube
  • Electric toothbrush head
  • SPF 35 sunscreen
  • Burt’s beeswax chapstick
  • Toilet paper – 10 squares/day
  • Pills
    • Daily multivitamin
    • Tylenol
    • Cologen hydroslate

Miscellaneous

  • Talenti ice cream jar (for cold soaking)
  • Snow peak titanium spork
  • Julbo Sherpa glacier sunglasses
  • Petzl Tikka headlamp
  • Black Diamond ergo cork trekking poles
  • 2x PowerLix Knee compression sleeves
  • Bauerfiend Achillies tendon support brace
  • Bic lighter
  • 2X Nite Ize S-Biner Size 3
  • ID and debit card (not pictured)
  • The stick personal massage tool
  • KT tape roll (10 inch strips)
  • Ziplock bags
  • OPSack – Large
  • 3X patches Mole skin

Of course, This is not everything I will need for my journey. The Sierra Nevada mountain range requires a specific set of tools. For that leg of the journey I have selected the following items.

  • Oboz Bridger Mid BDry Hiking Boots
    • Will replace the Oboz Sawtooth II Low Hiking Shoes I will be wearing
  • Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons with ABS Plates
  • Mammut hardshell
  • Black Diamond Raven Ice axe – 70 cm
  • BearVault BV500 Food Container

The intent of this post is not to be entertaining, but informative. When I complete my journey 6 months from now I will make an updated post coving what gear I liked, did not like, and what failed on me.

Featured

The Planning Phase

There is no doubt that hiking the PCT is going to be a daunting task, but for me, all the preparation and planning is proving to be even worse. I have always been allergic to detailed planning; In general I prefer to have a loose idea of what I am going to do and then modify my plans on the fly as required. For better or for worse, since this is the approach I have always taken,  I’m taking the same approach with the PCT. The amount of preparation required for a 5 month endeavor is turning out to be massive, and I  am finding it to be quite labor intensive. Just to get my loose plan in place has taken a tremendous amount of time and energy,

Now that the planning phase for my hike is complete, I’m going to attempt to share with you everything I learned along the way.  And when my hike is over, the intent is to make a follow up post about my planning: what worked and what didn’t, and what I would do differently given the opportunity. 

There are quite a few challenges I encountered while planning. The main hurdle for me was that all of the information needed had to be piecemealed together; there wasn’t a one stop shop for everything you needed to know. This means that I had to do quite a bit of research before the planning even started. While not a particularly difficult thing to do on its own, there were a couple of unique challenges associated with doing the research. The first was that I basically had no idea whether or not the source I was referencing was reliable. Over time, the number of people that have hiked the PCT has grown significantly. In the last decade we have seen an explosion in both the number of people hiking, as well as the number of people completing the trail. This means that there are now far more sources to draw from compared to previous years. But this is a double edged sword. Now that there is so much data available at one’s fingertips, I didn’t have to go too far to find conflicting statements. This was true for nearly anything on the trail. Many sources of information were people’s personal recollections of what they went through during their hike. These experiences were viewed through the lens of their skill levels, hiking comfort, year-over-year trail conditions etc., and often did not map perfectly to my own circumstances. Wading through this and finding resources that I felt good about was difficult. 


Source: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/thru-hiking-long-distance-hiking/2600-miler-list/ 
Notes on the data: this does not account for the number of people number of people attempting the full trail, the completion rate, any biases occurring through non-reporting (because of the advent of the internet), or people making false claims. 

While not perfect, the collection of documents and resources below are what I have selected to plan and execute my hike. I have tried to  exclude any sources that are solely personal, like blogs or video logs. 

Personal logistics document 

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/15UF6YSyGeq_ERHRX8wMAmIitd1I7tIsOdaLEb_4348w/edit?usp=sharing

This document is self-generated, and is the ultimate output of all of  my extensive reading, culling and planning. It outlines when and where I will stop, as well as  my resupply strategy.

Even though this document is carefully crafted and tailored, I am prepared (and expecting) to throw it out the window. Everything I have read says that you need to be adaptable while on your hike, and I plan to be as flexible as possible. Fires, varying trail conditions, injuries, and general disarray make it basically impossible to stick to a set plan. I have set up the file to be parametric, which will allow me to spontaneously change things as needed. Adding and removing stops, changing daily mileage, and altering resupply strategy are all fairly straightforward within this document. In addition, you’ll note that I won’t be sending any hiker boxes to resupply locations prior to the hike – everything will be done while on the trail. This allows me to retain optionality in  stop locations at the cost of some additional labor while on the trail. Given the severity of the current winter,  a ‘living document’ felt like the best course of action, as I may decide to skip or flip-flop certain sections.

Town guide 

http://asthecrowflies.org/pctpacific-crest-trail-town-guide/

The town guide maintained here is an indispensable piece of information. Knowing where I can and cannot resupply is a big deal. It also has quite a bit of detail about what the town has to offer besides actual supplies. Knowing when I’ll be able to stay in a hostel or get some wifi  will be key for my sanity. This document is something that is maintained by a single person, but it appears to be reputable as I have seen it referenced by a few others. The owner has also hiked the PCT 5 (!!!!) times, making them somewhat of an authority. 

Water sources 

https://pctwater.com/

This document is a big deal, particularly for the Southern California portion of the trail. The site is basically the go-to link for water information on the PCT. They maintain and distribute a living document that outlines all water sources on the PCT. They do this by aggregating information from people on the trail, and updating the document every few days. It allows them to deliver the best possible information to hikers. This is one of my lifelines on the trail; I doubt I would have the courage to do the hike without this.

PCT Snow conditions 

https://www.postholer.com/snow/Pacific-Crest-Trail/1

This is the source I will be using to decide where to send my snow gear. My ice axe, crampons, and extra layers  will add a few pounds to my pack, so making sure I am not carrying them  unnecessarily is important. In addition, I may end up skipping sections of the Sierras due to snow conditions, and this source will allow me to make an informed decision. 

Craig’s PCT planner 

https://www.pctplanner.com/plan.php

This is the de facto best way to plan your PCT hike. It has been used by many hikers throughout the years and is a great way to figure out where you are going to resupply. I ultimately decided not to  use this planner, but instead make something sustainable(??), in order to gain as much familiarity as possible with my plan. I referenced this planner  quite a few times while making my own.

PCT 2019 Facbook group

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PCT2019/

This Facebook group is exclusive to people hiking the Trail in 2019. It offers a great way for people to coordinate, communicate, and provide real time feedback about trail conditions. While not something I used to generate my plan, it is something I will be monitoring often throughout my hike 

PCT Trail Angels Group 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/pctangels/

This Facebook group is meant to be a communication forum between the PCT trail angels and the hikers. At some point I’m going to be in a bind and will need to ask for help. This is the place to do it.

Guthook app 

https://atlasguides.com/pacific-crest-trail/

Guthook is an app for your phone that allows users to post real-time information about the trail. It is the app to use for finding campsites, locating water sources, figuring out where you are in relation to the trail, and getting notified about trail closures. PCTA.org reports that roughly 70% of the trail has cell reception. But guthook allows you to download the maps  and the associated information beforehand, which can be reference later (even when you don’t have reception)

Pre-hike checklist

https://thetrek.co/pacific-crest-trail/pct-thru-hike-list/

There is quite a bit of ‘life stuff’ that needs to be done before leaving for a hike. This checklist provides good scaffolding for everything you need to do to put your life on pause for ~6 months. I used this list to build an action items tracker to make sure I didn’t leave anything undone before my hike

Why?

‘Why?’ is far and away the most common question I get after telling people that I’m hiking the PCT. It’s certainly a reasonable thing to ask, given where I was in life at the time of my decision.  This post is an attempt to explain my rationale for making such a big move. A lot of people expect to hear that there was a single driving force that pushed me into hiking the PCT, but the reality is that it is a combination of many factors, both internal and external. 

When people ask me why, they most often specifically ask “Why are you hiking the PCT?”.  Much to my surprise , they never ask “Why did you quit your job?”. I assume that they think I quit my job solely to hike the PCT. The reality is that I quit my job because I needed to take time off. The driving force behind that is pretty simple; I was burned out and needed to do something else with my life. I spent three years working a demanding job for Apple on the team that was responsible for their personal computer lineup. The role often took me to China, which accounted for roughly 20% of my time. Spending so much time overseas in combination with the horrible jet lag it caused was enough to significantly affect the way I could live my life. It took me some time to realize it, but I ultimately figured out that traveling was really taking its toll on me. I needed a break. After discussing this with management, it was determined that I wouldn’t be able to be a part of the team without  traveling, as it is a big part of the job. At roughly the same time, I heard about a great opportunity within the company, and I became very excited about it. I began discussions with this team; one thing led to another and I successfully moved over to the new group. The job was very similar, but thankfully would not involve traveling to China for a year. 

To say that this new position was my ‘dream job’ is actually a bit of an understatement. I was working with a young, hungry, and extremely talented group of individuals on technologies that we were all ferociously passionate about. Every person on the team believed at their core that what we were working on was going to have a noticeable impact on how people lived their lives. On top of this, we were basically granted every resource that we needed to do our jobs —  a dream scenario for a design engineer. I knew that this was the environment that I was entering when I moved teams, and my hope was that this new environment would help rid me of my burnout. As good as it was, it did not reinvigorating me in the ways I had hoped. I spent almost a year with the new team and, unfortunately, the feelings of burnout never really left. 

Around nine months into my time on the new team, they sent me back to China — my 14th trip in three years. Feeling the sting of travel again, I knew that the job change alone was not enough, and that I needed to take time off. After requesting and the subsequent denial of a year long sabbatical, I put in my two week’s notice. 

But the burnout is only part of the story. Deciding to hike the PCT is an entirely different endeavor than taking a year off. I could just have easily traveled to various places, backpacked around Europe, or done so many other ‘low effort’ things. So why the PCT specifically?

I chose to do the PCT for a number of reasons, the first of which is that I wanted to challenge myself in a way that I had never been challenged before. Working at a major tech company for four years makes you very comfortable in a number of different ways. They make it a point to enable you to work as much as possible. This means being compensated well financially, of course, but they do a number of other things that make you very dependent. They offer incredibly inexpensive food, gym memberships, easy-access healthcare, and other ’support systems’ that are so good it would be foolish not to take advantage of them. Buying into the system they set up makes you reliant on them, and breeds a sense of comfort. Knowing that there are significant support systems in place that you can fall back on can make you lackadaisical. In general, I actually think companies offering these incentives is a good thing, but I found myself feeling I could not really take care of myself, because so much of it was done for me. Comparatively, doing a long thru hike would certainly push me complete opposite end of the spectrum and force me to be extremely self-reliant.

In addition to pushing my limits, I wanted to experience the outdoors in a way that was totally novel. I have done a number of backpacking trips, but only short stints out in the wilderness. The PCT will last somewhere on the order of 5 months, meaning I will be totally encapsulated by nature for an incredible length of time. When I moved out to California, I drove across the country and was lucky enough to see the intense beauty and range of landscapes that the United States possesses, and I truly enjoyed that experience. Similarly, the PCT covers quite a few different climates and environments, from the deserts of Southern California, to the snow-capped peaks of the High Sierras, to the lush forests in Washington. Hiking the PCT means I’m going to experience a huge chunk of what the US has to offer, and I am looking forward to taking it all in.

There were also a number of smaller factors as well that helped bolster my decision. I’m single, I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage, I have my health, and I am lucky enough to have the means to do something like this. It’s overwhelmingly likely that these things are transient, meaning I won’t have the same opportunity in the future. If there ever was a time I can do something of this magnitude, the time is now. In passing, I have spoken to quite a few people who are older than me. Many of them had said that either: 1) doing a big adventure like this was the best decision they ever made, or 2) not doing it when they had the chance was one of their biggest regrets. I recognized the incredible opportunity I had and decided to go for it.