As opposed to following the traditional format of a daily trip report, I hope to give you a glimpse into a few of the experiences we had on our seven-month trek across America.
It had taken over a year and a seemingly endless amount of planning to get here. If we were to have driven from our home in Toronto, Canada to Campo, California, it would have taken 38 continuous hours to cover the 2548 mile distance. 2548 miles. Just 102 miles shy of the 2650 miles that we would hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacicic Crest trail (PCT). Admist the chaos just outside of the airport, our first task was spot a van with a yellow pom-pom sticking out the window and hop in.
Sam and I had spent our first night of the journey sleepless in San Diego. Camped alongside thirty or forty other hopeful hikers, we had attempted to sleep under the stars in the backyard of Barney (Scout) and Sandy (Frodo) Mann. Scout and Frodo are trail angels, who over the years have been kind enough to drive hundreds of hikers to the remote starting point in the Sonoran Desert. By chance, we had chosen to begin hiking on the same day that the local news channel was recording a feature on hikers attempting the PCT. As a small convoy of minivans left the suburbs of San Diego behind, the news van followed closely.
There was a certain nervous energy in the van, as we had all read the statistics stating that less than half of those who attempt the trail actually complete it. Regardless, there was some comfort in knowing that we were not alone in this endeavor, and that we had shared a common goal. As we drove along the highway, I couldn't help but mentally unpack all of the gear we had meticulously researched and weighed back at home: two long sleeve shirts, one pair of pants, three pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, one water filter, two 2-L water bladders, two additional 1-L bottles to store extra water, stove, fuel, and the list went on...
As the van turned onto a rough and unpaved road, I snapped back to the here and now, listening closely as Barney shared some of the amazing experiences he had during his own PCT hike. He told us that the journey we had begun today, would likely change each and every one of us. I don't think it was until well after we had hiked the last mile, that I fully understood what he was trying to convey.
Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail can be likened to the stages we all go through in life. First, you start off as a 'child,' inexperienced, yet full of excitement and energy. The first few weeks you learn how to walk... how to really walk. Starting off slow, with lower mileage days, until you are able to comfortably walk an average of 25 miles per day. During this time, you learn a hiking style that works for you. The best time to get up, how to most efficiently organize and pack your gear in the morning, when best to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also what food items to buy when you resupply so as to maximize your calorie intake, at minimal weight penalties.
As you progress into 'young adulthood,' you become more confident in your decisions. Through the hardship of the desert, you build the stamina to tackle the first large mountain range, the High Sierras. Due to the extreme elevation gains in this particular section, your total daily mileage usually slows. Beyond the Sierras and into 'mid-life' you enter the less rugged and flatter terrain of Northern California and Oregon. After months spent on more challenging terrain, this trail was built for big miles and long days. It is not uncommon for hikers to average 30 mile days in this section
Finally, as you approach the end of the trail, with your body’s fat reserves long gone, everything begins to slow down. The miles become more challenging as you enter the difficult terrain of the Cascades Mountain range in Washington State, hiking the final stretch towards the Canadian Border.
Hiking the PCT is an experience so completely foreign from anything most have experienced before. It allows you to meet and connect with people from all over the world and from all walks of life, without predisposition. Normal societal identifiers, such as your job, the neighbourhood you live in and what you can afford, are largely irrelevant on the trail. If there was anything that I underestimated when Barney spoke those prophetic words, it was the impact that the people I met would have on me. As the miles drew on, acquaintances solidified into friendships that would endure throughout the trail and beyond.