"Much after a beginning is difficult, as anybody knows who has crossed the sea, and as for the first step a man never so much as remembers it; if there is difficulty it is in the whole launching of a thing... The first step is undertaken lightly, pleasantly, and with your soul in the sky; it is the five-hundredth that counts." -Hilaire Belloc
23 days until I stop working. 28 days until I say goodbye to my family and step onto a bus for San Diego. 30 days until I start walking north.
It's all slowly settling into place.
Paperwork and starting logistics are done. My long-distance hiking permit, my California fire permit, passport, Amtrak tickets, San Diego plans, and Canada entrance permit are all finished.
My gear is almost there. I now have my food bag, Spot (GPS tracker and emergency beacon), and my micro-spikes for crossing snow. I tried on some Altra Superiors at REI to get my shoe size, so I can order a lighter color online for hot desert days ("Can I try a Men's 13, yes I have big feet, yes, these shoes make my feet look small"). Now all I need are an ice axe, my shoes, and some fresh toe socks and water bladders. It's looking like my base weight will be just above 13 pounds (not including water, food, fuel, and map weight). I'm happy with it, and it will probably drop some more once I start getting rid of things when I'm hiking. Or increase as I decide to carry dog treats in my hipbelt for chance opportunities. I'm not switching anything big out at this point, and will just wait until I start hiking to decide what I want to change; there really isn't any point to mulling over at-this-point theoretical decisions.
I'll begin constructing my resupply boxes the week or two before I start, although I have a lot already collected and sitting in a Trader Joe's bag next to my gear pile/mountain.
I haven't gotten any negative reactions so far when I tell people that I'm hiking the trail (my mom has). Everyone from friends, to friends' parents, to co-workers, to the woman on the phone when trying to figure out insurance have been positive and excited. I attribute this to the fact that I'm shy/introverted and don't strike up too many deep conversations with strangers who won't understand who I am or let alone why anyone would do this, and that because of Wild most people have at least a cursory exposure to the trail and so the goal of thru-hiking a long trail has become legitimized.
I'm excited. But I'm also nervous, a bottle of subdued nerves, and in denial that this is an actual concrete thing that I am attempting to do. This is all just fun planning, and the assertion that there is actually a trail that goes from Mexico to Canada is some elaborate ruse thru-hikers play on the rest of us; very funny, guys.
But seriously, there isn't much time to be actually excited. There is too much to think about, too many anxieties humming in the background, too many piecemeal aspects of preparation to complete. At the same time that I'm solidifying my commitment to a goal, Canada, I'm processing the reality that a traditional thru-hike of walking every section of the trail may not be as feasible this year with all of the snow. It's possible, but will involve significant snow travel and possibly additional mountaineering gear (I'm strongly averse to wearing boots, especially if they have ankle corsets) and hiking Washington into late September with rain, cold, and the threat of snow.
All I know is that I will just have to wait and see and remain flexible; it's still more than two months until I'll hike into Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierra. It's all speculation, which I'm sure will get intense once I hit the trail and enter the grapevine.
I go over all of the passes that I hiked last summer in my mind; Forester, Glen, Pinchot and Mather, Muir. This time, their steep scree and boulder pitches covered in feet of slippery snow. Passes which, in summer, are traversed with tight switchbacks that make them no more dangerous than the valleys below. I can't say that I'm not a little bit terrified when I imagine hiking up through the granite-bathtub valley south of Forester, searching for the little notch in the battlements that is the pass.
My hike last summer makes these visions much more vivid and concrete. It's easy to descend into this mental fear-mongering, and the best way to stay sane is to keep thoughts and emotions about the PCT on the back burner, on simmer to keep them on a constant verge of boiling over, and focus on tasks that I can complete with my hands.
So, am I excited? Of course I am. But it's tempered, kept to a buzzing in my stomach, an automatic internal focus on things PCT. I know this won't be easy, and moments of pure excitement are rare. I'm hunkering down and fervently getting ready, while also very-slowly winding down my normal life.
Can I really only be starting in 4 weeks?
I just finished separating out my maps and Yogi town guides into portions I can send out to resupply stops. I don't know how other people have done it- I think they may be sending out more map packages so they don't have to carry as much weight. There is surprisingly little online literature on this. The portions I have weigh from as little as 4 ounces to just over 1 pound. I will probably separate the heavier packets again once I figure out where I will be getting packages from home and friends. I mainly want to minimize having to stress about getting into town before a P.O. closes, especially if all I'm getting is maps. But, I also don't want to get frustrated with carrying a ridiculous amount of weight in maps.
Right now they're separated into legs between places I know I will be sending boxes. Campo (start) to Warner Springs a hundred miles in, Warner Springs to Kennedy Meadows which is the last town before the Sierra (I need to separate this one- no point in carrying maps for 600 miles). Kennedy Meadows to Tahoe (where I will be going home to Reno for a few days), and then Tahoe to Ashland, Oregon. And finally a big map package sent to Ashland, where I will be making resupply boxes for much of the rest of the trail where there won't be as many good stores.
I started my drive home from Geometry and this was peeking out of my rear-view mirror. Parked the car and ran up the nearest mountainside.
Every day we miss the sunrise and sunset because we're inside or asleep, even though they're the most democratized form of natural beauty.
I can't wait for this to be the first thing I see when I open my eyes and the last I see before shutting them, almost every day this summer.
"It's getting very real right about now."
I think I've said that more than half a dozen times over the course of the last two months, when the conversation turned to my 8 year old and I walking from Mexico to Utah via the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT). Every little milestone earned a "it's getting real now" label, no matter how insignificant.
Tonight I realized I misplaced out flight plans--to the point I couldn't remember what airline we were on, what web site I booked it through. Nothing. Thank God for some good ol' sleuthing and Paypal's documentation; Now I know we are flying on United into Phoenix next week. NOW it's real.
My anxiety over leaving isn't regular hiker anxiety, although there's a touch of that too. A few years ago I was diagnosed with actual anxiety. At the time I thought it was damn near preposterous. After all, I am one of the few people who doesn't get nervous speaking in front of crowds, or asking people for large donations, or walking through a Florida swamp. I thought anxiety meant being fearful of the things most people are terrified of, but in reality, my anxiety is more like, "I'm painting the house so in case I die on the trail it will be easier for my husband to sell." (Yes, these are actual words that came out of my mouth.)
To be clear, I don't believe I'm going to die on the trail, nor do I think bad things will happen to me. That's the sneaky part about anxiety: it makes you think things that aren't realistically going to happen are actual possibilities. The fear is real, the scenarios are borderline fiction.
That anxiety manifests itself in other people around me; they have "normal" anxieties about our hike. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked if I carry a gun while hiking....well, let's say I could buy a nice gun! I don't worry about criminals on the trail. DO they exist? Probably. But in the greater scheme, the hiking community is a group of people that fiercely protects its own. It's like a bond between outdoor misfits: most people look out for each other, and that element of humanity is what truly makes a trail pure magic.
So now you know I would rather spend four days in a swamp (or six weeks in a desert) than go to the mall or sit in a crowded movie theater. Amazon Prime is my friend, and there's an endless amount of re-packing currently occurring in our house.
Until next time...
After a huge camp feast with Tom, and another relaxing evening in the hut, I decided I might as well head home early from this trip. I'd explored all the places I really wanted to explore, and had had phenomenal weather for it all. It sounded like the weather was going to get warmer and less pleasant, so why not?
I skied out through light snow, got all loaded up in my car, and then decided to only partially leave-- the night I would have stayed in the hut, I stopped at Mt Chase Lodge for a second night. And a good decision it turned out to be! The roads toward Bangor had all kinds of black ice, and the forecast for tomorrow is lots of rain.
A successful trip into the Monument indeed!
Today was a day for exploring lots of off-trail places with lots of lovely views. But since I'd like them to remain relatively unknown, I'll only tell you that the scenery was phenomenal and that I'll definitely be back soon. It's not often that you get really wonderful off-trail navigation conditions in Maine, so this was a real delight.
When I got back to the hut, Uncle Tom had arrived on his fat bike and gotten the stove roaring. It was already a warmer day than the previous two, but cranking the heat was just fine. Another relaxing evening in the Monument. Tom is the only person I've seen since day before yesterday. Another rare treat in the Maine woods.
Usually staying in a cabin or lean-to helps me get an early start, but lazing next to the wood stove in the morning ate up a bunch of time. No loss, though. It's a beautiful, clear day with blustery wind and more frigid temps. And it's an easy walk to my destination for the day.
I took a morning walk to The Lookout, a low mountain with fine southerly views over the southern half of the Monument, especially Deasy and Lunksoos mountains, and the Wassataquoik Stream valley. The view to some of the peaks in nearby Baxter State Park are pretty great, too, including North Turner, North Brother, and Katahdin.
I was back down by lunchtime, since the hard packed snow on the old logging roads was easy walking. After that, headed out for some exploring on unmaintained trails along other old logging roads. There's a lot to explore out here. I'm guessing a mountain bike in summer would be a great way to find all the hidden areas of the Monument.
Back at the hut for the evening, and another relaxing night. I haven't seen a soul in over 24 hours. Pretty cool.
Ten miles of cross-country skiing with a pulk-- that's the longest one-day ski I've done, and the first time with a pulk. I thought it would be a good idea to get an early start, but hanging out with the folks at Mt Chase Lodge after breakfast turned out to be too tempting. Plus, the sub-zero temperature and strong wind all day didn't push me too hard to get outside.
Once on the trail in the National Monument, I was skiing on rock-solid snow the entire day. Lots of thaw-freeze cycles had helped pack the snow down, even without the grooming on the Monument trails (all of which I traveled on today were old logging roads, so good for skiing and biking). Luckily, most of the trail today was mildly graded or steadily uphill. On the way out I'm going to have a hell of a time on the downhills!
There were a few scenic stops along the way. Lunch at Haskell Hut, then views at Haskell Deadwater campsite (a must-stop for backpacking or paddling in other seasons, I think), and the rapids at Haskell Rock. Then a short side trip to Messer Pond.
I arrived at Big Spring Hut at the end of a long uphill and was thoroughly exhausted. I'd seen half a dozen people on the way in today, but at the hut it was just me and the wood stove for the night. Icy cold outside (still below 10 degrees at the high point today), so sitting down with some reading and a toasty fire is in order for the evening.
I'm starting this trip with the easy life, staying at Mt Chase Lodge near Shin Pond Village. I figured it would be a nice way to start the trip, with a warm bed and home-cooked meal, but the plan may backfire by making it that much harder to go out into sub-zero temps in the morning.
All the other guests here tonight are in town for snowmobiling or ice fishing. I'm the only crazy one with cross country skis and plans to stay out for several days. Just the way I like it. And as an extra bonus, Bear and Sparkles, who also hiked the AT and PCT the same years as me, are part of the crew at the Lodge. Small world.
I'm stuffed with a wonderful salmon dinner, and enjoying some fine company and a lazy evening. This is what winters in Maine are all about.
Winter backpacking is a very different beast from warmer seasons. Alcohol and canister stoves are out for me- rather, I take a seriously high-output white gas stove that will function down at temperatures in the -30° F range (I've tested this on more than one occasion). I also get to take more perishables because the world becomes my refrigerator.
On this trip, since I'll be using a pulk (sled) to carry most of my gear, I'm also not worrying about food weight. So I'll bring a lot of extra food, including some dinners that are a lot fancier than what I normally backpack with. The daytime snacks are the usual-- trail mix, Lara Bar, Snickers, fig bars, chocolate, etc.
Dinners on my menu for this trip include:
Yeah, all pasta, but a bit nicer than my usual "just add boiling water" meals.
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