Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Sometimes I have to laugh at my pretensions. Yesterday I half-jokingly told my sister I was thinking of walking up to Seattle to visit her, a mere 2,500 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. She, like almost everyone else to whom I have talked about my dream of hiking the PCT, mentioned Cheryl Strayed’s book.

I’d never heard of the book before the idea of hiking the PCT took hold of me and I started telling people about my dream, and I must admit, I was disappointed to discover how much of a bestseller Strayed’s book was. I’d planned to keep a journal of my adventure, posting it to my blog when I reached the major towns along the way (El Cajon, Idyllwild, Big Bear, Aqua Dulce, Tehachapi, Kennedy Meadows, Mammoth Lakes, South Lake Tahoe, Sierra City, Chester, Burney, Mount Shasta, Etna, Ashland and White Pass). And perhaps, someday publish it as a book. A bestselling book, of course.

But, as I told my sister, since Strayed’s book is already published, on bestseller lists, with a movie about to come out, my book would merely seem a “me too,” as if I were as if I were riding on her coattails.

And here is where I had to laugh at myself. What does her book and her success have to do with me? I have never written a single word about my journey because, of course, there is no journey. I haven’t walked a single step on my way to Seattle. I don’t know if I will ever walk a single step. (I have hiked approximately 14 1/2 miles of the trail, but I wasn’t going anywhere, just walking with a group of Saturday hikers.) Unlike Strayed, I am not a young woman. I don’t know if my body or any parts thereof would hold up to such a grueling feet. (I know that’s a misspelling, but I kept the typo because . . . how perfect!) Even if I were to hike to Seattle or at least a part of the way, I don’t know if the story of my travels would lend themselves to a book — you need more than just a recounting of adventures to be readable. You need heart, soul, uniqueness, growth.

Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to read Strayed’s book, but the truth is, I want my own epic adventure, not an echo of someone else’s. Still, I have been doing research for the journey. And what I’ve been reading has given me pause.

Some of the worst weather in the country can, and does, occur on the Pacific Crest Trail, so you always have to carry equipment for foul weather, even during the summer. You need an ice axe, and knowledge how to self-arrest to keep from sliding into oblivion. Waterways can be too swollen to cross. (My feet got soaked last weekend just from trying to cross a tiny rivulet, not much more than a puddle.) Long stretches of the trail have no water source at all — none — though it is recommended that hikers drink a gallon of this non-existent water a day. And even where water is plentiful, you need a water purifier that is effective against giardia and bacteria. You need wilderness permits. You need a bear canister to protect your food in bear territory. (Yep, long sections of the trail wind through bear country.) And you need food, lots of food — a through hiker, one who travels the whole trail or long sections of it, needs up to 5000 calories a day, and you have to be prepared since there are few places to replenish supplies — sometimes you have to hike more than 200 miles in the wilderness before crossing any sort of road.

Yikes. No wonder more people have scaled Mount Everest than have through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.

And yet, the idea still appeals to me. So what if I have to hole up in one of the few towns along the way until the snow melts? It shouldn’t be a problem for me since I wouldn’t even attempt such a thing as walking to Seattle until/unless I were completely free, and I’m not. I still have responsibilities.

But one day, when I have nothing else to do . . .



Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

7 Responses to “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail”

  1. mfriedelhunt Says:

    I know folks who have hiked the Appalachian trail and one going this summer. Do read and study and prepare…and have a super time…..You might consider lopping off a couple hundred miles and have someone meet you at the end of that segment just to get the taste of it. I do not have the guts to do that or the stamina…but if you go….I believe it can be life changing.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      There is also a sort of coastal trail (it seems to be a series of interconnecting walkways and paths) — that might be sort of a compromise. Not as rugged or as dangerous as going over the mountains.

      I also wanted to do the Appalachian trail, but that is a long way from here.

      You’re right — maybe a couple of hundred miles instead of the whole thing. Or just go and see how far I get.

  2. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    When I was younger, I thought certainly I would make time to hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Then I would move out West and hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m glad you’re out there doing it even if you’re not yet sure about walking to Seattle.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m lucky that I get to live the dream if only in a small way. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll do more than a day trip. I just can’t see myself in the High Sierras with an ice axe. So not fun!

  3. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I’ve hiked on small pieces of the trail in different locations. There are many spectacular views. Once you get up to it, the going isn’t too bad, at least where I went. Hiking is not my thing, partly because it happens outside where there are insects and cold winds 🙂

  4. leesis Says:

    I’d walk to your sisters. Read nothing and use your brain. You already know what you need. Start buying it bit by bit as you care for your dad and survive your brother.

    Why not Pat? I don’t mean this in a meaningless ‘go you’ way but truly. Folk need to take big leaps. It seems to me when I take big leaps that excite me I can almost use peoples reactions as a barometer to how fulfilling my leap will be. The more nay sayers (don’t know how to spell that :))…the more fulfilling and ‘worth it’ the journey was for me.

    I guess reading your thoughts and experiences over the last years Pat lead me to think…maybe incorrectly…that an adventure like this, not forward organised beyond physical survival but certainly with a comfortable destination in mind like your sisters, would be an amazing journey for you.

    And yes you should write it. The wonderful thing about sharing our true stories is we get to see each individuals unique version and I can imagine that reading your walk…about the things you think and feel and see and the folks you meet would be brilliant. I’ll buy the first copy 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You are right that walking to my sister’s would be an amazing (and perhaps necessary) journey for me. I need to take a big leap. I can almost sense that something wonderful is in me, just waiting for such a leap to bring it to the surface. Grief has taught me that when we go beyond what we ever imagined, we find . . . awesomeness.

      Walking along the coast instead of the crest would be a completely different journey with its own difficulties. I don’t imagine it will be as easy just to step behind a bush to relieve oneself, or just lay out a sleeping bag when tired, but then, who knows what such a journey would bring. I’d like to find out.

      I walked three miles last night with a five-pound weight in a backpack, and although I did it, my feet were sore. Still, it’s the first step in preparing for my journey.

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