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 . . .

Perhaps.

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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.

The Logistics of a Life on Foot

Although I’ve been Dreaming of Life on Foot, hiking around the USA on the National Trails System, the logistics seem unmanageable. To hike just the Pacific Crest Trail would take a minimum of six months, assuming I could walk 10 to 20 miles a day through often-rugged terrain. And that assumption is very optimistic. I get exhausted just walking a mile or two up steep hills. Still, if walking were a way of life, I could walk a mile, rest a while, walk another mile since there would be no reason to hurry to finish the trail. Well, that’s not true. There is one reason — winter. People try to finish the trek in six months so they don’t have to deal with inclement weather — neither the heat of desert summer nor the harsh climes (and climbs) of mountain winter.

Like other through-hikers, I could probably send food ahead so that I wouldn’t have to cart a wagonload of provisions. I could probably map out the watering holes (and from what I have heard, some of these holes are little more than stagnant puddles). I could perhaps even get in shape for such a trip (though the trip itself would get me in shape). But so many other problems seem insurmountable. For example, what would I do with my car? Do I park it at the trailhead and hope it is still there (and the battery still charged) when I return? And if so, how do I return to the car? Would it be better to put the vehicle in storage, and hope I can find a ride to the trailhead? Or do I sell it, and use rental cars in between jaunts? (Since I don’t have a charge card, renting cars isn’t really an option.)

And what about connectivity? I suppose I could just take off and forget about computers and phones and such, but this blog is important to me. I could write my blogs on the trail, and then post them when I got back to civilization, but that could be many weeks, or even months. I could get a solar charger, which would probably be necessary since a working phone would be nice to have in an emergency, but I have a hunch most of the trail(s) would be off the grid anyway.

And what about mosquitoes? Mosquitoes love to feast on me, but my body hates them. I get sick from even a single sting. And I’m allergic to mosquito repellent, even — especially — citronella oil. Until my current (temporary) relocation to the desert, I have always had to be careful to be inside by dusk. It’s only because this seems to be a mosquito-free area that I’ve been able to go walking at night with the Sierra Club. So the idea of camping out in bug season is a bit ludicrous. Can’t you just see me, trying to hike, swathed in yards and yards of mosquito netting?

And what about my eyeglasses? Do I need to have extra pairs with me or stashed in my sent-ahead supply boxes? The same with shoes. Do I break in two or three pairs of shoes, and have those packed in the supply boxes, too? I am not on any medication, but I do take supplements to keep me healthy. Do I forgo those and hope I don’t get colds or allergies or pains that don’t go away?

I thought my original idea of living on the road — perhaps sampling the trails or visiting all the national parks and in between staying at motels or extended stay hotels — was complicated, but that plan seems simple in comparison to a life on foot. I would be out in the wilds for just a few days at a time, I would be not too far from my car (which would provide emergency shelter or an emergency getaway), and I would be able to access my blog and recharge my phone every few days. I could even pass out gifts with information about my books to everyone I see. That was the original purpose of an extended trip — to promote my books — but the idea seems to metamorphose the more I think about it.

And there is a lot to think about. Of course, since my current responsibilities might not end for several years (I am looking after my 97-year-old father, and there is a good chance he could live to be 100), I have plenty of time to wonder, and dream, and prepare for whatever the future might have in store for me.

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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.

Dreaming of Life on Foot

Once upon a time when I was going through a rough patch in my life, I considered just taking off and walking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail. I figured by the end of the hike, things would be different, or I would.

The rough patch passed, as bad times often do, but I have retained that image of hiking the length of the trail. I don’t remember why I chose the Pacific Crest Trail since I was also enamored with the idea of the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps I was confusing the Pacific Crest Trail with the Pacific Coast Highway, and envisioned a walk along the trailscoastline. Surprising to me now is that although I lived in Colorado, I wasn’t aware of the Continental Divide Trail, or if I was aware of it, perhaps it was too close to home to seem romantic.

And that’s what the idea was — romantic. I know this now. Recently I’ve been on a couple of short hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail (a thrilling taste of that old dream), and I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories, suggestions, cautions from my fellow hikers. For example, my idea of hiking without any sort of preparation, just finding the start of the trail and heading out, is not practical. Through hikers, those who hike the entire trail from top to bottom (or rather, bottom to top — they generally start out at the Mexican border and walk up to the Canadian border) often spend months in preparation, drying foods, mapping water holes, sending ahead care packages to themselves at various places along the trail. They need to be prepared for emergencies, all weather conditions, and whatever might overtake them on the trail. (Apparently, most through hikers make the trek alone, so my idea of walking solo was not too farfetched.)

Someday my current responsibilities — looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with my perhaps bipolar brother — will end, and then what? What will I do? Who will I become? I’ve been checking out various trails in the US, and if I were so inclined, I could spend the rest of my life on foot. Thirty different trails comprise the National Trails system, and many states seem to have additional trails, such as the Oregon Coast Trail that extends for 400 miles from the Columbia River to the California Border, and the Colorado Trail that runs 486 miles from Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango.

A friend of mine recently bought a motor home, and she plans to live on the road until she finds a place to settle down. That, too, is a romantic idea (also practical), but not for me. I prefer to be less cumbered, to go lightly through life. But so lightly as to live with only that which I can carry or send on ahead? I don’t know. Still, I can’t help wondering. And dreaming . . .

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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.