At the end of my 101 mile (~ 160 km) trek on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I was in high spirits. In fact, I felt like I could have gone on hiking some more. Now, I did not do continue hiking for various practical reasons, but it gave me the confidence to attempt an even longer backpacking trip. Thus, I soon plan to attempt a 500 mile (~ 800 km) backpacking trip on the PCT. 500 miles is only five times longer than 100 miles, after all.
In some ways, my upcoming trip will be easier. Specifically, there will be a lot more water sources, there will be a lot more shade, and most of the time the midday temperatures will be lower than the midday temperatures during my San Diego backpacking trip. Also, the days will be longer, which means more daytime hours for hiking.
But in most ways, my upcoming trip will be harder. First of all, there will be a LOT more rain. I am guaranteed to encounter at least a little snow (at one point, the Pacific Crest Trail crosses a glacier), and though I am going during a season when there will be no snowstorms, lightning storms are still a real and frightening possibility. Also, there will be mosquitoes. There will also be bears, which are not much of a danger, but does mean I will have to be more careful about food storage than in San Diego (in other words, I will be taking my bear can – yes, it’s heavy and bulky, but it’s the only food storage method which does not require me to be clear-headed when I set up camp – and ursacks don’t give me peace of mind). Since I got started as a hiker in Taiwan, I know something about hiking through rain, mosquitoes, and bear country (yes, there are wild bears in Taiwan) but having to deal with those conditions for multiple days in a row while sleeping in a tent will take the challenge to a significantly higher level. The trail will also be steeper, with more ascents and descents.
However, I predict that the greatest challenge will not be physical, but psychological. One of the things which kept my spirits high during my San Diego trek was that I was running into dozens of people on the trail. That is probably not going to happen during my upcoming trip. I will be going with the traffic instead of counter traffic (going with traffic means fewer encounters with people), and there will be fewer people in general regardless of the direction of traffic. I will probably have to spend many nights camping alone, and it is conceivable that I might spend days without seeing another human being.
I recently read The High Adventure of Eric Ryback, an account of what was supposedly the first PCT thru-hike in history. He had to hike through much more demanding physical/weather conditions than what I expect, and he was carrying about 80 lb (~ 36 kg) of supplies, yet for him, the loneliness was still the most difficult challenge. He speaks of ‘hunting’ people because he was desperate for companionship, and sometimes he hiked an extra 10+ miles just so he would not be alone at night.
One of my favorite passages from the books is:
I had had enough of nature’s cruel temperament and endless and destructive rites of initiation into her realm. I didn’t care to be alone with her, to retreat from humanity and civilization. I was on the side of people now – the many nice, intriguing people I had met along the trail. I had been disappointed in and frustrated with people from the many bad experiences I had had in high school and even before. I had cared only for my family and thought that only my family cared for me. I knew better now. Humanity was too kind and caring to give up on, and nature was too cold and brutal and fickle to endure as my only friend. I had gone in search of nature but instead discovered something I had never known before – strangers who cared and for whom I cared.
I am fairly certain I will encounter more people than Eric Ryback, but it will still be hard to deal with being alone with nature.
At this point, you may be wondering just which part of the PCT I intend to hike. First, I intend to hike about 70 miles (~ 110 km) from Seiad Valley, California, to Ashland, Oregon, which will take me over the California/Oregon border. That’s just the warm up hike. After that, I will hike from Cascade Locks, Oregon to Manning Park, British Columbia. Yes, I intend to cross the U.S./Canada border, which will be especially exciting since I’ve never been to Canada before.
I will have to stop at various cities/towns/ski resorts for transfer or resupply. Except for the towns in California and Ashland, Oregon, these are all places I have never, ever visited. If anyone is interested in meeting me in any of these places, you may drop a comment, and we’ll see if it will work out. Here is the list of places I intend to stop, in the order I intend to stop there:
Dunsmuir, California (transfer)
Yreka, California (transfer)
Seiad Valley, California (trailhead)
Ashland, Oregon (trailhead)
Portland, Oregon (transfer/resupply)
Cascade Locks, Oregon (trailhead)
Trout Lake, Washington (resupply)
White Pass, Washington (resupply)
Snoqualmie Pass, Washington (resupply)
Steven’s Pass, Washington (resupply)
Stehekin, Washington (resupply)
Manning Park, British Columbia (trailhead)
Vancouver, British Columbia (transfer)
Seattle, Washington (transfer)
I’m excited and nervous about this. It will probably be both awesome and awful. I will try my best to (em)brace the awful.