Monday, September 23, 2013

PCT - Final Thoughts

This post is just a wrap up of what I thought of the hike, what I would do differently and how I feel after.  I might edit it later as things come to me too.

When I first planned this crazy trip out, I had no idea whether or not I would succeed.  I think that uncertainty hamstringed the first half of my hike.  If I had more certainty in myself I would have  made the decision over winter and had more time to devote to preparing, gearin' up and logistics like resupplying more by mail.

As far as gear, for the most part I used what I had instead of buying new stuff and ended up with a fairly heavy base weight - around 16 pounds starting out.  That went down to around 15 when I mailed some things home.  If I had bought a new tent, new sleeping bag and lighter pack (since I wouldn't be carrying as much weight) I could have easily gotten under 10 pounds.  Then I would have carried my better camera and gotten much better photos than the point and shoot I chose to save weight.  That's probably my biggest regret, not bringing my bigger camera.  It's a valuable lesson, photographic weight is worth it on something that goes through this kind of scenery.  It probably sounds silly to not carry an extra pound but when you doubt yourself, you want every advantage you can get. I honestly had no idea how beautiful this trail would be, so hindsight is definitely 20/20. 

For planning, I would have bought a dehydrator and prepared maybe 50 or 60 dinners along the way, about half of what I ate on trail.  I'm glad I bought along the way and would still do that, but dinner was always the worst meal and seemed to lack the most variety from what you could get at a typical grocery store.  I think I would have also gone stoveless from the start but used the stove in the high sierras and maybe northern WA.  I switched from my alchohol stove to a peanut butter jar for rehydrating in Burney (~mile 1400) and really enjoyed being able to have dinner ready when I got to camp instead of one extra camp chore (really two when you have to clean the pot).  It also made resupply in town easier when you don't have to worry about buying fuel.  Out of all the ultralite things, I think going stoveless is the craziest to people who haven't hiked for weeks or months at a time, but when you just want to hike, eat and sleep it makes the most sense to me.  Sadly, my peanut butter jar was accidentally left behind in Baring and I had to make due with the plastic bags my Dad sent stuff in.  So long 28 oz Jiff jar!

You might remember my gear post here:

The 15 degree marmot sleeping bag was too warm, I replaced it with a feathered friends Vireo:  

The new bag weighs like 15 ounces, is 25 degrees on your legs and 45 on your chest.  It actually worked better than I imagined, allowing me to use my down jacket like a blanket if it was a little cold, or wear it inside the bag if it was below 40 or so at night.  I stayed "warm enough" when the temperatures dropped well below freezing in the north cascades by wearing everything I had except my rain pants (they were wet). I would say that strategy makes the bag work down to about 25 degrees but you won't be happy.  The zipperless design is just like using a sleeping bag liner so no big deal there.  The only downside is the footbox is too small for my size 12 feet and I should have ordered it 6 inches longer to compensate. 

The ULA Circuit pack I started with gave me pack rash, basically irritation covering the small of my back.  I replaced it with a Six Moon Designs Starlite pack:

It's entirely frameless but uses your sleeping pad as a frame and padding for the back of the pack in a little zippered pocket.  The pack works well but was way too big for the volume of stuff I was carrying.  The extra space might have been nice for a bear can in the Sierra's but it really was just too big a pack for me with all my crazy minimalism.  No pack rash and it weighs a full pound less than the ULA pack so big wins there though.  I found it carried better if I didn't compress my down sleeping bag and down jacket.  The shoulder strap system is a little wonky but works really well. 

I also saved about half a pound by switching to a Gossamer Gear Nightlite sleeping pad.  It's ridiculously light and more comfortable than the z-lite had earlier and which got pretty compressed by 1,400 miles of continuous use.  I liked sleeping on the flat side but wish it was an inch wider so my arms would fit a bit more than barely.   I found gossamer gear thinlite pad in a hiker box back at Ziggy and the Bears which worked great as a sit pad and doubled over for my feet.

Those changes and only carrying one set of sleeping clothes, one set of hiking clothes and up to 3 pairs of socks took a big chunk out of my base weight.  In hindsight, I should have used these instead:

Tent: Z-packs Hexamid solo plus - this would have saved 3/4 of a pound over my tarptent.
Pack: Z-packs Zero backpack - not the one pictured, I would have added a lot of extra stuff (side and rear pockets, load lifters, hip belt, ice axe loops, etc.) but the total would be around 8 or 9 ounces, saving almost a full pound over the six moons starlite.  Those two changes would have easily covered the extra weight of my larger camera.  Oh well, maybe next year?

Mentally, I thought after being in the woods for four and a half months would make me miss walking through the wilderness but I actually feel pretty good back in civilization.  I always looked forward to towns and eating real food so that probably helps.  The biggest difference to me is social.  On most of the PCT (aside from the sierra and WA), almost every hiker you see is a through hiker.  You automatically have a 2600 mile journey in common and can bond instantly over it.  You share so many values to make that kind of commitment that it's almost like a club.  Real life is full of strangers that you'll probably never talk to, have nothing in common about and don't really care about. With this in mind, I probably would have started at kick-off with most of the other hikers.  I could have taken the beginning slower, and probably met more people instead of passing by them at a faster pace. I do notice that I feel overwhelmed more easily when surrounded by a lot of people and noise, like at the hostel I'm staying at in Vancouver.  I really want to just walk away and read a book or watch a movie somewhere quiet.

Physically, my feet are sore every time I sit down for more than half an hour and they really hurt after sleeping until I walk around for a minute or two.  My legs feel sort of gelatinous but seem to work ok, no knee or joint pain.  I haven't had blisters for over 2,000 miles and my IT band issues seemed to disappear after hiking Mount Whitney but I have no idea why.  I'm hungry all the time and trying to eat a lot of veggies to make up for the crap food I ate on trail. I started the trail at 176 pounds and the last weigh in was somewhere around 165 pounds a few hundred miles from the finish.  I think I lost all the weight in SoCal, then started packing almost 2.5 pounds of food per day and things leveled off.  I may have actually gained weigh in Oregon.  Must have been the beer. 

Don't take this to mean I regret the hike, it's been the most amazing thing I've ever done.  I have a lot more self confidence after completing what I thought might have been an impossible task five months ago.  I've also learned a lot about what I'm capable of pushing myself through.  Some day I'll probably hike the PCT again, or at least a few chunks of it.  Until then I plan on exploring Vancouver a bit more, visiting a friend in Seattle and a few in Portland, then heading out to Moab to see some canyons in October with Sir Poppins, the guy I met early on in Washington.  Hopefully I can job hunt at the same time and do some traveling instead of twiddling my thumbs in my parents basement. 

Real life is still a ways off and I'll keep posting here and there. 


  1. Congratulations Mike - we've been monitoring your progress over the past months and vicariously enjoying the good bits and views you shared from our cubicles. Keep safe and enjoy the regular meals civilization can offer. 65 poiunds so far......and counting...

    all the best,

  2. I met you at the Gathering last week. I just now started to look at your blog. It's almost midnight, so I'll stop for now. I look forward to reading all of it. I hope/plan to hike the PCT in 2014. Thanks for sharing your journey through your blog, and congrats!!!

    If I have questions, could I email you? My email is