Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.Jane Austin
I met Wonder in Bellingham, Washington, when trail angel Karl picked her up at the bus station. She’s an engineer and approached walking the PCT with an organized mind – and a few month’s worth of resupply already boxed, stamped and ready-to-ship in a throw-away suitcase. I was impressed and knew I needed to step up my game! We hopscotched the entire thru-hike and she finished one day ahead of me. I was most impressed with her self awareness when it came to managing the distances.
I sit in the grass about ten feet from the trail, eating dried fruit. My shoes and socks are off, letting the heat and moisture dissipate. Suddenly, another hiker comes crashing by, sunglasses on, earplugs in, head directly forward. They don’t see me in my bright red shirt and pink hat. It is as if I am wearing camouflage.
This scene repeated many times a day, during the five months I spent on the Pacific Crest Trail.
I am not a fast hiker. I have been dreaming of a through-hike for over ten years, but I was unwilling to leave my job which had a fantastic vacation plan. For many years, I contented myself with shorter adventures, but my dream of through-hiking lingered.
Finally, I was laid off and I had my opportunity. But I had to go southbound. The southbound season is short and I knew I would have to move quickly if I wanted to beat the start of winter.
I prepared a spreadsheet as I planned my adventure, and discovered that I would need to average twenty miles per day, far beyond my typical daily mileage.
Could I even do it?
My body feels impossibly heavy as I stand and start packing. The next shuttle leaves in twenty minutes. I check my power-bank. Once again, it is only half full. I will have to ration my phone usage. A motley crew of backpackers lay splayed on the grass staring at me in disbelief. One has already told me I am crazy for not taking any zero days (rest days).
But I have only hiked 15 miles for the day. I know that if I don’t keep going, I will have to do 25 miles another day to make up for it. Twenty-five miles is at the limit of my abilities.
No. It is for the best if I head on. I look longingly at the snacks and goodies on the lawn, but my stomach is too full to hold anymore. The shuttle driver curses as he hefts my bag. I will be doing my eating on the trail.
I am very concerned about overuse injuries on this trip. I have two friends who both developed overuse injuries while attempting the Appalachian trail and had to end their hikes.
So I feared pushing myself too hard. I knew that any injury taking more than a few days to heal, would pretty much be the end of my hike.
On days where I get over-fatigued or things hurt, I stopped for the night. No 30 mile days for me. Still, I had a spreadsheet of target mileage to reach each day. I stayed on track by keeping my town stops short.
I crunch through the snow, belting out Christmas Carols at the top of my lungs. Snow and water drip down my jacket. I have plastic bags on over my socks to keep them dry. I look at the trail and see that there are no foot-prints. I have the trail to myself. No one will hear me sing. Indeed, everyone else is huddled in their tents just trying to survive. Because it is snowing and they have no pants!
Ultralight backpacking is all the rage in through-hiker circles. Which means people hike without “heavy” things like pants, food, or water in order to walk more quickly.
One girl told me she would hike overnight to reach town, because she had eaten all of her food.
During a steamy 19 mile, 7,000 foot climb up Mount San Jacinto, a young man came running up the mountain past me dripping sweat. He was running to reach the water source at the top of the mountain, since he had only packed a liter for the day.
It is sunny as I approach Bear Lake. My chest feels warm. My arms and legs relax. My eyelids close halfway. The lights sparkle off of the leaves and flowers and rocks. The world becomes a dizzying Kaleidoscope of beauty. My pace slows to a crawl. Even the lure of pizza cannot hurry me now.
I have been overcome by state of bliss as I have been many times on this hike. On this day, I am grateful to be slow. To hurry through this day would be a crime.
I never went fast during my through-hike and I never hiked over 27 miles in a day. My average hiking speed was approximately 2 miles an hour, but I compensated by hiking longer, typically starting at 5am and finishing around 7pm. I did finally take one zero day, due to a second snow-storm in the Sierras. I finished my hike one day after my original target date.
Hike your own hike! It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do!