Reflections on Hiking 1,000 Miles of the Pacific Crest Trail

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Passing the 1,000 mile marker on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Passing the 1,000 mile marker on the Pacific Crest Trail.

We passed the 1,000 mile marker a few days ago. It was a milestone to trump all the others (4 digits!), and yet the marker itself was the smallest of them all so far. We’ve been out on the trail for over two months now and so much has happened since we hit our first milestone and even took our first step. So here are our thoughts after walking 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail:

The Best Shape of our lives

This last stretch of trail was relentless. We clocked no less than 4,000 feet of elevation gain per day and still were able to make 20+ mile days. With the elevation and terrain, this was about all we had time for, from sunrise to sunset. That we can even do this, day in and day out, is no small miracle, but it’s obviously had profound physical consequences.

We’ve both lost a significant amount of weight. Indiana is at a level of skinny on par with his high school days. I haven’t seen a lot of change on the scale but we are clearly much slimmer. Waistbands and hip belts will continue to be a problem, I’m sure.

A hiker sporting an intense farmer's tan.

A hiker sporting an intense farmer’s tan.

I have also never been so tan in my life. That isn’t saying much, because I am the Princess of Pale, but it just goes to show what constant sun exposure does. And there hasn’t been a single day on the trail that I’m without full sunscreen coverage and a hat. Nikita is able to tan much darker than I am and has the most ridiculous tans on his legs from his shorts and on his wrist from his watch.

This is me everyday: big hat, polarizing sun glasses and a thick layer of minty chapstick with zinc oxide. Come and get it, sun! ...Actually please don't.

This is me everyday: big hat, polarizing sun glasses and a thick layer of minty chapstick with zinc oxide. Come and get it, sun! …Actually please don’t.

One of the biggest physical changes? Absolutely insatiable hunger. Hunger so persistent and encompassing that it starts to define you as a person because you have no other habits other than hiking and eating. Since the Sierras we have been babysitting our stomachs with constant food and attention.

If you’re beginning to get concerned, don’t worry, this phenomenon is normal. It’s called “Hiker Hunger” because it’s such a big part of thruhiking.

The rest of our bodies have mostly adapted to the wear and tear, though we did start to get blisters again around the 1,000 mile marker, strangely enough. My feet no longer hurt, but curiously, they swell whenever I’m in town. It’s like they’ve been conditioned to hike and only hike.

So Many Shoes…

People say you’ll go through anywhere from 3 to 5 pairs of shoes on the trail. I think 5 pairs is mostly an exaggeration, unless you’re wearing Brooks Cascadia 10s (a shoe I almost went with), and in which case, you might be in your 5th pair already.

The Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes are a popular choice for thruhikers this year. Unfortunately, the latest model, doesn't seem to be holding up as well as the Cascadia 9s. Here, an old pair, literally hanging on by threads, contrasted with the shiny new pair.

The Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes are a popular choice for thruhikers this year. Unfortunately, the latest model, doesn’t seem to be holding up as well as the Cascadia 9s. Here, an old pair, literally hanging on by threads, contrasted with the shiny new pair.

My pair of Salomon XA COMP7s aren’t the sexiest shoe around (the only they person I’ve seen wearing them was a dayhiking grandma), but I don’t really care given that they lasted over 900 miles. That is crazy durability for a hiking shoe. And what’s more, the tread was still in good condition and usable, I had just worn out the sole completely and no longer had any support. When I got my new pair I was shocked at how much wear my old pair had in them. I am a Salomon brand believer now.

Stuff breaks and that’s ok

Gear is like your body, it may not be in peak condition, but you don’t have much choice but to hike on.
Indiana lost the tips for his trekking poles almost 600 miles ago. Another hiker on the trail tried to convince him that he’d never make it over Mount Whitney or Forrester Pass without the tips of his poles, and I don’t think Indiana has had any problems with them, not even on those hikes.

That same hiker told me I’d “never make it” across the river crossings in my Crocs, that the rushing water would just “suck them right off my feet.” That never happened. They might not have been ideal, but the river crossings took about 2 minutes time, and I wasn’t about to invest in $100+ pair of Keens just for those 2 minutes every several days.

If only all river crossings were like this one. Sometimes I wish I could just wade them all, because  every time I have to rock hop a stream I freak out a little bit and panic my way across.

If only all river crossings were like this one. Sometimes I wish I could just wade them all, because every time I have to rock hop a stream I freak out a little bit and panic my way across.

It’s better to be functional than over equipped.

Hitching is easiest where people are familiar with hikers

When you need to go into town, usually every 5-7 days, you’re usually faced with a transportation dilemma. The trail doesn’t snake it’s way nicely through all the mountain towns of the West, instead it spits you out on some mountain road and you have to stick your thumb out to get to civilization.

Men complain about having a hard time hitching, and while it’s probably a little easier for me, it’s the easiest where the locals are familiar with hikers. We had a 3 part hitch into South Lake Tahoe and the third part took over an hour and a half. Nothing but out of towners and old folks gunning past us and staring at us like we were scum of the earth.

Hitching doesn’t mean you’re bad news or dirty or poor, it just means you don’t have a ride. When I have a car again, I resolve to pay my dues and pick up more hitch hikers.

Mountains make their own weather

Whatever they want, whenever the f— they want. Snow, sleet, hail. They’re mountains, you can’t tell them what to do.

A PILE OF SKY ICE.

A PILE OF SKY ICE.

This was when I found out what it feels like getting stuck in a Sierra hail storm. Hail is like rain, only much more painful.

Yosemite National Park

Or, when a national park has tons of money.

We took a day trip into Yosemite Valley from where we were waiting on mail up higher in Tuolumne Meadows. It was miserably cold and wet and I saw that Yosemite was forecasted to be 20 degrees warmer. We hopped on a free hiker bus, ecstatic to be warm and dry for the two hour ride.

Once there, the park was a shock to the senses. The valley itself is stunning, and even in the Sierras a true testament to the grandeur of America’s Natural History. However, if the free, fancy hiker bus was any indication, Yosemite benefits from plenty of funding that has equipped it with ample infrastructure we have not seen at any National Park anywhere on the trail. Actually anywhere period.

It felt like being in Disneyworld. Tourists swarmed. Buses chugged in and out of stops, taking people on scenic park rides and dropping them right off at trail heads where they could go admire the famous landmarks and views of the park.

We also got a great meal at the deli and a solid resupply at the fully stocked grocery store in Yosemite Village. Go figure.

If only more of our parks were as coveted.

The Journey From Here

The most characteristic and scenic parts of the trail are done, or so they say. Now comes the test of will power, or so they say.

California isn’t done yet. Nope, there are still 750 miles of Northern California wilderness, and on the PCT scene they are deemed to be incredibly monotonous, mentally trying miles.

If this is a preview of the NorCal section of the Pacific Crest Trail, maybe it ain't so bad.

If this is a preview of the NorCal section of the Pacific Crest Trail, maybe it ain’t so bad.

In order to combat this impending boredom, I have loaded up my phone with copious audiobooks and podcasts to keep my mind occupied as I CRUSH MILES. At this point I don’t know if I could go a day without media on my phone. That’s not true, I just enjoy the miles more with them.

A few miles after the 1,000 mile marker we stopped to break and a profound sense of… pointlessness set in. We had just left the Yosemite National Park boundary, and the change in scenery was stark. It’s as if the rangers are manicuring the forest with all of that funding they have, or the park creators drew their boundary line, ruthlessly excluding anything that wasn’t breathtakingly beautiful.

As it was, I had no idea we were about to climb Sonora Pass, one of the most beautiful parts of the Sierras, and the dry, bleak forest was depressing. The scenery had suddenly changed, NorCal was supposed to be long and unimpressive, and we still had 1,650 miles to go.

I asked myself why I was doing this. Like really, why did I want to walk 2,650 miles? I started bargaining. Maybe I would just skip NorCal altogether. Then I realized that this was the next challenge.

We have taken our bodies to a physical peak, and now it’s time to really test our focus, drive and will power. This is the part of the trail where you simply don’t quit, because you’ve never accomplished anything on this scale before, and you want to see if you can.

We Might Not Finish at This Rate

Even though I don’t want to skip at this point, we actually might not have a choice. We are slower than the average thruhiker, and unless we really ramp up miles and drive ourselves hard (something I don’t want to do), it’s unlikely we’ll get to the Northern Terminus of the trail before the winter snows start falling and make the trail impassable. Our options include finding boring or dry stretches of the trail to skip so we can get ahead a little easier, or “flip flop,” something I’ve resisted until now. Flip flopping the trail means getting to a section ahead and going at it from the other direction, in our case, going Southbound. Sometimes this is a better way to get to a resupply, but for us, it would be a way to ensure that we see the beautiful parts of the trail in Washington, before we’re snowed out.

I don’t like this only because I don’t get that very chronological progression of finishing. Even though we’ll have done the same mileage as the full thruhike, I want to walk up to the monument at the end and pop the Champagne and cry just like everyone else.

NorCal and especially Oregon, however, are supposed to be much easier going, especially after acclimating to the Sierras, so it will- theoretically- be a lot easier to do higher mileage days. We’re going to see how this plays out, because frankly, we need to do a lot more miles per day if we’re going to get to the end on time.

If only all the miles looked this nice. Actually that would probably get boring too, sadly.

If only all the miles looked this nice. Actually that would probably get boring too, sadly.

So much has happened, but there’s still 1,650 miles to Canada. We’ll let you know how it goes!

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