It’s official. I have my permit. In only ten weeks I’ll be at the Mexican border to start my 2,660-mile journey northward. Right now, that day feels like it’s a lifetime away, but if I’m not careful, it will be here before I’m ready.
Even though I have a fair amount of backpacking experience, I’ve been spending absurd amounts of time researching the trail. There are plenty of books to read, documentaries to watch, and online forums to browse. I’ve talked with people who have done the hike before, some of them multiple times. I attended a class at a local outdoor gear store. (Shout out to Gary at the Mountain Shop!) I’ve connected with other people who will also be doing their first thru-hike this year. I’m starting to develop a severe case of information overload.
Fortunately, I already have most of my gear. I recently bought a new backpack and I’m about to upgrade my hammock, but most of what I’m carrying will be the same equipment I’ve used in the past. While this will be my first long-distance thru-hike, I’ve done solo hikes as long as 300 miles, which has given me plenty of time to find my hiking style and dial in my gear. This definitely gives me a leg up in the preparation department.
Probably the biggest task in preparing for a thru-hike is planning food. Many people simply buy food in towns along the way, but this is a very expensive way to eat low-quality food, and requires extra work during the hike. I am choosing to dehydrate my own food and ship myself resupply boxes. However, this is where my past experience becomes unreliable. I know how to plan my diet for a 300-mile hike, so why can’t I just multiply everything by nine? Even after 300 miles, my body is still running on energy it stored away while consuming beer and pizza in the city. By the second month of a thru-hike, this energy will be depleted and my caloric needs will increase dramatically. How much? I don’t know yet, because everybody is different, but many hikers report needing 5000-6000 calories a day by the end of the PCT. This leaves me analyzing the nutrition in my food in a way I never have before. How many calories in a spoonful of olive oil? How does the protein-per-pound of quinoa compare to that of lentils? This is the sort of activity that can lead to a nervous breakdown.
I have recently begun buying and preparing the food I’ll be taking. I will elaborate on this process in another blog post.
Of all the new challenges, however, the most exciting is preparing to produce a podcast from the trail. There are a few existing podcasts on the subject of hiking, but I believe mine will be the first to be produced from the trail. I have enlisted the help of folks more experienced than I in determining the best gear to use. With the help of a friend I’ll be assembling my own high-quality, lightweight microphones. (This topic will also get its own blog post.) Another friend has contributed theme music. I set up this website. I’ve been practicing my recording and mastering skills, not to mention my interview and monologue techniques. I listen to other podcasts daily for research and inspiration. I’m brainstorming segment ideas and constantly talking out loud to myself. Yes, the line between inspiration and madness is a thin one.
I am training for my thru-hike by walking as much as I can. I try to walk at least 10 miles every day, sometimes with my pack on. Recent pickup soccer games have made me realize that I could also use more cardio exercise. Really, though, the main reason I am training is to keep my joints in shape (especially my knees and hips) to minimize the chance for injury at the beginning of my journey.
Ten weeks to go. I need every one of those days to prepare… and yet it still can’t come fast enough.