PCT and Me

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2650-mile National Scenic Trail bounded by the Mexican border south of Campo, CA and the Canadian border entering into Manning Provincial Park. The trail follows the “crest” of the Pacific along the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California, the Sierras across central and northern California, and the Cascades through Oregon and Washington.  

Each year, thousands of hopeful hikers set out to “thru-hike” the PCT, aiming to complete the trail from end-to-end within a single hiking season. These hikers – often fondly referred to as “hiker trash” – live out of their backpacks for months while recharging and resupplying at towns near the trail. Most northbound (nobo) PCT thru-hikers start between late March and early May, leaving late enough to avoid treacherously packed snow in the Sierras while trying to give themselves as much time as possible to reach the Canadian border before the winter snow descends in the Northern Cascades making further passage reckless if not impossible. For comparison, southbound (sobo) PCT thru-hikers typically start from Canada around early July – late enough to allow the sun to melt away some of the previous season’s snow in the Cascades.  

Trailhead for Three Fingered Jack near mile 2000 of the PCT

I will be taking my place as a hopeful PCT thru-hiker this year starting on May 10th, 2018. My start date is fairly late in the season, but I plan to hit the ground running (or walking quickly I suppose) to leave myself ample time to make my way north before the winter snowfall. I hope to learn about the stories and motivations of the people I meet along the way – all while taking in the indescribable beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail.  

My Story

I don’t recall when I first heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, but it’s lived on my bucket list as a pipe dream for a long time now. Even just two years ago, walking from Mexico to Canada seemed completely unreasonable. I had minimal hiking and camping experience – never mind backpacking. 

Fortunately, my job at National Instruments gave me the chance to travel all over the United States. No matter where I traveled, I would seek out beautiful and challenging local hikes, exposing me to a wide range of beautiful parks and trails. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I somehow started garnering a reputation as someone who knew how to hike – a fact unthinkable to me given what little time I spent outdoors prior to moving to Austin!  

Then in late 2016, my close friend Matt Lutomski invited me to hike with him over the Outer Moutain Loop in Big Bend National Park – what would become my first ever backpacking trip. I was beyond excited; although I enjoyed my destination day-hikes, I would often dream of exploring the remote wilderness beyond what was accessible. However the concept of backpacking seemed foreign and impossible to me. What kind of food and clothing should I bring? What safety precautions are necessary? Could I carry the weight of my gear with me for days on end? 

Luckily for me, Matt brought experience, careful planning, and extra gear to the table. We successfully completed the Outer Mountain Loop in three days finishing a whole day earlier than planned. The insurmountable wall that was backpacking was finally torn down, leaving me with a new view on what I was capable of accomplishing. Trips and hikes that seemed previously impossible were now on the table, and I knew that I had been introduced to a vast new world of outdoor adventures.  

Matt Lutomski walking along the Dodson Trail facing the South Rim of Big Bend

Shortly before departing to Big Bend, I also stumbled upon Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, a gritty and captivating first-hand account of Carrot Quinn’s first time thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Carrot tells her story from a very personal perspective that often invoked the feeling of being on the trail with her. Her experience hiking was anything but perfect; every thru-hike has its own share of challenges and frustrations. However hearing about those obstacles made the trail seem all the more real and intriguing, and they only reaffirmed my interest in the PCT. Combined with my experience at Big Bend, I was hooked. 

For weeks after, I pored over online discussions about backpacking trips, principles like Leave No Trace, and of course the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear. I devoured all sorts of thru-hiker blogs (including the trail journal of Linnea Delucchi, a friend I met through Academic Decathlon), and every passage I read made the Pacific Crest Trail seem all the more appealing. 

Why Now?

Late last year, I realized that I am currently have a perfect chance to attempt a thru-hike. Although the trail imposes a tough set of physical and mental challenges, it’s most often the logistical side that makes thru-hiking impractical. However I am lucky to be in what’s perhaps as close to an ideal position as possible; I am ready for a career change, I have the financial stability to finance a six-month break from the workforce, and I have no outstanding debts or relationships that would cage me geographically.

So what does this mean for me? I will finally get my chance to backpack the trail of my dreams. With nothing but the stars above me and the trail ahead, I am looking forward to having time to really introspect and discover myself, my limits, and what truly motivates me. This experience will hopefully expose me to more people with their own unique stories and teach me to better cope with stress and uncomfortable situations. And of course – it goes without saying, but I’ll continue learning how to appreciate the great outdoors. In the meantime, I’d also like to help more people have the chance to have more opportunities like this one by supporting childhood education. Our public school teachers often have to spend their own salaries purchasing classroom supplies, so I’d also like to take this trip to fundraise for teachers to give children the education they deserve.  

So here I am now looking to take my best shot at the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ll be updating my trip progress on this blog in an attempt to capture and share some of my experiences similar to how Carrot, Linnea, and many other thru-hikers have shared theirs. For those of you who’ve read this far, thank you so much for your support. I feel so unbelievably privileged – not only in having this opportunity, but also for all your support.   know how lucky I am to this regard, which is why I hope to use my trip to

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Thank you! 

Selfie atop the Franconia Ridge on the Appalachian Trail