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FAQs

These are the questions I get most frequently. Got one that's not answered here? Ask me and I'll try to answer it and get it posted to the site. When I finished, I also added questions I got when I returned.

Pre-Trip Questions

Q: What is this hike you're doing?
Q: Will you do this hike alone?
Q: How long will it take?
Q: When do you leave?
Q: How can you afford to take this much time off work?
Q: How much does a trip like this cost?
Q: How will you get food?
Q: You're not hiking in boots?!?
Q: So what will you wear on your feet if you are not wearing hiking boots?
Q: What's a bounce box?
Q: What have I done to pare down the weight of my pack (Part 1-Gear)?
Q: What have I done to pare down the weight of my pack (Part 2-Philosophy)?
Q: How far will you have to go to get water?
Q: What will you do after the trail?
Q: How was your departure from work? From Santa Cruz?

Post-Trip Questions

Q: How much did you hike alone?
Q: Did you see a lot of wild animals?
Q: How long did it take?
Q: What's next?
Q: How many pairs of shoes did you go through?


Q: What is this hike you're doing?
A: I'm hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It's a 2,658 mile trail from the border of Mexico to Canada. I'll start in the south in mid- to late-April, hit the Sierra by June, Oregon by August, and Washington by September. The California section alone is 1700 miles. The trail ends in Manning Park in British Columbia, just a few miles across the border.
My trip will take about 5 months, although I'm allowing 6 months so that I don't feel rushed. If my hike takes 150 days (about 22 weeks), my average daily mileage will be 17.5.
The weight of my backpack and its contents will be as pared down as possible. I'll only carry enough water to make it to my next water supply.
I'll get resupplies by leaving the trail and picking up packages, usually at a post office, about once a week. I'll meet lots of interesting people on the trail and when I head into towns. I've heard that a lot of locals are friendly and supportive.

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Q: Will you do this hike alone?  
 A: Yes and No. I'm not planning on doing the hike with anyone, but I expect to seldom hike or camp alone. But before I can tell you why, you need some information about the timing of hiking the PCT.
Each year hundreds of people start the PCT (and some of them even finish!) in a relatively narrow seasonal window that moves north with them. In normal weather years, thru-hiking (hiking the entire trail in one season) the PCT has two basic requirements: don't get to the Sierra too early (too much remaining snow), and don't get to the Cascades too late (early/normal snow in the fall). Consequently, we have a window in which to start, generally mid-April through mid-May. We all will move northward together. Consequently, I'll meet, leapfrog, and be leapfrogged by a lot of people. We'll all be sharing a common goal and have at least that in common.
So: instant friends!
Because a thru-hike can be such a financial, physical, mental, emotional, and possibly spiritual challenge, it's hard for two or more people to commit to doing the trail together unless their commitment to each other is stronger than the commitment to finishing the trail. Or at least that's how I look at it. Lots of people just start hiking together and see how far they get. The Menacing Vegetables (http://www.tannercritz.com/pct2000/) actually set out together with the goal to explicitly not finish the trail together. While I'm not hell-bent on hiking from Mexico to Canada at the price of my financial, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, hiking it from end-to-end is a feather I'd like to have in my cap.
I fully expect to hook up with one or more compatible people who have a similar itinerary and a similar pace, and hike with them for days and weeks at a time.
I learned this summer (www.frozenpoodle.com/jmt/) that I prefer to hike and camp with people. I know I need my alone space, but there's plenty of time for that during a day's hiking, and while in my bag. Stopping for a meal, a view break, a breath break, or to jump in a lake is A LOT more fun with company.

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Q: How long will it take?
A: It's a long way from Mexico to Canada, 2,658miles on the trail. If I do 20 miles a day with a zero-mile day every week, it will take me about 150 days. That's about five full months. But, I want to see some Shakespeare while in Ashland. I plan on going to the Summer Breitenbush Faerie Gathering for 5 days in August. I may try to go to Burning Man for the week before Labor Day. Plus, I should allow some time off the trail for healing - I hope I don't need it, but I have to be realistic. So, it will take about 5 months. I don't want to rush, but I have to finish before the fall snows in the Cascades.

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Q: When do you leave?
A: How much it snows in the Sierra this winter will help me determine when I leave. If the snow level in February is low or normal, my target departure date is April 20. If the snow pack is high, I may have to delay my departure. Or I can start hiking and hope it melts in the 6 weeks it takes me to walk the 700 miles from Mexico to the southern Sierra. Another option is a flip-flop: starting from Canada and working south to Mexico. They are the same miles, just reversed. Since a flip flop would put me in the Southern California deserts at the driest time of year, it's not the best option.
[I ended up leaving April 26th.]

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Q: How can you afford to take this much time off work?
A: How can I afford not to? This goal feels much bigger than any job. There will never be a *good* time to do this - OR - There will never be a time better than now. So, I'll have to quit my job.
Remember my last dispatch where I described my job as so-so? Quitting won't be such a bad thing. I will have been there 5 years and it is probably time to move on.
[Some people have complained that I didn't really answer the question, so... here it is.]
I can afford this trip because I planned and saved for 16 months, I asked friends and family for financial support, and I kept this trip as a priority. I had to make some sacrifices with my discretionary income.

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Q: How much does a trip like this cost?
A: I won't know until I'm done! I'll have most of my gear before I leave, most of it new or home-made. I estimate that the gear will come to $1300 (man, it adds up!). A lot if it is already purchased. I'll have 95% of my trail food purchased or made, and packaged, ready to ship out before I leave. I'll be buying very little on the trail. I'm still working on the cost of that, but it should be around $1800. I'll need between 5,000 and 6,000 calories a day just to maintain weight.
Then there's the off-the-trail expenses, like the occasional hotel room, the more frequent restaurant binge, and infrequent shuttle and gas costs, plus all those little things that add up when you are in town. I think these will set me back another $1800. Who can say no to a hot shower???
Back on the home front, I'll be paying for health insurance and online access/web space. I've got these expenses whittled down pretty low. So the total comes in at just about $5000. Somehow though, I just don't think it's going to be that much. It'll probably end up being more like $4000.

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Q: How will you get food?
A: (Actually, some people start this question with, "Are you going to carry all your food?") I'll get boxes mailed to me along the way. The interval depends on the stretch of trail, but generally I'll be getting my resupply boxes every 5-7 days. Dad and Susan will have all my boxes, and will mail them out at pre-arranged (and adjusted) times and locations. Most boxes will be sent General Delivery to a post office, but some will go to businesses or people on the trail who accept packages. These food boxes will also have the trail guide for the corresponding section of trail.
When I'm off the trail, look for me at the local restaurants.

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Q: You're not hiking in boots?!?
A: No, I'm not hiking in boots. When you are on a good trail and have a light load, hiking boots are overkill.

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Q: So what will you wear on your feet if you are not wearing hiking boots?
A: I won't be one of the people trying to hike the PCT barefoot. Instead, I'll be hiking in lightweight running and walking shoes. Because of some peculiarities of my feet, I'm taking the big leap and getting custom shoes made. I found this summer that high mileage amplified even the smallest problems with the shoes I train in. By the end of my JMT hike, my right toe was numb because of the fit of my shoes. On that hike, I only did 300 miles.
As I mentioned in my last dispatch, hiking boots are overkill. My shoes will feature lots of mesh and nylon, desirable for breathability. When leather hiking boots get wet, they stay wet as do the feet in them. When my shoes get wet, they'll dry fast. Dry feet are good way to keep blisters at bay. Plus they are more comfortable.

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Q: What's a bounce box?
A: A bounce box is a parcel full of things I might need, but won't take on the trail. I'll mail this box forward to a future town stop. I'll sort of bounce it ahead using the USPS.
My bounce box, also called a drift box, will be full of different supplies and tools. I'll have the big bottle of stuff like sun block in my bounce box. I'll use the big bottles to refill the small bottles I have in my pack. I'll also have extra food, reading material, stuff for repairing gear, extra first aid stuff, Palm accessories, and maybe even my laptop in my bounce box. My bounce box is my friend

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Q: What have I done to pare down the weight of my pack (Part 1-Gear)?
A: Getting pack weight down has involved a change in equipment and philosophy. I've embraced the lightweight backpacking techniques espoused by Ray Jardine in Beyond Backpacking. In this answer, I'll cover gear.
To cut the weight on my back, I've gotten the most versatile, lightweight gear possible. I'll enumerate all the changes between my old gear and my new gear on the web site, but to give you a preview, I'll talk about the big three: pack, shelter, sleeping.
 
Weight in lbs

Item

Old New
Pack 5.9 3.0
Shelter 5.2 1.8
Sleeping 5.5 2.0
With those three items, I save a total of 10.2 pounds! That's 10 pounds I won't have to carry 2650 miles! I'm also trimming weight on smaller items that won't have such a dramatic reduction in terms of total weight, but will have similar percent reductions. In addition, I'm bringing less stuff with me.

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Q: What have I done to pare down the weight of my pack (Part 2-Philosophy)?
A: Getting pack weight down has involved a change in equipment and philosophy. Last month, I looked at gear. Here I'll talk about the lightweight backpacking philosophies.
The biggest change in philosophy is: If I don't need it, don't bring it. Of course, I'll bring supplies for emergencies or injuries: things I should have, but hope to never need. Otherwise, I'm leaving it all behind. I'm only bringing the necessities. I'll have one change of clothes. I won't have a huge kitchen.

Part of the philosophy change is bringing multi-use items. I'll have a sealable plastic container for rehydrating food, using as a bowl and storage container, and to be back-up for waterproofing for my Palm. My sleeping bag will be warm enough for 98% of the time. I'll save a good deal of weight over carrying a bag that would be good 100% of the time. When it's colder, I'll put on my extra clothes, climb into my bag and be comfortable. At worst, I'll have a few nights where I sleep cold.

Another piece of the philosophy is to not camp. Say what?
The way I've backpacked in the past, we'd hike until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and then set up camp. We'd (sometimes) bathe, cook, and hang around until it was time to sleep. It's a nice way to travel, but requires more weight in clothes, the clothes you need to hang around in camp. Instead, I'll have the clothes I need to hike, and take breaks during the day to bathe, cook, and hang around. Why sit around a cold dark camp burning through batteries while writing a journal or reading? I'll be finding scenic spots in the sun or shade during the day for all this, then hiking till dusk. When darkness is near, I'll throw down my groundsheet, pad and bag, and sleep. No extra clothes for camp needed. My backpacking clothes will be airing out, and I'll be wearing my sleeping clothes. Of course, I'll have a warm jacket, but my sleeping bag will keep me warm at night.

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Q: How far will you have to go to get water?
A: Depends on where I am. In Southern California, the desert, the natural water sources can be unreliable. There's human water sources in the form of horse troughs and water stashes left for Pacific Crest Trail hikers by trail angels. If the natural sources are having a normal year, the longest I have to hike to get to the next water is about 26 miles. That stretch is on Hat Creek Rim in Northern California.
Since most of my low water sections are in the desert, I'll have to carry lots of water to cover that distance, probably 8-10 liters. 8 liters weighs 17.6 pounds, but it gets lighter with every sip.

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Q: What will you do after the trail?
A: The possibilities are endless. I want to travel a bit with the idea of finding a home. I'm trying to find out how I could be on Survivor...Anyone know how to submit an application?

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Q: How was your departure from work? From Santa Cruz?
A: Great and easy. Work had a going-away lunch that was well-attended by people I really enjoyed working with. Then my office mates threw a bagel and juice party on Friday. I got the last of my projects done and left at 5 on Friday, April 19th to have dinner with my Mom.

Had lots of good connections as I left Santa Cruz. Bart and my going away party was on Saturday, and the heartcircle there was amazing. Sunday, I went to Dance Church for the last time, and joined some faerie friend for a potluck and heartcircle. On Tuesday, Karen drove me from Prunedale to Santa Cruz. Bart drove me from Santa Cruz to the Quaker Center in Ben Lomand. Walter drove me from there to the SJ airport in the morning. David G. picked me up in Tucson. Tomorrow we drive to the starting point for the trail, Campo, California. Lots of short steps, just like my journey.

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Post-Trip FAQs

Q: How much did you hike alone?
A: I counted myself as being alone if I slept alone. During the day, I would be hiking alone for hours because we all had different paces, but most of the time we'd regroup at the end of the day.
I didn't keep track, but out of about 150 days on the trip, I slept alone maybe ten times.

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Q: Did you see a lot of wild animals?
A: I saw surprizing few. I think the noise of hiking poles scares them off. Restless lost his poles along the way and started seeing lots more wildlife.
I saw five bears in three encounters, saw (but mostly heard) a pack of coyotes, saw three rattlesnakes, maybe ten other snakes, saw and heard beaver, and deer. I think I saw every smaller mammal there is to see, like marmot, ground squirrel, chipmunk, etc. I saw a bald eagle, several osprey and osprey nests, several types of ground birds, mostly grouse, I think, and lots of other birds.
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Q: How long did it take?
A: A day short of 5 months. I started on April 26th, 2002 and finished on September 25th.
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Q: What's next?
A: Oh yes...that. I'm still working on it. I'm considering the Continental Divide Trail, maybe as soon as 2004. I'm pursuing a carreer opportunity that would get in the way of a 2004 trek, but that's OK.
I'm moving to Tucson to work for Outright Radio for 6 months starting in December 2002.
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Q: How many pairs of shoes did you go through?
A: Five. I had New Balance 805s, Montrail Vitesses, and New Balance 904s. I liked the 904s the best.
 

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