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Cupcake's Tips for Future Hikers


This is a list of random things I thought about on the trail or after the trail, or learned while doing the research for the trail. My comments apply to a 'standard' thru-hike done from late April to late September.

1.  Plan to Hike Alone, then Make Friends
2.  Chips Rock
3.  Know your Water
4.  Treat Your Water
5.  Use Water Filter
6.  PUR Katadyn Hiker Water Filter
7.  Change Water Treatment As Necessary
8.  Use UPS
9.  Ship to Businesses, not POs
10. Know Your Shipping Locations
11. UPS Call Tags
12. On-Trail Zero-Mile Days
13. State Maps
14. Small Bounce Box

 

1. Plan to Hike Alone, then Make Friends
Don't commit to hiking the trail with someone else, with a few exceptions. "With someone else" means tying your gear and food togther. If you are in a committed relationship, and want to do the journey toegther, it can work out. Otherwise, it's fine to set off with another person, but realize that you may have different styles of hiking, need rest days at different times, or face the unexpected in different ways. The trail will change people in different ways. If you have your own gear and own maildrops, you can accomodate those changes with ease.

If you are worried about being alone, don't. Typically there are lots of people doing the same thing you are. You'll want to eat together. You'll want to camp together. You'll want to split a hotel room together. You'll make friends along the way. It's part of the trail experience. Small adjustments in your schedule will allow you to be hiking with someone. The same small adjustments can keep you alone, if that's what you desire.

So, if you are indepenent with your gear and food, you have all the choices. If you are paired up, you could find yourself wanting to do one thing, and then be limited by decisions you made before you hit the trail.

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2. Chips Rock
Carry potato or tortilla chips. They are high in fat, salty, and taste great even if they are smushed. Plus they can be an oasis of crunch in a sea of mushy, mealy backpacking food. Another plus: even the smallest of stores along the way have them.

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3. Know your Water
Let the water be easy. Know where your water is (The Data Book), take as much as you need to be comfortable, and drink it. Some people are comfortable rolling into the next water having finished all their water along the way. I liked to have a little extra when I arrived at my next water. In a normal year, water is manageable on the PCT. Don't freak out. It takes days, not hours, to die of dehydration.

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4. Treat your Water
Always treat your water. Just because you can hike 2700 miles doesn't mean a bug so small that you can't see it can't take you out. I know many people who had to leave the trail because of gut troubles resulting from not treating water.
The point was really brought home to me when I was doing cross country across parts of the Sierra. The water running from melting snow was traveling over and through marmot scat. Looks clean, but...

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5. Use Water Filter
Using chemicals, I found myself carrying extra water, typically weighing more than a filter would. I found myself carrying more water than I would need for a section so I could drink right away when I got to a water source.
Chemicals take 15-30 minutes to purify the water, so you'll end up carrying that water while it cleans up. A filter lets you drink immediately after pumping, satisfying your thirst. You can then 'camel-up' while at the water source and only carry away what you need for your next water leg. Water is the heaviest thing you'll carry (unless your are smuggling gold to Canada), so carry as little as possible.

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6. PUR Katadyn Hiker Water Filter
Consider taking a PUR Katadyn Hiker filter. The PUR Katadyn Hiker, as of 2002, was the lightest, best filter out there. The filter elements seem to last 600-700 hiker miles, so plan on replacing the filter accordingly. Note that PUR Katadyn has a 1-year guarentee, so they'll replace your clogged filter for free during your hike. Takes a little bit of juggling with PUR Katadyn, but at $30 a pop, it's worth it. Also, wrap a coffee filter around the end of your hose in silty water to make your filter last a bit longer.
I brought my MRS WaterWorks II (similar to MiniWorks) on the trail. It was heavier than the PUR Katadyn Hiker and had far less thru-put. It took me at least twice the time to get the same volume as someone using a PUR Katadyn Hiker. I bought a Hiker as soon as I could.

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7. Change Water Treatment As Necessary
Consider using chemicals on some sections and filters on others if you don't want to take a filter the whole way. I would consider using chemicals from Kennedy Meadows through the Sierra to Echo Lake or even Sierra City. I would definetly have a filter for all of Southern California, and most of Northern California. I have no opinion about Oregon and Washington, but would carry a filter.

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8. Use UPSor FedEx Ground
To save costs, use UPS rather than the US Postal Service. Do not ship "General Delivery" via UPS though. Find a street address of a hotel, store, campground, etc, check with that business, then go UPS. See next tip for more info.

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9. Ship to Businesses, not POs
To save time and stress, ship to businesses rather than POs. Having to adjust your hiking to get to the PO during hours and days they are open is possible, but if you have time to do the work ahead of time, find out where else you can send stuff. Will a hotel take your box even if you don't stay there? Can a gas station help you out?

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10. Know Your Shipping Locations
Some businesses that accept boxes are informal post offices, thus have hours for packages that are different (shorter) than the business'. Some places can give you your box any time. Other businesses are formal post offices disguised as a business, and have normal PO hours.

The biggest problem I had was at Snoqualmie Pass on Highway 90. It seemed like it was just a roadside store, but it had an unofficial post office burried in it. On a Friday afternoon I could get all my packages which had no tracking number, but none of them with insurance or delivery confirmation, which require official PO interactions. That meant waiting from Friday afternoon to Monday morning to get my boxes. Drag. UPS would have been better in for that drop, or I would have adjusted my schedule to get there earlier.

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11. UPS Pickup
Use a UPS pickukp if you need to. UPS can pick up boxes when you are not there, for example, from the hotel you were staying at. Call UPS, give them the info, including estimated weight, dimensions, pickup address, credit card payment info, and leave the box for pickup later. You may also want to leave a pre-stamped envelope for UPS to mail the tracking numbers to you or to someone on your support team. There is a fees from UPS for this service, but I think it's minimal. The next day (or so) a driver will show up with pre-paid shipping labels (generated from the phone call), slap them on the boxes and send them on their way. You'll be on the trail, hiking, hiking, hiking.

This is useful if you want to send your bounce box ahead, want to leave on a Sunday, AND you next destination has a street address, not a General Delivery address.

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12. On-Trail Zero-Mile Days
Plan on taking some zero-mile days on the trail. Not in town. On the trail. If I could pick three spots, I'd do one per state: somewhere in the Sierra, below the Three Sisters, and a day out of Skykomish. You'll be glad you planned for it should conditions allow you to bask. Tell your hiking partners before you leave the preceeding town so that you can have company and not lose theirs. You can also plan on a really short day, like 7 miles, too.

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13. State Maps
If you tear up your Trail Guides, which I recommend, be sure to bring the overview map for the whole book, generally found near the beginning of the book, to carry for the whole state. This summary map can be helpful in planning and scheduling. It shows major towns near the trail and major peaks that will be landmarks, and it's only one page. Lacking that, a state road map can be very handy.

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14. Small Bounce Box
The postage for your bounce box can add up quickly. Instead of shipping a huge box of everything you might need ahead, only ship critical stuff. If you end up paying a dollar or two more for something at some remote resort, it's still going to be cheaper than shipping a huge box hundreds of miles. Bounce stuff you are not likely to be able to buy, like a battery charger. Also consider how much you'll be accessing your bounce box. If you are likely to never need it, send it Priority Mail and forward it for no cost. But, why ship stuff you are likely never to need???

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