A year ago when, somewhat to my surprise, Louise and I realized that we both still wanted to hike the PCT together, I knew very little about how to make it happen. I decided to start with setting dates, to make things real. I needed to figure out when we should start and about how long it would take. I had no idea what speed to expect from us, and it seemed the optimal start time changed year to year. The main difficulty, though, was working within Louise’s summer break. She would be in school until some time in May and need to be back in early September. Three and a half months, at most. There are people who have hiked the whole trail in that timeframe, but given our experience level and our uncertainty of our physical capabilities, I could not count on that for us. After agonizing over many possible scenarios, we decided I would do the whole thing and she do part. We would start at the southern terminus together and see how far we got before she had to fly home.
This was the plan until I mentioned it to a PCT hiker, Lapsong, who I ran into on the Wonderland trail last September. He said starting as late as mid May, we would miss out on the social aspect of the trail. Most people would be leaving a month earlier. Another friend back from months of wilderness restoration in the desert warned against hiking through the Mojave in late June, due to intense heat and water scarcity. It was very hard for me to accept that my plan was not a good one. For months, I had been spending my dull moments romanticizing day one… Louise and I, stepping foot in a desert for the first time, looking like we walked out of an REI catalogue, flashing wild grins at each other, incredulous and silly, prepared as we could be but still with no clue. The version where it’s just me at the start is not as good. But makes the most sense by far.
So here’s the real plan. On April 27, I fly to San Diego where I will be hosted by some trail angels for a night. I start my journey from Campo, CA on April 28. Louise will still be studying abroad in Prague at this point. After she returns home in mid May, she will fly to LA on May 20 and a trail angel will help her get to me in Wrightwood, CA, at mile 364. On May 21, we will set out together, planning to go almost 2000 miles to White Pass in Washington where we will leave the trail to make it to Seattle for Louise’s flight back to Charleston at the end of August. I will continue, as long as it takes to finish the remaining 270 miles to Manning Park, weather permitting. I chose my start date based on the depth of the snow pack in the Sierras this year. Other years I may have chosen to start earlier but we don’t want to enter the Sierras (~mile 700) before mid June.
Having such a rigid itinerary makes me nervous. It’s impossible to predict what natural pace we will fall into together, and there are so many things that could put us behind schedule. Someone gets injured or sick, we leave the trail to replace a piece of gear, we lose a day when were are rerouted around a wildfire, I could think of dozens more but I’ll stop there. I have to keep reminding myself that there are no disastrous repercussions for being too slow. Perhaps Louise waits for me in Wrightwood for a day. Or we have a crazy time making our way from southern Oregon to Seattle to catch her flight. Or we miss her flight and we may have lost some money but she will still get home.
The plan may have strayed from our original vision but it works. I still spend my dull moments imagining day one. There is less grinning and silliness but just as much excitement and uncertainty. Louise and I will still get one hundred days together. I’m sure at times that will feel like enough.