Getting out there and hiking is said to be the best physical training you can do for a long distance trek. You also have to train your mind, and it really helps to talk to those who have done a thru-hike before. I’m finding more and more that it isn’t just about the hiking, but also about the people you meet along the way.
Say what you will about social media, but when it comes to a major endeavor like hiking the PCT, websites like Facebook can be a great resource for information, innovative ideas, networking and general support. There are two groups dedicated to the PCT “Class of 2019” (every year, a trail has a “class” of thru-hikers), plus a huge number of additional groups for trail angels, sections of the trail, hikers with special interests (Vegans on the PCT!), families of PCT hikers, etc. One of the Class of 2019 groups is incredibly active and is moderated by a member of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, so while there is still an abundance of bickering, trolling and ridiculousness which has come to be expected of the internet community, there is also quite a bit of good, reliable information there as well. Aspiring thru-hikers discuss gear, permits, fears and preparations. Past thru-hikers share their experiences and what they would have changed. Locals and trail angels share local weather conditions, things to watch out for, businesses and services available to hikers and trail magic that may be provided. While perusing a post inquiring about “How is everyone getting home after they finish the trail?”, I found a fellow Ohioan also attempting this crazy endeavor.
According to the PCTA, in 2018, long-distance hikers and horseback riders came from all 50 states and 52 countries and territories. As you can see above, the number of permits issued rises every year. Despite these numbers, Ohio is generally underrepresented (although not as underrepresented as North Dakota, who hasn’t had a single PCT thru hiker since 2015 according to Halfway Anywhere’s surveys). In 2018, only 62.5% of hikers were even from the United States, and about 45% of those hikers were from California, Oregon or Washington. For me, finding another aspiring PCT thru hiker in Ohio was its own form of trail magic- unexpected and incredibly exciting.
After a few quick messages on Facebook, we planned to meet up for a training hike. This past Monday, Ember (my Doberman) and I met “Just Jeff” in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. An aside about trail names: While hiking on a major trail such as the PCT or the AT (Appalachian Trail), hikers will get a “trail name”, a nickname usually given to them by fellow hikers based on a quirk, a memorable event, a carried item, etc. Sometimes hikers will reject the offered trail names or nothing acceptable will present itself, which is what I presume happened with “Just Jeff”. I do not yet have a trail name and am both looking forward to being given one and also a bit anxious about what fellow hikers will suggest! Anyway, back to the story… It was between 20 and 30 degrees all day and incredibly windy, but we covered just over 13 miles through the park, huffed and puffed up hills, slipped in the mud and ice and navigated cold stream crossings. We talked almost constantly: about gear, past adventures, PCT planning, family, work, concerns, and nothing at all.
“Just Jeff” is 61 years old and has hiked around 1700 miles of the Appalachian Trail, thru hiked the Florida Trail (1400ish miles), and gone on many other hiking and backpacking adventures in both North and South America. It was incredible to hear about his experiences and learn from them, and also to hear that he has own concerns about our upcoming adventure despite his experience. It really was wonderful to hike with someone familiar with distance backpacking- something I have only experienced one other time, and that was when I was the complete newbie. I feel like backpackers are part of a different culture, or perhaps a different breed altogether. We were able to discuss how the kindness of strangers is so apparent on the trail that it truly shows you a different side of people than you can usually get in typical society. How being out there not only reconnects you to nature but also renews your faith in humanity. How leaving the many comforts of society allows you to see what you actually need in life.
We didn’t see another person until mile 10 and in our relative solitude we passed partially frozen waterfalls, hemlock groves and lovely ravines. Crazy miss Ember fell in a creek (completely submerged- I swear that dog teaches me something new about what to pack every time we go out), I soaked both feet within the first mile, and Just Jeff and I both decided that we are not yet in shape enough for this big adventure. While I still have 2 months to train, he sets foot on the PCT in a mere 2 weeks. His plan? To take it slow and break himself in on the trail. I am looking forward to following his first month and a half while I finish my own training and preparations.
Spending this time training with another person who understands the pull of the trail was both enlightening and fulfilling. It made me even more excited to get out there and meet the countless others who will help me feel less crazy and less alone in my interests and desires for my life. I am looking forward to finally finding my tribe!