Pacific Crest Trail Round 2. This Time It’s Southbound. 

Why do you want to do it again?
Why don’t you do a different trail?
Isn’t one big life changing adventure enough? 

Interestingly there are more questions now than there were last time, and last time they were easy to answer. This time, not so much. 

So there are a few reasons why I want to head back to the PCT. Some very simple, some a little more complex. I guess my main reason isn’t that profound. My main goal for this year is to get to New Zealand to hike the Te Araroa, hopefully with my friend Growler. But there was no way I could stick out that 9-5 life until December, so I thought about what I could do to ‘fill in the time’ before. Too late to plan an Appalachian Trail or Continental Divide Trail hike (which is a shame because a good handful of my PCT mates are out there now) I decided I could ‘warm up’ for NZ with a swift southbound hike of the PCT because the dates fit.

For me it’s now not about ‘going on an adventure’, this is what I am choosing to do with my life. I am choosing an adventurous life over the daily grind. As you know, most of this year hasn’t been easy. It’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I’ve struggled to work in an office environment, I fell completely out of love with design. Disillusioned by the whole thing, its disposable nature, its subjectivism. So, I quit my job and decided to go and live in the woods. In-between preparations I got a new job. I fell back in love with design. I did some good work and I enjoyed doing it. I wondered if I had made the right decision about going to live in the woods. Maybe I could operate like a “normal” human, work the 9-5, it’s ok when you’re doing something you love, right? But I came to realise that the design world hasn’t changed and nor have I. It is still disposable and subjective and a constant battle against opinion. I fell out of love with design again. (This may be a little untrue. I still love design and being creative, but I’m tired of trying to please other people.) I’m exhausted emotionally, so I decided living in the woods is the better option. Until the day I may decide otherwise. 

I find it strange that we spend most of our time trying to preserve ourselves for old age. Trying to halt the ageing process rather than embracing it. We celebrate our lives in years rather than days. We spend the best years of our lives preparing for being old. I don’t have a pension (ok well technically I do – the one I was automatically enrolled into because of some government scheme a couple of years ago which is now worth less that one months salary which isn’t worth shouting about). I often get looks of horror when I tell people I don’t have a pension. “But what are you going to do when you’re old?!”

Well, first of all, I might not get old. It’s a possibility. Also who knows what the pensionable age is going to be if I make it that far…75? 80? I want to enjoy the little money I have now, not when I’m 80. And who knows what will happen to the economy, all our money could be worthless / non existent in 2062. 

2062!! I just can’t imagine it. Artificial intelligence? Virtual reality? Stop the world I want to get off. 

A good friend of mine directed me to this blog, she said it reminded her of me. Mel Southworth is a 48 year old woman who has just successfully summited Everest after 2 previous failed attempts. She answers that why question everybody has and she articulates it perfectly in this excerpt from her blog. 

“The first question people always want to know – which is a shame – is about money. How have I managed to come back for three potential beatings? Well, the short answer to that from me is this; I’m a middle-aged, working class woman with limited skill-sets who decided it was a worthy cause to blow her retirement fund on fulfilling a life-long dream. And if that means I’ll be broke in my final years, so be it. I’ve no problem working at a check-out for the rest of my life if that’s what I’ll have to do to keep it together in my old age. 

Nobody these days care if you climb Mount Everest, but purely for myself, I do. And it’s worth everything to me to at least attempt. So, in short, I’ve bankrupted myself.

People have choices and there are a million and one ways to live a life. Everyone, including myself, blow money every year on meaningless things. We often forget that money facilitates how we live our lives, but it can’t buy us happiness or a longer life. I’ve had a family member work hard all his life and die prematurely at the very point he should have been enjoying the spoils of his success. I vowed that the same thing wouldn’t happen to me. I’ve chosen, instead, to spend most of my life travelling for no other reason than the sheer love of doing it, sacrificing having a family and stable home-life as a by-product. Life is short.”

So much of that resonates with me. 

There are of course other reasons why I want to head back to the PCT. My friend Catwater is also hiking south this year. We both found we had an itch that couldn’t be scratched. I’m totally stoked (as she would say) that we are planning on starting together. 

I feel like I have unfinished business with the trail. I feel like if I go back and look at it all from the other direction, if I rewind, if I make new memories, if I exorcise that demon, it might make that thing easier to deal with. 

Ultimately though I miss the trail and I just want to go back. It doesn’t affect everyone this way but the trail has definitely changed me. I feel less attached than ever to one place, I enjoy being on the move. I hate crowds of people and small confined spaces – like being on a train. Even now, 8 months later, I hate too much noise and overpowering smells. 

And how many people have hiked the trail both ways? My guess is not very many. 10? 50? 100? Anyone out there with any stats? 

A lot of people ask how going south is different from going north. Here is some info taken from the PCT association:

“In the 1970s, a greater percentage of thru-hikers went southbound than they do today. Nowadays around 90% of people head north and around 10% head south. By heading south the opportunity for solitude is greater, towns won’t be busy with hikers, most of California will be mosquito free and your walk through the desert will be during autumn when days are cooler.

If more hikers went southbound, the collective impact of thru-hikers on the trail could be reduced. On-trail impacts, especially at campsites, are often greatest during surges of use. When a few dozen people camp at the same water source, the number and size of their campsites increase. These changes usually are permanent. By hiking southbound, you’re choosing to hike in less popular times and locations. 

It’s often life circumstances that dictate the direction you’ll go. If you need to work a few more months, or don’t get off school until early summer, a start date in July rather than April makes a lot of sense.”

So going north you start in the heat of the desert and work you way up to the higher elevations and the snow. Going south you start in the high elevations and the snow, but the desert is cooler and the Sierra is (hopefully) snow free. Going north you have a longer weather window than going south, but southbounders are often quicker anyway because of the more favourable weather and getting the toughest part out of the way at the beginning. So in theory I should be able to cruise through the desert! 

There are other things to consider. There are less daylight hours and less water sources going south, but there are also fewer people and fewer bugs. 

I’m more nervous this time than I was last time which I’ve been trying to work out why. I think it’s because last time it was just and interlude. A break from reality and then back to it. But this time I’m choosing this as my reality, the rest of it I’m leaving behind indefinitely, I have a one way ticket! 

This time I feel like it’s more of a challenge. My ticket to New Zealand is booked so I have a limited time frame. I have just under 4.5 months so I have to shave at least two, maybe three weeks off my northbound time. It’s doable. I started with the attitude of just going out there to do what I can and see how far I get. But who am I kidding? I want to do the whole thing! 

And finally, no, it’s not easier going south because it’s ‘all downhill’, the joke many of you comedians out there have enjoyed!   

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16 thoughts on “Pacific Crest Trail Round 2. This Time It’s Southbound. 

  1. That woman you quoted is not bankrupt; she has spiritual wealth beyond measure via living her dreams. But if she ever did have to get a cashier job, I’m sure “Summiting Mt Everest” would put her head and shoulders above all other applicants. Looking forward to following your journey, Alex… 🙂

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  2. Oh wow, I’m doing the same thing!! Hiking the long trail, then the PCT, then the Te Araroa and if I still can walk the CDT too. That’s the plan anyway; I start my adventure 6-18-2016 at the Canada/vermont border; I plan on making it to the northern terminus of the PCT (WA/Canada border) by my birthday 7-9-16. I’m planning on making it to Mexico around 12-1, incl 2 weeks off in August for my brother’s wedding.

    I figure I’ll finish the TA about late April (no rush) and fly to the CDT.

    I don’t have tickets/visa for NZ yet; how did you get it so early?

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    1. Wow. Big plans! I’m planning on starting at harts pass on July 15th, heading north to the monument then turning around and heading south. If you don’t walk too fast maybe I’ll see you out there!

      I’m flying from LA to NZ at the end of November, ticket already booked, and I’m British so I don’t need a visa. We get 6 months on arrival. I don’t know what you have to do as a US citizen.

      I haven’t any concrete plans after NZ, I had thought about the CDT, but I’ve also thought about bumming around south east Asia for a bit. Plenty of time to plan something!

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      1. As a US Citizen she will get 3 month visa on arrival, (which can be extended but a hassle), so should apply now via NZ Consulate for a six month visa.

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      2. Ah yes, I’m getting things in order to apply for my visa, but I wanted to wait until I knew what kind of miles I’d do to buy my ticket; I’m starting out with my pup, then taking about 2 weeks off late August for my brother’s wedding back east. I figure I’ll buy my NZ ticket in Aug and finish up with the visa stuff then. I hear you hike a lot more miles on the PCT then on the AT, but I averaged about 20m/day on the AT once and 11mi/day on the second AT thru, so I have no idea…

        I’d like to be done late Nov though! Looks like I’ve found a ride to Hart’s Pass July 9th, so if I don’t see you right away I’m sure I’ll run into you at some point 🙂

        And yes, plenty of time to plan the next adventure! And to let it find you 🙂

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  3. Congratulations on taking the first figurative step. I can’t wait to hear the details of your first literal step. If you need help at the southern terminus, it’s in my backyard so feel free to holler. No laffing now. Get going.

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  4. Hope to head up to Rainy Pass this week, and hike up to Cutthroat pass to asses conditions, weather permitting, of course. 🙂 By July 15th, I would think trails should be pretty darn clear of snow, although after a hot period we are back to unseasonably cool with some snow in the higher elevations.

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  5. Excited to hear of your new adventure! If you need help at the North end, let me know, I live in Bellingham. That includes a ride to the trail as long as it is on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Are you flying into Seattle or Bellingham?

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