jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike Recap – 2022

  • Start Date: May 10th
  • Finish Date: Aug 1st
  • Direction: Mexico to Canada – Northbound
  • Total Miles: 2,653 miles / 4,269 kilometers
  • Duration: 84 days

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the longest hiking trails in the US at 2,653 miles, and by many considered to be one of the most premier. It has two siblings in the Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail both of which are of similar length. All three spanning from south to north across the entire country, and all three together making up what is known as the Triple Crown.

Standing at the southern terminus monument of the PCT at the Mexico border, just 2,653 miles to go

I had attempted this trail in 2018, but unfortunately right around mile 200 I tripped, I fell, and I immediately felt a sharp pain. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong other than it hurt, so I continued another 700 miles hoping it would get better before I eventually got off trail, got an xray, and quit. A broken metatarsal and toe.

I mostly consider that experience an accident. How many times have you tripped in your life, and broken a bone? Still it is worth taking lessons from, and I certainly could have trained more pre hike regardless of my past thru hiking experience. A reminder that these trips aren’t guaranteed, and we should do our best to prepare for success but also to enjoy the moment.

Now 4 years later I was ready to finally give this trail another go. I wanted to see how far I have come and how much I have learned in all the years and miles since my last attempt. I worked hard the year prior and over the winter to prepare, and I set out to hike the 2,653 mile trail in under 90 days. A near 30 mile per day average for the entire hike.

The first of my video series from the hike!
Mt San Jacinto in the background, a long 20 mile descent from high elevation with snow, to the second lowest point on the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail presents its own unique challenges

  • The ground is rocky, dusty, hard, and compact. This type of surface will cause more wear on your feet, joints, and bones. Your shoes will die quicker, and you’ll want to replace them with a higher frequency. I did not wear gaiters around my shoes, though given how often I would clean the grit out I probably should have. I would walk lightly and quietly to try and combat the hard surface, but for many trekking poles are the answer to alleviating pressure.
  • You start the trail in a desert environment, where long and heavy water carries are a daily obstacle to plan and navigate. The heat and sun exposure fries your skin. Electrolytes and sometimes frequent breaks in the shade are a must. Large brim sunhats or sun umbrellas help with exposure. Though I carried 4 liters water, I saw many with 6 liters or more, and frankly the more the better as it gives you options.
  • Climbs are not short and punchy, but instead very long and drawn out. Hikers mostly rejoice in how evenly graded the PCT is, afterall it is made so that a horse or pack animals could do it, but for me that means my muscles will be strained in one way for much longer. Rather than a constantly undulating trail where one muscle group gets a break more frequently, the PCT slowly takes you up or down mountain switchbacked trails for as many as 20 miles at a time. I need to remind myself to break and occasionally stretch as well as to pace myself.
  • Snow travel is an inevitability. You will find yourself slipping, sliding, and learning to travel safely on it in the end. Every section of the PCT can have this type of challenge depending on when you start or how fast you go. For instance I started late but went fast, so I had minimal snow in the desert and the Sierra, but loads of snow in Oregon and Washington. Those who started early but went slow had the opposite. It’s a very fine balance if you’d like to try and avoid all of it. Best to try and enjoy the uniqueness of snow travel regardless of where you hit it, as nature often doesn’t care about how well you’ve planned something anyway.
  • Wildfires are a part of the west. In the past 6 years or so of this trail, wildfires have been one of the largest hurdles of this entire hike. Imagine walking 1,500 miles, and then your hike being stopped, rerouted, or changed entirely due to conditions out of your control. That is a reality of this trail now. Wildfires are a way of life if you’re hiking out west and I think they should be heavily considered when you are planning your trip. Wildfire season is late summer and early fall. Either start early if you wish to go slower, or know the later you start the faster you will need to go to avoid these closures. Unfortunately given the unpredictability of these things you may still get unlucky. I did not fear rain on this trail because I would get wet, I feared rain because I knew it often means lightning, and fires.
North Cascades of Washington, the trekking pole was used for sketchy snow traverses, and high water crossings

Pace

  • Miles Per Day Average: 31.5 mpd
  • Zeros: 2 (Tehachapi CA & Sisters OR)
  • Neros: 9 (Any day less than 20 miles)
  • Avg Wakeup: 5am
  • Avg Bedtime: 10pm
  • Most miles in a single day: 60 miles
  • Desert: 28 mpd
  • Sierra: 26 mpd
  • NorCal: 41 mpd
  • Oregon: 37 mpd
  • Washington: 33 mpd
  • First Half: 29 mpd
  • Second Half: 35 mpd
  • Blisters: 7 (almost entirely from kicking rocks)
  • Shoes: 6 (I could have used one less pair)
  • Socks: 13 pairs (4 of which were from Walmart, all 4 got holes within the same day)

With this hike I wanted to test myself, and see how much I had learned over the past 8 years, and 11,000 miles of my hiking career. Especially considering how my first PCT attempt went in 2018, it often felt like I had a bit of something to prove to myself. I wanted to do the trail of course, but I also really wanted to push myself.

In the end I averaged 31.5 miles per day for 84 days to complete the trail. My goal was sub 90, and I am very happy to have accomplished that!

Speed is a good way to test how well you know your skills and self. Your pack must be light, so every piece of gear has to be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. You must be efficient with your time both in hiking and in towns, as daylight is limited and sleep is precious. You must learn how to take care of yourself all while still keeping up the miles. I think if you can do this you can do anything in hiking.

Most days I would try to be walking by 6am, and most evenings I would stop shortly after sunset around 9pm. I took minimal breaks throughout the day, and walked at a comfortable pace. I had 15 hours of daylight to utilize, and nothing else to do other than walk during that time. By the middle all the way to the end of this hike I was often doing 40 – 45 miles everyday, but the trick of course is making up lost time from town stops, so my overall average does not reflect that at first glance.

The Pacific Crest Trail lends itself nicely with high mileage as the grade of climbs and descents is gradual, the trail is well maintained and easy to navigate, the weather is mild, and towns are frequent enough where food weight is never too high. You can find a comfortable pace and just stick with that endlessly, while many other trails in the US are more varied in a physical sense.

Before this hike I did a fair amount of training. 60 mile overnight hikes, long daily walks, and running. I also paid close attention to my diet for the months prior to starting. Both losing a bit of weight, and staying active I think is very helpful. Anything to make the trip easier physically is worth while as the real trick and true difficulty of this trail comes with its length. At 2,653 miles there is a lot of time for something to go wrong, and it was a constant battle to get ahead of anything that may have stopped me. Much of that battle came before even starting.

Halfway, happy, and on pace for my 90 day hike. Feeling great and ready to ramp up the miles, I went on to average 40 miles a day for the next two weeks

The People

  • Thru hikers I passed: 1094

If I could tell without a doubt that a person was a thru hiker, I counted them. I did not count the southbound hikers I met, so this is only those traveling north. But I would say I saw another 200 heading south if I had to guess. Most interesting is that within the first 1,000 miles I saw and met 852 thru hikers. The other 242 came from the final 1,650 miles. I only ever saw three people more than a small handful of times because of my pace. Kevin, Gasket, and Mooch all hiking a similar speed and started around the same time as me.

The PCTA gives out something like 8,000 hiking permits a year, and of these people it seemed like half of them were from a country other than the United States. The majority of foreigners being from Germany, but I met folks from everywhere it seemed! It was a good opportunity to ask about hiking trails in their part of the world, and it was cool to see all the different styles of gear, and ways of doing things.

Coming into this trail I knew there would be a fair amount of people. I actually adopted the mantra “embrace the community” before I even left for the hike, as typically I want more solitude. Overall I enjoyed the company most of the time, and made a big effort to talk to as many people as I could. Getting information from others, sharing stories, having new people to hike with daily, and an extra layer of safety should I get injured was all a positive thing. The community really looks out for one another, so if you are in need maybe take solace in that another hiker will soon be up the trail behind you.

  • Trail Magic: 16
  • Hitch Hiked: 10
  • Rangers: 2 (who checked my permit)
  • Trail crews: 3 (thank you!)

As I got further north and passed the bubble of hikers, trail magic and any sort of help subsided drastically. Only twice total in the states of Oregon and Washington did I get trail magic, while all the rest came from California.

Hitch hiking was never difficult as most locals near trail towns know what you’re doing, and know that you just want to go eat food. I never waited long, and everyone was friendly. Though should you not want to take the risk there are many people all up and down the trail that offer rides for a small fee, who are more trusted than just a random pickup. Many times you may get to a trailhead and someone will be waiting just to see if you’d like a ride. It is their way of giving back.

Mooch at the start of the ridge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness with Mt Rainier in the background
Gasket coming through Tunnel Falls in the Eagle Creek alternate

Animal Encounters

  • Snakes: 28 (3 of which were rattle snakes)
  • Bears: 2
  • Weasels: 2
  • Mountain goats: 4
  • Horses: 8
  • Llamas: 4 (the llamas and horses were used as pack animals)

My favorite of the animals I saw were the birds! Most of the way up the trail I was using the app on my phone “Merlin” to help identify what I was seeing. It was a fun daily task that would often take my mind off the walking. I enjoyed the Stellars Jay, Spruce Grouse, some type of Quail, Scrub Jay, Western Tanager, and the Black Capped Chickadee most. I never did see an owl, but I likely wasn’t paying enough attention as I could hear them at times. I heard many people also used the app “Seek” to help identify plants, but I always forgot to download it while in town.

As for larger animals, people worry about bears, and people worry about snakes. I saw many snakes through the course of this trip but only three were of the venomous variety. One I almost stepped on in Norcal, one that slithered away very quickly, and one that snuck up towards me while I was taking a break in the shade. I would say you’re fine if you keep your eyes open, your wits about you, and only use one headphone should they rattle. As for bears you may not see any, or you may see a few. They are of little threat and just want your food. Be safe with where you choose to camp, how you store your food, and you likely won’t have any issue with them.

If you are concerned about this or anything else, most hikers these days carry a Garmin Inreach Mini. They are fairly expensive but worth the cost in the level of safety it gives you. It is a personal locator beacon your family or friends can use to track you, but it also has an SOS button that goes directly to search & rescue should something bad happen. I like this model over other brands because it has a messaging system where you can use it to text friends on trail who also have the device, or you can send messages straight to your family at home to let them know how you are doing. I think it can even give you a weather report. I will copy this excerpt into the gear section as well since it is something I believe is very important in this modern day of hiking.

Mt Rainier National Park, sleeping on a ridge with this view to wake up to

Weather

  • Shelter setup: 4
  • Rain: 5 (only one of which is memorable)
  • Snow storm: 1 (Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness)
  • Nights below freezing: 4 (Entirely in the northern Sierra)
  • Lowest known temp: 27°F / -3°C Yosemite
  • Highest known temp: 110°F / 43°C Stehekin

Depending on your start date this trail can be fairly mild when it comes to weather. It’s pretty hot throughout the desert, Northern California, and Oregon so that should definitely be taken into account with clothing choices and start date. Many will wakeup early while the temperatures are cool, take long midday breaks in the shade, and then hike again into the evening. As always remember electrolytes.

As a trade for the hot days I only got rained on 5 times during my entire hike. Only one of those times did I actually want my rain jacket, and felt a need to setup my shelter. The other 3 times I set it up was for wind, while every other night the entire trip I cowboy camped under the stars.

Rarely were temperatures at or below freezing at night, and most days were pleasant for me, though again this heavily depends on when you start. One reason I started as late as I did was so that I wouldn’t run into much cold as I know I handle the heat better. Most people prefer an earlier start with warmer gear to do the opposite and avoid the heat.

A storm rolling in over the John Muir Trail just north of Reds Meadow

Money

  • Money spent: $6,063 (not including flight to or from trail)
  • Resupply – $2,275
  • Restaurant – $1,201
  • Food Boxes – $650
  • Shoes & Gear – $837
  • Accommodations – $1,100
  • Laundry : 7
  • Showers: 12
  • Beers consumed: 4
  • Towns I stayed the night in: Big Bear, Wrightwood, Tehachapi, Kennedy Meadows South, Lone pine, Kennedy Meadows North, South Lake Tahoe, Burney, Ashland, Sisters, Snoqualmie, Stehekin, Mazama

I was quite surprised by how much money I spent on this hike as I figured I would come in around 4k, but I think a few things contributed to it. First, I now see a hotel along the way double charged me. But beyond that… I could have shared hotels with others! Splitting the cost with just one other along the way would have saved me 550 dollars.

Another big factor here is the towns themselves. The places I often found myself in are more akin to resorts and resort towns. High prices, small stores, and not much going on other than opportunities to spend money. Still they offer food, electricity, wifi, and other essentials.

Something else that stood out is that the towns came surprisingly frequently. I always knew the Appalachian Trail had a lot of towns and roads, but I never thought of the PCT this way. And to be fair, it doesn’t! But given that the trail itself allows for a faster pace, it feels like it does. Many sections it seemed like I could go to town every other day if I wanted.

I think in the end I had more fun out there than I expected to, financially speaking. Expensive hotels and expensive meals. Bought a pair of shoes I knew I wouldn’t like then proceeded to not like and replace them. But hey this is supposed to be fun, I ate what I wanted, and did what I wanted. I have heard and could easily understand people spending far more than 10,000 dollars to do this.

Views of Mt Shasta every day through Northern California, one of my favorite mountains

Food & Nutrition

  • Starting body weight: 186lbs / 84kg
  • Ending body weight: 176lbs / 80kg

Calories per day

  • Desert – 2,500 (felt good)
  • Sierra – 3,000 (lower energy, harder trail, hiker hunger kicked in)
  • Norcal – 4,000 (starting to chase the hunger)
  • Oregon – 5,000
  • Washington – 7,000 (finally caught up to hunger)

I wasn’t particularly trying to lose weight this hike, but I also knew that I could have been eating more. Most days I felt fine and I still made the miles I wanted, but it was that last hour or two of the day where I often wished I had just two or three more little snacks.

Heading into the future I would like to play around with cold soaking more meals during the day other than just dinner. Oatmeal for breakfast, beans & rice for lunch, and then a more built and hearty dinner for example, with snacks in between. I can fairly easily cold soak and eat while I walk so I don’t think I would lose any momentum, and I would likely gain a lot from this. Especially compared to the dense bars (or candy) all day for energy instead.

On this trip I bought my food from a store 2/3rds of the time, and the other third of my resupplies were boxes I had prepared before I left. I like boxes but you definitely don’t need to make any. Stehekin, and Crater Lake would be two places I would recommend, but those can be prepared easily while on trail as they are quite far north. Even then you could do this hike without any boxes, though the boxes sometimes give you the option of ‘better’ foods compared to a convenience store. Other potential spots would be: (in order from south to north) Kennedy Meadows South, Tuolumne Meadows, Seiad Valley, Crater Lake, and Stehekin. Every other spot and even some of these you could hitch to a different location for food.

Stehekin is a town only accessible by boat, bush plane, or hiking. No cell service, and not much going on, still it was my favorite town of the trail
Pastries from the famous Stehekin bakery, trying to recoup lost calories

Daily Milage & Journal

  • Day 0 – 0 – 0mi Colder than average, sleep near terminus
  • Day 1 – 38 – 38mi Lots of people the first half of the day
  • Day 2 – 68.5 – 30.5mi Mt Laguna, long descent very windy
  • Day 3 – 103.5 – 35mi Hot! Scissors Crossing, nice people
  • Day 4 – 138 – 34.5mi Hot! Eagle Rock, Mike’s place, boulders, setup for PVC
  • Day 5 – 162 – 24mi PVC resupply, heavy pack, big climb
  • Day 6 – 188 – 26mi Cool ridge hike, first very physical day, Mt San Jacinto
  • Day 7 – 220.5 – 32.5mi Hot! grueling descent, 2nd lowest point on trail
  • Day 8 – 252 – 31.5mi Whitewater long climb, bee stings my face
  • Day 9 – 266 – 14mi Big Bear nero, a lot of chores done
  • Day 10 – 288 – 22mi 1pm leave town, good walkin’
  • Day 11 – 322.5 – 34.5mi Deep Creek Canyon, hot springs busy
  • Day 12 – 357 – 34.5mi Lake SP, cajon pass McDonald’s, awesome long climb
  • Day 13 – 369 – 12mi Nero into wrightwood,
  • Day 14 – 390 – 21mi I love Angeles NF, Baden Powell, sweet Rd walk
  • Day 15 – 433 – 43mi Tired and first blister! Nice people but a lot of people
  • Day 16 – 467 – 34mi Extremely hot, agua dulce
  • Day 17 – 486.5 – 19.5mi Casa de Luna, disc golf with Joe
  • Day 18 – 526.5 – 40mi Pleasant oak & maple forest, hiker town, aqueduct
  • Day 19 – 559 – 32.5mi Hiker town aftermath, super easy 30, wind farm
  • Day 20 – 566.5 – 7.5mi Nero tehachapi
  • Day 21 – 566.5 – 0mi Zero in tehachapi, loads of people!
  • Day 22 – 597 – 30.5mi Leave at 10am, two long water carries 17 & 19mi
  • Day 23 – 631.5 – 34.5mi Pleasant meadow then grueling desert, Josh!!
  • Day 24 – 667 – 35.5mi Josh gone, walker pass, Sierra!
  • Day 25 – 702 – 35mi Sprocket, Kennedy meadows!
  • Day 26 – 719 – 17mi Leave 2:30pm, new socks new shoes, Sierra!!!!
  • Day 27 – 750 – 31mi Tooth pain! Lone pine, sprocket
  • Day 28 – 756 – 6mi Nero, jump lake, beautiful camp
  • Day 29 – 767 – 11mi (+16) Whitney sunset! Only us
  • Day 30 – 792.5 – 25.5mi I miss sprocket, Forester glen pass
  • Day 31 – 823 – 30.5mi Pinchot Pass & Mather Pass awesome
  • Day 32 – 857 – 34mi Muir pass snow, jbird
  • Day 33 – 888 – 31mi Selden Pass and Silver Pass, tired hungry
  • Day 34 – 921.5 – 33.5mi Reds Meadow, end of Sierra proper
  • Day 35 – 955 – 33.5mi Tuolomne Meadow, enter Yosemite
  • Day 36 – 989 – 34mi Many river crossings & punchy climbs
  • Day 37 – 1017 – 28mi No more bear can! Sonora Pass
  • Day 38 – 1046 – 29mi High wind, multiple injured hikers
  • Day 39 – 1081 – 35mi Cold wind in the 20s, Tahoe Rim Trail!
  • Day 40 – 1092 – 11mi Snow storm! South Lake & new altras
  • Day 41 – 1118 – 26mi Desolation Wilderness, Dick Pass
  • Day 42 – 1156 – 38mi Bear steals my food, Donner Pass
  • Day 43 – 1194 – 38mi Summer solstice quiet day
  • Day 44 – 1234 – 40mi Sierra buttes, norcal is hotter
  • Day 45 – 1274 – 40mi Trying to catch Joe, big burn area, boomerang
  • Day 46 – 1307.5 – 33.5mi Big climb, Lassen burn! Belden resupply
  • Day 47 – 1367 – 60mi Halfway!
  • Day 48 – 1396 – 29mi Caught up to Joe! Cool trail fam
  • Day 49 – 1419 – 23mi Claustrophobic anxiety attack at Burney Falls
  • Day 50 – 1447 – 28mi Burney crazy breakfast
  • Day 51 – 1490 – 43mi McCloud river quiet day
  • Day 52 – 1531 – 41mi Castle Crags climb
  • Day 53 – 1577 – 46mi Fun day! Trinity Alps
  • Day 54 – 1618 – 41mi Loads of blowdowns, crazy sunset
  • Day 55 – 1660 – 42mi Seiad Valley, less than 1000 miles to go
  • Day 56 – 1702 – 42mi Oregon! First real rain
  • Day 57 – 1718 – 16mi Ashland & chores, new superiors
  • Day 58 – 1742 – 24mi Ate too much in town
  • Day 59 – 1787 – 45mi Mosquitos!
  • Day 60 – 1837 – 50mi Crater Lake, Mazama resupply
  • Day 61 – 1878 – 41mi Lots of snow & OR/WA highpoint
  • Day 62 – 1923 – 45mi Shelter Cove resupply
  • Day 63 – 1968 – 45mi Three Sisters! Snow snow snow
  • Day 64 – 2001 – 33mi Lava fields, wildland firefighter gives me a hitch
  • Day 65 – 2001 – 0mi Zeroooooooo miles hiked
  • Day 66 – 2031 – 30mi Mt Jefferson!
  • Day 67 – 2075 – 44mi Lake Olallie, Starlord
  • Day 68 – 2116 – 41mi Mt Hood, Timberline Lodge buffet, Mooch joins
  • Day 69 – 2161 – 45mi Cascade Locks, Eagle Creek alt, Washington!!
  • Day 70 – 2206 – 45mi Section hikers everywhere
  • Day 71 – 2250 – 44mi Mt Adams
  • Day 72 – 2289 – 39mi Goat Rocks Wilderness! Hard day
  • Day 73 – 2330 – 41mi White Pass resupply, meeting punisher, wet campsite
  • Day 74 – 2378 – 48mi Ultra marathon on trail! Aid stations, Mt Rainier
  • Day 75 – 2394 – 16mi Snoqualmie Pass hotel
  • Day 76 – 2434 – 40mi 10k vert every day, beautiful
  • Day 77 – 2478 – 44mi Stevens Pass, hot! Bye Gasket & Mooch
  • Day 78 – 2517 – 39mi Dangerous river crossing, Cara, ridges
  • Day 79 – 2553 – 36mi Dangerous snowy pass, blowdown hell
  • Day 80 – 2573 – 20mi Stehekin! Shin splints
  • Day 81 – 2587 – 14mi Junior ranger day with Punisher
  • Day 82 – 2592 – 5mi Shin splints pain
  • Day 83 – 2617 – 25mi New shoes, KT tape, Advil
  • Day 84 – 2647 – 30mi Slow pace, stretching often
  • Day 85 – 2653 – 6mi CANADA!
The final thirty miles were my favorite. Views of Jack Mountain and overall good feelings

You can see in my daily miles that in the beginning I started immediately with big days, but then more time in town. Eventually all I was doing was big days. That however came with a cost, with just 150 miles until the end I developed shin splints. It was an incredibly painful few days where it felt like I had a broken ankle. Eventually a former triathlete southbounder saw me and was able to help with an initial diagnosis and some stretches to be doing. I took some time in the last possible town of the trail to research, buy new shoes to get me through the last 30 miles, and I hobbled on. In the end it was really nice to take that last section so slow. I had to let my friends get ahead and finish days before me, but spending the final days alone to reflect was what I needed. I took in all of the sights, and relished in the finish. It was bittersweet to finally get there. I deserved to be mildly injured for what I put myself through the rest of the hike, and hey, now I know better how to handle the problem.

I am very happy to have finally completed the Pacific Crest Trail. I did this hike how I dreamed of doing it, and got more from the experience than I ever could have asked for.

My Pa’lante V2 at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, I hung out and cherished the moment for a while

Gear

I started the trip with a 6.6lb / 3kg baseweight and overall was very happy with what I used, hardly changing anything over the course of the hike. Prior to starting I was already pretty dialed in with what I like to use, but there are a few standouts and things worth talking about.

I replaced my shoes and two pairs of socks every 500 miles. Important for the longevity of my feet, as many try to stretch shoes much longer. The shoes I wore most were Merrell Trail Glove 6, but at times when it was more convenient I did buy and use Altra Lone Peak 6 as well. One time I tried Altra Superiors and didn’t like them as the sizing is way off compared to Lone Peaks. Far too tight while the Lone Peaks were nearly too loose in the same size, so beware you may need to size up. The Merrells however were a dream for my feet. The fit was great, and the minimalist feel gave me a lot of control. Switching to Altras after those felt like I was wearing clown shoes. Rolling my ankles because I was higher off the ground, and generally very unstable feeling. Still Altras are the most popular trail shoe, I think in some ways it is because in nearly every town you can buy them while I had to order my Merrells online.

The socks I wore were Darn Toughs and overall I was pretty happy with the feel and lifespan. Mostly I went with the midweight, but the lightweight version worked great as well.

I would recommend anyone that is hiking this trail in the future to get gaiters for their shoes, as it will help keep rocks out, preventing blisters and extending the life of your shoes and socks.

The infamous windfarm section just north of the LA Aqueduct. I was ready for my first zero in Tehachapi

I used a 30 degree fahrenheit Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt and was very happy with the warmth, only a couple times being mildly uncomfortable the entire trip. If you sleep cold, a 20 degree would likely be preferable.

My 7×9 Zpacks tarp was perfect, as it didn’t rain often. So having the lightest shelter possible was cool since I hardly needed it. In Oregon there were many mosquitoes, they never bothered me but I would factor that into your shelter choice. Most hikers use a tent instead for that very reason. For the bugs I did carry a headnet, but only used it once.

I replaced my polyco groundsheet three times, and my pack liner twice to avoid tears and holes. Many use a tyvek groundsheet instead, as one sheet would certainly last the entire hike for just a couple ounces more.

For warm clothing I just brought a lightweight fleece (KUIU Peloton 97,) rain jacket (Enlightened Equipment Visp,) a fleece beanie, and some bodywrapper wind pants. I not once wished I had more than that. Since I was moving for most of my waking hours that added to my warmth and allowed such a minimal setup to be fine. If I was stopped, I was probably in my quilt, and soon going to bed.

I also started with and wore Ombraz sunglasses which I really liked, until I lost them around mile 400.

Wearing my fleece and rain jacket on the Tahoe Rim, this was just before a snow storm rolled in on one of my coldest days on trail

I carried 4 liters water to start, and though that worked great for me I would recommend others to start with at least 6 liters and then if you find you need less, you can always get rid of a bottle or two. I did something similar as I got north, for different sections I would carry different quantities. Adding a bottle or removing a bottle. The least I ever carried was 2 liters total capacity.

As for food I cold soaked the entire trail in a small peter pan peanut butter jar and was very happy with that! I like the efficiency of cold soaking where I can add water, hike another two miles, and then eat immediately upon getting to camp. Many prefer to use a gas stove instead which would give you more options when resupplying than having to find items that don’t need heat to rehydrate.

Many hikers used a sun umbrella in the desert. I did not, but they looked very fun and often I was jealous of them! Protection from sun burns, and a self deployed spot of shade to hide in wherever you are. A lot of those same people ditch the umbrella around mile 700 as they are leaving the desert and entering the Sierra, but many people do hike the entire way with it. I think I will personally give these more of a try on future hikes.

Early morning hiking before the heat rolled in. Joshua Trees scatter the landscape in the Mojave Desert

In the Sierra and for Washington I did add a trekking pole to my kit. One that I found in a hiker box that I later ditched, and then one I bought off of a southbound hiker that made it to the end. I found a trekking pole to be essential for safety and stability on the snow, and when crossing swollen rivers. I didn’t much feel a need for them other times but most do use them as they take weight off your joints and muscles, ideally helping to prevent injury, and make the hiking a bit easier.

For this hike I also changed cameras to a lighter and smaller one to film with. I will let you and anyone else be the judge as to how the Sony ZV-1 worked out. I personally really enjoyed the smaller size and significantly reduced weight. I enjoyed the image stabilization, and the zoom. I liked that I could charge it via usb, didn’t need a separate charger, and tons of spare batteries. Something that wasn’t the best though was in efforts to save battery life, I filmed entirely in 1080p instead of 4K, even though it has the capability. It used too much juice to do so and I couldn’t justify that. Still I am happy with the choice, and will likely continue to use it because it is multiple pounds lighter, and many times smaller. For most people I would say to just use your phone.

If you are concerned about this or anything else, most hikers these days carry a Garmin Inreach Mini. They are fairly expensive but worth the cost in the level of safety it gives you. It is a personal locator beacon your family or friends can use to track you, but it also has an SOS button that goes directly to search & rescue should something bad happen. I like this model over other brands because it has a messaging system where you can use it to text friends on trail who also have the device, or you can send messages straight to your family at home to let them know how you are doing. I think it can even give you a weather report.

Standing atop Forester Pass at 13,153ft it is the highest point along the PCT (since Mt Whitney is a side trail)

The flashlight is the Rovyvon Aurora A5x, the same I used last year on the Arizona Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and Long Trail. It’s still going strong! It is rechargeable via usb, ultralight, and has many settings for different levels of brightness and battery longevity. Oh! and it glows in the dark, so you will never have trouble finding it at night when you need it. I carry it in my hand while I walk which elongates shadows and helps to see rocks and things in the trail better than a headlamp would given the lower angle. It does come with a clip so at camp or while walking I can still attach it to my hat for handsfree chores.

My trowel is the deuce of spades, again very light, and I would argue an essential item to have out there. Much of the ground you will be digging in is very difficult to get into with just a trekking pole, shoe, stick or whatever else. Having a dedicated trowel to do the job was extremely helpful to make sure I was leaving no trace.

Descending Forester Pass with bear can and 5 days food inside my pack

My backpack was the Pa’lante V2 in Ultra, a 37L pack that was originally designed with the PCT in mind. Two front shoulder strap pockets for small gear you want accessible like a flashlight, camera, phone, knife, spoon, etc. A bottom pocket that is easily reached while walking to store food in, allowing me to keep moving without the need to stop and take my pack off for a snack. The side pockets very easily fit 4L of water. The overall size was perfect for what this trip called for and the gear that I use. I could even fit a bear can inside, but I would recommend you strap it on top empty instead, and all your food in your pack for maximum comfort.

Though I loved this pack, I think in the future I will use their Desert Pack as it is very similar, but just a touch larger to give me more options to pack out bulkier food items. The Ultra fabric was good and certainly held up, but I think I will use the gridstop in the future. Ultra has a lot of promise, and is working very closely with many companies to make it the best fabric out there, but I don’t think it is there yet. Gridstop is still king for the time being.

Overall I was very happy with everything I used and would hardly change a thing should I do it again. I think the PCT is interesting in that you can go extremely light with some smart planning and timing should you want. I feel like my 6.6lb kit kept me safe, comfortable, and happy the entire way.

For those interested in my gear from the Pacific Crest Trail check out this video! or my gear list can be seen here https://lighterpack.com/r/ub8e5c

Favorite Sections

When a friend asked me if I had any favorite sections or moments from the trail I could not come up with an answer, the experience as a whole was so incredible, and so many things stood out I could not choose just one. It is a similar story for what I liked the least, every section was so unique and interesting it would be hard to pick.

Naturally the Sierra Nevada is near the top of the list. After leaving the desert you enter this world of flowing water, large granite walls, old growth trees, and this sense of true remoteness. I enjoyed the Kings Canyon section the most, but my favorite moment of all was hiking Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48 at 14,505ft) with my friend Sprocket. Many hikers choose to do the trek before sunrise to see the changing of light from the top, above the world. I am not one for waking up early nor night hiking so it worked out for us to be heading up in the evening. As we went up most were coming down and we guessed back and fourth as to how busy it might be up there. I figured there must be another 40 or so hikers hanging out at the top, she guessed less. We took our time to get to the summit to try and avoid any altitude problems, still I had a mild headache, and she said she felt a bit drunk. At the top we find there are only two other hikers there who were leaving shortly. We had the entire mountaintop to ourselves and it felt so incredibly special to be up there. Amazing views of the valley and mountains below, a time I will never forget. We descended the mountain while watching the sun set over the western mountains.

Sprocket on the top of Mt Whitney at 14,505ft
Descending Mt Whitney while the sun set over the mountains to the west

I of course look fondly back at the desert and how fun it was. How much the plants and animals would change from the lower elevations to the higher. I would find myself high up in the mountains nearly everyday, dipping back down to the desert floor, and back up again. This being my second time doing the section I even enjoyed repeating it, and feel like I had a greater appreciation for it than before.

I was surprised at how good Northern California was, as that is often hikers least favorite section. The term “Norcal blues” has even been coined and is thrown around frequently. I felt like it had much to offer both in the way of frequent towns but also constant changing beauty. With views of volcanos off in the distance and many wonderful wilderness areas it seemed like the trail changed drastically from day to day.

Northern Oregon again blew me away, the terrain is easier allowing for some more comfortable walking. It winds us around lakes and ponds, again with views every day of the massive volcanos. Not to mention the famous Eagle Creek alternate with Tunnel Falls, or the Timberline Lodge buffet under Mt Hood.

The Three Sisters in northern Oregon

Washington, and the North Cascades specifically were my favorite section of the entire trail. They also happen to be what I believe is the hardest part of the entire trail. The Cascades are the youngest mountains in the United States and it shows. They haven’t yet been worn down by weather so every peak and ridge looks like jagged shark teeth extending high into the clouds. The diversity from the valley floor to the ridges was always a treat. A near rainforest environment up into high alpine. Marmots, slugs, mountain goats, berries everywhere, beautiful mountains and remote places. I loved the Cascades, and was blown away hiking through. It almost made me forget that everyday I was doing more than 10,000ft of climbing, much more than any previous section.

8,000+ people a year want to attempt this trail for a reason. Despite the loneliness, pain, or any of the tough times, it feels like home.

Washington, just north of Snoqualmie Pass
An ocotillo in bloom in the desert
The California Oregon border, 1,700 miles into the hike
Burney Falls in Northern California
Many years later a dream realized

Thank you to anyone who has followed along, to the angels who helped me along the way, to the folks I met and hiked with, the trail maintenance crews, and PCTA.

If you would like to see some of my Pacific Crest Trail inspired paintings check out the shop on this website. Either way thank you for reading! I hope this has been helpful in someway if not just entertaining

Jupiter

Mt Hood with a blanket of clouds

Arizona Trail Thru Hike Recap – 2021

I had planned to hike this trail last year after finishing the Florida Trail for the second time. In many ways I still feel like I’m catching up with what was lost in 2020. So here I am! AZT2021, one of 11 National Scenic Trails, roughly 800 miles long, spanning from the Mexico border, all the way across the state of Arizona, to Utah. A rugged trail through the desert southwest.

I started this hike April 4th at 2:30pm, which is later than most begin as I think it’s much more typical to start mid to late March. I also started from an alternate southern terminus since the official one was closed, which added on an extra 4 miles to my trip. I finished May 3rd at 8pm for a 29 day, 5 hour, and 30 minute walk across Arizona. I took 3 zero days, all at once in Flagstaff where I’m living. I averaged 27.5 miles per day including zeros, and 30.7 miles per day if you only count days where I actually was hiking. I like to keep track of things as I go so here are my daily miles for the entire trip!

  • 13.5 start 2:30pm
  • 31.1 descending miller
  • 26.1 patagonia resupply
  • 29.3 stung by scorpion
  • 28 colossal cave
  • 27.4 mt mica / saguaro NP
  • 25 mt lemmon
  • 20 high jinks ranch resupply (don’t recommend)
  • 30.4 shoes/socks deteriorate
  • 25.6 limping
  • 24.2 new shoes, kearny
  • 34.4 gila past picket post/superior
  • 28.4 superstitions to roosevelt
  • 20.8 roosevelt lake resupply
  • 34.2 four peaks into mazatzals
  • 33 mazatzals / halfway
  • 33.6 to pine by 4pm
  • 14.4 resupply / nero out of pine, mogollon/highline
  • 28 colorado plateau! Pines!
  • 33.6 mormon lake
  • 34.7 to flagstaff
  • zero in flagstaff
  • zero new shoes
  • zero snow storm
  • 37 San Fran peaks
  • 31 blister, bikepackers
  • 31 Tusayan, NP boundary
  • 28 resupply, rim to rim grand canyon
  • 34.6 achilles pain kaibab plateau
  • 42.1 done 8pm

In the beginning I started out slower, and aside from those zeros towards the end I really tried to ramp it up a little. All made easier as by the end of the hike I essentially had an extra hour of daylight every day. Night hiking is fun, but gets boring quick, and I’ve never been much of a morning person either. Most days I would start hiking by 6am, and would stop hiking around 8pm. Though it varied that was certainly the average.

I was happy with all of my gear and I really wouldn’t change much. My camera battery charger was pretty trashy, my socks didn’t hold up to the brutal terrain, and neither did my shoes. Everything else was great. Some standout items I loved were my flashlight, my mini camera tripod, my camera, my food bag, and my new pair of socks that held up like champs. I was also very happy with my warm jacket, the Torrid Pullover from Enlightened Equipment that I wore every single day. At first I felt like it was too much, too warm, but by the end there were some days I never even took it off. Everything else was great and again, I really wouldn’t change much. Gaiters for my shoes would have been helpful, and that’s pretty much everything. I was happy with my total water capacity, I was happy with my warmth, I was happy with my sun protection even if I should have used it more, I was happy with my tarp since it’s so light and a tent would have been overkill. Just swap the socks, and add some gaiters and I would be golden. Though this is a trail you could go lighter on with some smart timing and planning I feel like my 7lb kit was good, especially considering 2 pounds of that is camera gear.

For those interested in my gear from the Arizona Trail check out this video! or my gear list can be seen here https://lighterpack.com/r/wfwdjs

Overall my start date of April 4th worked out extremely well with my aggressive pace. For those planning on taking a little more time I would certainly want to start earlier, and avoid the heat. For a sub 30 day hike which was my goal, I chose a little bit hotter temps in the south as a trade for not having to hike in snow up north, and generally with more mild temperatures throughout I felt I could go with a lighter pack more safely. If I started earlier I certainly would have been camping in snow, hiking in snow, and would have had to carry more warmth.

The heat itself wasn’t that bad and frankly I never checked the weather so I don’t know what the highs were. A couple days of the hike were extremely exposed and I definitely got toasted. One day I remember feeling like I was on fire. But again that was just one day, one very exposed day, hiking 30ish miles with minimal breaks. For those more into taking mid day siestas in the shade it wouldn’t have been that bad. And overall it wasn’t that bad. Especially early on I was often hiking into the night, and getting 6 or so miles before the sun was really even on me. Allowing me to still get as far as I wanted, but also enjoy it. My sun hat was essential in the beginning but I eventually swapped that out for a baseball cap as I got more north and out of the exposed desert valleys, and into the high elevations with more ponderosa pine cover. I probably should have just kept the sun hat even then, but hey, science or something. I would slather myself in sunscreen and still get burnt, but I guess that’s life walking through a desert. Reapply more often than you think you should.

The night time temps hovered in the 30s, sometimes dipping below freezing, and often the wind was howling and ever present. I had prepared for this so I stayed warm. I cowboy camped every night except two. The first time I setup my tarp was 500 miles in, it wasn’t planned. Earlier in the evening while still hiking I was watching the sun set, this giant cloud formation was on the horizon, and I noted how beautiful it looked. After having been asleep for an hour I woke up at 9pm to the familiar feeling of water pelting my face, and making that sound only rain can produce when it’s beginning to soak your sleeping bag. I should have heeded the cloudy warning and known. I scrambled to setup my shelter with half closed eyes, and slept through the storm without much more of a thought. The next day I took 20 minutes to dry my things in the sun and wind, and as always kept moving before too long.

The second time I setup my tarp was after seeing those familiar clouds in the distance. Hiking into the night I was fighting though 30mph winds and mostly wanted a shield, but also knew chances of rain could be high. No cell service so just instinct I guess. The tarp shielded me from the wind, and it never did rain but I woke up to incredible amounts of frost on all my gear, my shoes frozen, and the ground crunchy. Later I caught up to some bike packers that had camped 15 miles ahead of me who said all evening while I was fighting the wind, they were riding through snow flurries. I had wanted to go further that night, but I guess in some ways it’s good I didn’t.

The trail was well marked by my standards and during a few days of 30+ miles I didn’t need my phone for navigation at all. In the end much of the trail you could likely do by following others footsteps. The GPS or navigational tools however were extremely handy when it came to water. The sources weren’t very far apart, maybe 8-12 miles on average between them, but you really could never know, and often times they were off trail out of sight. The furthest I had to go between sources I believe was 20 miles. Not too bad, and even those carries could have been made shorter if I were more willing to go further off trail to get water. I chose to just go further to the next one most of the time.

The carry out of Roosevelt Lake was one of those longer ones, and once you get north of Flagstaff there are a few more longer carries or dry stretches.

This year water caches were plentiful, but seldom were they necessary. Considering 90% of the time you’re drinking from cow water on this hike, complete with cow poop, fungus, silt, and all manner of other things… water caches were nice to see, it’s just that you could do without them if you wanted. Most of the time I would carry 2L which would get me 12-20 miles depending on the heat. Below is a photo of a “good” water source.

The terrain is where the difficulty of this hike really comes and bites you. Rocks, so many rocks. Constantly walking on rocks of all shapes and sizes. From small gravel with larger pieces strewn in, to walking on the scales of a dragon for an entire day. Walking on marbles is what I felt like I was doing, and my feet were taking a beating. I have never gone through shoes so fast until this trail. Within 250 miles my first pair were disintegrating, my second pair lasted a while but I still wound up replacing them around mile 600 just in case, and was very happy I did. It wasn’t just me either as I saw others having foot problems, shoe problems, and sock problems up and down the entire trail. Gaiters definitely would have helped, and if I were to do it again I would start with a pair. The first 500 miles going northbound are rough, and north of there as you crest the Colorado Plateau and the Kaibab Plateau the terrain gets way easier, and the miles get way easier. After that 480 mile mark or whatever it was I was cruising on some fine comfortable trail. Everything before then and I was getting wrecked.

Throughout the hike you are constantly changing elevation and I think that is what makes this trail so special. The ecosystems, plants, animals, and views were constantly changing fairly drastically as you rose or dropped a few thousand feet. One second you’re in the desert surrounded by cholla, saguaro, and prickly pear, and the next second it looks and feels like you’re in the high sierra. The weather as well will change drastically from incredible heat to incredible cold. From cactus to pines. From the desert valleys up into the sky islands. It was very special to be seeing so much change every day. Every 20 miles it was often like I was in a different world, on a different trail. Sometimes I was equating the views and rocks to the Pacific Northwest, sometimes the Pacific Crest, even sections that were very reminiscent of the Florida Trail.

On this trip I mostly saw deer, probably a few hundred, but I also saw wild horses, quite a few elk, bear droppings, interesting prehistoric lizards, and one night I was even stung by a scorpion! What joy that was. Still hiking a couple miles into the night I stopped to look at my map, set my hand down on a rock, and sudden pain was all I felt. The pain lingered as I hiked on and my finger lost feeling. After some hours the pain subsided but it took more than a week for my finger to regain feeling! I don’t say this as a bad thing but more as wow! What an experience that was to be trying to open my water bottle and without looking at it not knowing if I was successfully unscrewing it or not. Even so I never felt worried about where I was sleeping even though I was cowboy camping every night, and I never did see a single snake the entire trail.

Some nights I had spooky feelings, but it never seemed to amount to anything. I think it’s just at times hiking through the desert can be a spooky thing. One morning I did wake up to very angry deer noises, and when I picked my head up into the cold air to look around I saw what must have been 50 deer all standing 150ft from me, staring right at me, huffing and puffing. They eventually wandered off, I packed my things, and wandered off as well.

Throughout the trail you have many options for towns. Some you may need to hitch a ride to, some with very friendly angels who will give you one if you ask, and others that you basically walk right through. Towns never seemed very far away and I think if I wanted I could have gone into one every other day, if not more often in some sections. Sometimes you could go into the same town from many different sides or roads and ways if you wanted to do that too. I think the southern end of the trail had more, but there were certainly a lot of options up north too. This isn’t the Appalachian Trail, but you also will never have to carry 150 miles worth of food, unless you want to. I often would get my food at one town, and then skip the next one. I usually want to spend more time on trail, and with so many options it was nice to know they were there, but didn’t often need them. Except once when it came to my shoes where I made an unplanned town stop to get a new pair.

The town of Patagonia was very nice, and it would be good to hang out there. I enjoyed Pine, and Flagstaff of course is a must. Truly they were all great places. Some were a bit more hiker friendly than others but any of them I would have been happy to be in. Usually all the amenities were close by, and everything a hiker could want never seemed to be very far from where a hiker might stay.

Every section of trail had something very unique to it, every section had something that made it special. Large rock features, canyons, big mountain views, beautiful pine forests, prairies, boulder gardens, endless cactus of all shapes sizes and colors, wildflowers blooming along the trail, lakes, rivers, cows, there really was no shortage of stuff to see in an environment that is constantly changing. Some sections still had snow patches, some mountains were still capped with white. The sunsets were nearly always the best I have ever seen, and the sunrises and cool morning air was always a pleasure to wake up to.

The trail is truly special, and even more special is the work the Arizona Trail Association has put into it to make it what it is. For being such a young trail, and one of the youngest to be designated a National Scenic Trail by Congress it is truly incredible what the association and it’s volunteers have done to make it what it is. Extremely well groomed, manicured, well routed, well marked, unique features and signs you will only find on the AZT. Very few road walks, and a whole lot of fun hiking. Sometimes people will ask me about a certain trail and where would be a good section to go out and do. When it comes to the AZT I think you could hop on *anywhere* and have a great time. Some areas may have more spectacular views, but when a section lacks that, it almost always made up for it in different ways. You could truly hike on any part of this trail and would wind up seeing something special.

Some of my personal favorite sections include Colossal Cave, Saguaro NP, Mt Lemmon, Kearny to Superior, the Mazatzals, the Highline Trail and Mogollon Rim, the San Francisco Peaks, and the Grand Canyon.

In the end it was a very fun hike and some day it might be fun to come back and do it again, but on a bike.

In 2019 my girlfriend Lotus had done this trail so I did have some idea as to what was ahead, though as we all know nothing will prepare you like actually getting out there yourself. Thanks to her I had a much better idea of what the cactus I was seeing were, what the water situation might be like, temperatures, what type of gear I should bring, and many many other things. She definitely served as a great guide when going into this trail even if we both hiked it in very different ways(she started in February!) Her support throughout, and knowing I would get to see her once or twice along the way definitely made the trip so much better.

10 Tips For An Ultralight Backpack – How To Thru Hike ep3

Today were going to talk about how to get a lighter backpacking kit!

Obviously not everyone wants a lighter backpack, so why would you?

  • a lighter backpack is easier to carry while hiking since whatever you bring, you then have to haul up mountains for miles and miles on end
  • it’s more comfortable on your back, shoulders, and joints carrying less weight
  • it allows you to do more and see more, since you can walk more freely without pain or stress
  • and in many many ways it helps to avoid potential injuries you might see with people toting a heavier load

Climbing Mt Shasta in Northern California with John Zahorian 2017

baseweight is a term you may be unfamiliar with so we’ll cover that quick, it is the weight of your gear, excluding water and food, since that varies on a day to day basis.

It is essentially as light as your pack will get on a trip, and is a standard for comparison if you’re ever looking at anyone elses kit

I have done almost all of my thru hikes with a 6lb baseweight, give or take

So although I really enjoy traveling super light now, I didn’t always. In 2012 on my first Appalachian Trail attempt I was actually carrying upwards of a 70lb backpack

I had multiple guidebooks, maps for states I wouldn’t be in for months to come, hardcover books that I never touched or read, a 7lb bag of trail mix, three yoyo’s, and the list goes on…

As you can imagine, I had a lot of fun, but I also quickly found myself in a lot of pain from the crushing weight of my pack

Pain that soon became the reason I had to quit and get off trail so early on into my hike

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve since gone so light on all my trips, it’s the prospect of getting injured in a way that can be prevented

In 2016 when I came back to do the Appalachian Trail again my pack was super light, and I walked comfortably the entire way enjoying every moment

 

You don’t have to go anywhere near as minimal as I did, but I do think it’s good to at least be aware of what you’re carrying because maybe there’s some heavier things you could leave at home and still be just as happy without them

So as you’re going on your shake down overnight hikes near home this is stuff I want you to consider.

A thru hike upwards of 2,000 miles is much more than just a camping trip, in reality its a walking trip.

Often times you have deadlines either set by when you need to be back to work, when you might run out of money, or something every last person has to deal with on trail… when impassible weather is going to roll in and ruin the finale of your hike forcing you to quit

Few thru hikes could you average 10 miles a day and still go the entire distance due to the eventual wall of weather you will face. Thats why most appalachian trail hikers do it in 6 months or less, and most pacific crest trail hikers do it in 5 months or less. If they were to take any more time they would inevitably run into far too dangerous of conditions to continue.

so we hike, day in and day out, waking up near dawn, and stopping near sunset or even after. all trying to race the weather north or south.

This would be made much more difficult with a heavy backpack, so these days most choose and aim for a more ultralight system while thru hiking.

Something to carry more comfortably on their walking trip

There’s loads of information out there on how to lighten your backpack

probably on any hiking blog or website in existance you’ll find various tips of this sort

So I’d like to take a different approach

to give you the tools to do this and understand this yourself

so instead of just going over a hundred items i find worthless that you may really enjoy lets talk about some tools to get you that lighter backpack

since everybody has different needs and desires, and there’s a million different ways to do this anyhow

here are 10 tips from my point of view

1. Use what you have

start with the gear you already own, I know it’s tempting to buy new things but the best way to learn and grow is to simply get out there and try things.

This way you can get a better idea for what you really want when later on if you choose to go and buy some new stuff.

If you don’t currently have gear ask around with friends and see if you can borrow some stuff. This may not be possible but it’s worth a try instead of buying things you may not like, or buying things you would soon want to replace

When you do go out with your gear, take notes on what you would like to be different. Maybe there’s a different tent shape you would prefer, or your sleeping bag isn’t warm enough

Really scrutinize everything you own.

2. Take out everything you have, weigh it, and write it all down

preferably using a website like lighterpack.com with a little kitchen scale

It’s one thing to go backpacking and know that your kit feels heavy, it’s another thing to know exactly where that weight is all coming from.

For me this was a big eye opener as when I went online to look at getting new things I could see exactly how much weight I would or wouldn’t be cutting by spending that money.

With websites like lighterpack you can play around with your setup by removing things, or weighing different things and seeing how that changes your list overall

I had found early on by weighing random things around my house that some simple kitchen pot was lighter than the one I had for backpacking, I found that the warm clothes I had bought many years ago were lighter than what I had been using while being equally warm.

You never know the types of things you may find and be able to replace.

Categorizing things in this way gives you the ability to scrutinize further, and often times for free, lighten your backpacking load

lighterpack.com is a wonderful tool for any backpacker looking to step up their game. Looking for other peoples gear lists you’ll surely being seeing this website a lot.

3. Everytime you go out, reevaluate your gear

So you’ve got a day here, or a day there off work where you can go on an overnight trip…

Take as many of these as possible, and everytime you come home, really think over your trip, and reavaluate the things you brought.

What did you use, what didn’t you use, can anything be changed.

Did you love something but felt it could be lighter weight, did you hate the design of something but still feel at its core it’s necessary but could replaced for something better with the ame function

Everytime you go out, pay close attention to how you’re doing things, and do this over and over and over again

the only way you’ll figure this stuff out is by doing

Before hiking the appalachian trail in 2016 I had already done about 2,000 miles worth of hiking trips near home. Learning, growing, changing, and refining. I learned more on those trips, than I ever have since on any thru hike I’ve ever done.

4. Make a distinction between what is actually necessary for your survival and comfort, and what is purely luxury

then decided if that luxury is something that you would even use

often you get out there and find you’re too tired to read at the end of the day, or like me on the florida trail with the fishing pole I carried for 1,100 miles, I only used it once

Remember in many ways thru hikes are more of a walking trip than anything else.

It’s good to make this distinction so you know exactly what you can leave behind and not truly suffer for it

Have fun and use those luxuries on shorter trips with friends, and have fun on your thru hike by carrying less and walking up that mountain more freely

But this doesn’t only apply to items like books, or fishing rods, this applies to everything

If it isn’t purely for your survival then at least for the thought exercise, consider it a luxury, and that it could be left behind

5. Modify everything

This is pretty common when trying to push the limits of what you carry. To go through all your items and see if you can modify them in anyway to be lighter. Are there any unnecessary features you can cut off

You’ve probably seen people cutting their toothbrushes in half, or even smaller. And that’s the idea. Do you really need a full handle on your toothbrush? Do you need those random straps on you backpack? Do you need an  entire bottle of sunscreen or could you package it in a smaller bottle. Modify everything

This is awesome to do because again, its free! And you’re actively making the gear you already own lighter in the process.

6. Find the value in the absolute bare minimum, and then add back things you want from there

In the world of backpacking there is the term, shakedown. Generally refering to shaking out all the unnecessary gear in someones pack, and seeing what sticks.

You could perform a shakedown hike yourself, like we talked about in some of the last steps with little overnight trips, or you could have someone more experienced go through your pack, and give you a shakedown from their perspective. What you need, and what you could leave behind, in an effort to lighten up.

When people ask me for a pack shakedown I make a point to show them what the bare minimum is with the gear they have. The least amount of items they need to survive, and then let them add back things from there that I had removed.

I think it’s extremely important to know what just how little you could get away with, to make a true distinction between luxury and survival.

So that’s what I’ll ask you to do, find the bare minimum, the least amount of things you need to survive, and then add back from there

I encourage anyone that wants to, to take a trip near home with that extremely minimal kit, and see what it’s like

See what you miss, and what you didn’t

Personally the things I’ve added back into my kit have been a camera and a yoyo since those items really help to keep me going on long days

My gear from the Pacific Northwest Trail

7. Campsite selection

Good campsite selection means you can get away with less gear

replacing that gear with knowledge and skills

for instance you have less need for a full tent and can get away with a tarp if your campsite selection is good or you know the trail you’re hiking has a lot of vegetation to shield you. Thus saving a lot of weight with a smaller shelter.

Same goes for warmth, if you’re constantly setting up in really exposed areas, near water, or at the tops of mountains then you would need a lot more insulation than someone who is being more choosy about their campsites.

If you’re able to find campsites with really plush ground like grass, leaves, or pine needles you can get away with a much lighter and more minimal sleeping pad while retaining that natural comfort

This is how I’ve always been able to go so light. I am extremely choosy with where i camp, and I don’t let what others are doing dictate how I do things.

  • Look for areas that are naturally sheltered from wind
  • camp away from water as those areas are always colder
  • find a spot with good tree cover above you to avoid condensation and provide warmth
  • don’t camp on the tops of exposed mountains or in the bottoms of valleys
  • find a spot that has good natural cushion for ground

doing all of this whenever possible and you’ll be amazed at how little you can carry and still remain comfortable

of course you don’t need to do each and every one of these things every night but pick and choose depending on the weather you’re going to experience

Sheltered from wind, plenty of extra cover from trees, and a relatively comfortable ground to sleep on. This was a very fine campsite

8. Use others as inspiration for your own gear choices

This is something I do constantly, searching online for others that have been successful on their thru hikes, and comparing their gear to mine, or taking notes on what they use and why it would be helpful to me

Is it lighter weight? Is it going to keep my warmer or dryer? Is there some special reason they chose what they did instead of something else?

and of course, is this a person who had highly scrutinized their own gear choices that I can actually trust with my own

Looking for ways I can lighten my own kit with theirs as inspiration, or ways that I could live more comfortably on trail

Don’t just do this with one person, look at many different folks out there and take notes. This I find is an incredible way to learn whether you’re a beginner or an expert

Though you can look at any gear list ever for this type of inspiration it is helpful to specifically look at soeone who is hiking the same trail you’re going to hike. As things like warmth, shelter, water capacity, and rain protection can vary wildly from trail to trail

9. Spending money

Lets say you know you really love backpacking, and that maybe you’re looking to spend money, and are wanting to make an investment to many trips in the future…

the biggest area to save weight is probably by replacing what is known as your big three

Your shelter, your sleeping bag, and your backpack

This will undoubtedly cost you and may not be money you need to spend when all these other tips are pretty much free

but you can almost certainly shed some pounds with lighter gear, instead of just becoming a minimalist

Something you may notice about this list is I hardly if at all mention that you need to go out and buy something lighter, I think really the trick to a lightweight kit is skills and learning, rather than spending a fortune. Realizing what you don’t need instead of replacing everything you have with a fancy new version.

Enlightenedequipment.com makes great quilts

Zpacks.com makes great tents

Palantepacks.com makes great backpacks

All off this is an exponential process. As you lighten your pack further you’re then able to use lighter and lighter gear made to carry less. So by taking steps towards a lighter kit you can then use a lighter backpack for instance

So these three places, your shelter, quilt, and backpack are where the biggest weight savings can come from by spending money. But be sure you’re aware of how much the gear you already have weighs, and consider if any of this is actually worth the money to you to save that extra bit

10. Don’t pack your fears

research, plan, and understand how you can overcome your fears

a game i would play with my mom was using her fears of what i would run into on a thru hike, and how i would deal with it to my own learning advantage.

I’d ask her what she was afraid of happening to me, as there were always so many things she was afraid of, and then i would explain to the best of my ability why that wasn’t a problem because of this technique, this understanding, or the gear i was bringing and how i am using it.

if you can’t explain it to her or don’t know yourself then it’s a topic you need to research and learn about.

Often times the fears she would have were not even sort of applicable to the trail I was hiking, or time of year i was hiking, but you need to know that. What the temperatures are like where you’re going, and how your gear will work with that. Animals, bad weather, everything pertaining to the trail you’ll be on.

The fears you have, the fears your friends and family have are often times very valid and real. That’s why we play this game, to learn, and find new things to prepare for

the more you understand your fear, the less frightening it becomes, and instead turns into a strength

Remember it may seem silly to save an ounce here or an ounce there, even fractions of an ounce, but you do that enough and you suddenly have shaved pounds off your back.

*Bonus Tip*

The biggest area I see where people carry to much is clothing. The fear of being cold, the fear of being dirty, or not knowing what will be warm enough. Studying what others have used before you, or using your own personal experiences is important here.

So those are my 10 tips and one bonus!

That’s all I have for you today, I’ll catch you in the next episode of the how to thru hike series where we’ll dive deeper into more specific gear categories, and things to prepare you for your long walk!

super ultralight with a bear can even

6 Tips to Prepare – How to Thru Hike ep2

Last time we talked about which trail you might want to do, and maybe you’ve already decided. Maybe you’ve already gone off and done some shake down hikes

Today we’ll talk about how you’re going to prepare for your ultimate journey on a long trail

The type of things I look into and the type of things I research first

These are just preliminary things I do every time I’m beginning to plan a thru hike, the first steps I take to eventually heading off on a long walk in the woods.

What are the towns like, what’s the resupply situation, historical weather data, gear I may need, training I should possibly do, who else is out there, and past experiences I should read up on

Pacific Northwest Trail, Olympic National Park

Basically what I’m going to tell you is to do a ton of research, and we’ll talk about what specifically you want to research

The more you know the better!

Later on in this series I’ll have videos on how to train physically, and things to do before you go

This is more along the lines of a first step

Mental preperation in the way of investing yourself in this endeavor. Investing yourself in the knowledge, and the trail you’ll later be hiking

So lets dive right in!

You could do these steps in any order but lets start here,

1. Who else is going to be out there?

I find that it’s a nice thing to follow a bunch of other peoples hikes on the same trail I’m doing

Not only does this give me people to look forward to running into, but if they’re ahead of me I have the added benefit of seeing trail conditions before I get there.

or since you’re doing this before you start you get to see how everyone else prepares, and ask if you should do the same

Is there a bunch of snow? Has the trail not been maintained yet? Is the trail flooded or a river very dangerous? Maybe there’s some trail magic you would hear about in this way, or specific spots you may want to stop

So not only do I essentially have some “friends” out there, I can also gather all sorts of information that may help me in my own journey.

You can find others to follow on youtube by searching the trails name and the year, on facebook in groups by searching the trails name and the year, or on instagram through hashtags

For instance, #at2021 or #pct2021

This all may seem silly to some but more information is always a good thing

2. Look into past trip journals

Similarly I also look into past trip journals, either videos people have posted from past years, or actual trail journals people have written and published online

Trail conditions can change from year to year but generally the trail itself stays the same.

By reading past accounts you can see what’s gone wrong, what’s gone right, places of interest, towns that could be fun to plan a zero day in, potential hazards or things you need to account for, and again all sorts of other information

Before I started the Pacific Northwest Trail I watched videos from the past, and even read a journal from 8 years prior to when I was hiking.

In some ways the videos scared me as to what was to come, but ultimately if I’m scared in some way, it’s better to plan and prepare for why before I go than to find out and be surprised while on trail.

The journals I read on the otherhand were very reasuring, and ultimately I was extremely happy I had read them

If you don’t want to spoil the trail for yourself, I fully understand. Before I did the uinta highline trail I didnt read or watch anything about it, and left all the surprises for actually being out there.

This can work, and can be more exciting, but in the end I did get slammed with some conditions and hardships that I would have been more prepared for had I done more research.

So by not doing this stuff you’ll likely be fine, but I do think you are increasing your chances of success if you do take the time to research in these ways.

As I always say, before the trip begins, I want to do everything in my power to increase my chances of success.

Because once you’re out there all of this becomes a lot harder, and in the end having that extra familiarity with the trail is a very good thing

3. Pay attention to towns & resupply options

So while I’m reading others journals or watching videos I also try and pay attention to the towns they mention, if there’s anything strange like a really long food carry between towns, or if they needed to send themselves a box because it’s a very small town with limited grocery options

This fits into the bigger category of food resupply and we’ll cover this more deeply in a later installment o this series but for now just make a mental note

If it’s a trail that’s very remote and you need to send yourself boxes you’ll want to know that early on in the planning. While a trail like the Appalachian Trail the resupply situation is very easy, and you only really need to be aware of the first couple towns as you can easily figure out the rest while you’re out there.

Most trails you can easily buy food from grocery or convenience stores so it’s not much of a concern, but being aware of how far it is in between towns is still important

The backpack you use, and how much weight you’re going to carry will vary wildly if the trail hits a town every 60 miles vs a trail that hits towns every 200 miles

Hikes like the AT and PCT have great resources online for this type of information, but pretty much every long distance trail out there has some kind of guidebook which you can learn this type of info from as well

I often go through a guidebook before I leave, and highlight all the towns I plan on stopping in, and again checking out the distance between them

So this brings up another great thing you can do at this point

4. Buy Guidebooks, Maps, & Guthook

Go online and see if you can buy maps and a guidebook for the trail you’re going to hike

Not only is mail sometimes slow, but you’ll want these early on to start flipping through and gaining a familiarity

You don’t have to go nuts, but every once in a while look through it

For most trails these days there are also gps apps, you can sometimes get gps tracks for free online and sometimes this is your only option but most of the time you can download the app Guthook

Guthook has many trails loaded onto it, is pretty affordable considering what you get, and also comes with the added benefits of having town info, food establishments, water sources, pretty views, hostels, and pretty much everything you would ever find in a guidebook, but in an easy to read application for your phone.

It is an invaluable tool

I personally prefer to plan using maps and a guidebook, then while I’m on trail to switch over and use guthook exclusively

I cannot recommend getting this app enough, and 99% of the people you see out there will also be using it for navigating and information

One word of caution about Guthook: Dont get lost in it. I see so many people looking at the app, and agonizing over the climb they’re about to do, or agonizing over the distance to the next town when if they had just kept walking they would likely be done with it already

A really incredible tool, but try not to lose yourself in the details, and instead enjoy the trail

5. Look into the gear others used

So lets talk about gear!

At this point you may not want to dive into spending a bunch of money on gear just yet

We will have a few episodes coming up on gear itself, but what you can do now is start looking at the gear others brought, what worked for them, and take some notes.

Maybe they did reviews and you can see what they liked. Just be sure to find people that did the trail you’re doing, and started around the same time you are

Say they started a month earlier, or a month later, the gear they needed is possibly different from what you’ll need. Still a good exercise to look into what worked for others.

I do this a lot!

Say you’re going northbound on the PCT starting in April, you’ll likely learn from seeing gear lists that you’ll want a 20 or 30 degree quilt, you’ll want to start with about 6 liters of water, and that bugs aren’t an issue until the sierra. Among many other things you may notice

Fortunately we all have this amazing resource in the internet, and we can learn from others who have been successful and stand on their shoulders

I personally try to upload a gear video for every trail that I’m doing because I know how valuable that information can be, like my girlfriend Lotus’ gear list from the Florida Trail that I recently posted

6. Look into historical weather data

Something else that may influence your choices in gear is looking into historical weather data. Another trick I use before every trip I take.

Am I hiking the sheltowee trace trail in April? By looking up historical weather patterns I can learn and prepare for what temperatures and rain I will likely see later

I would find that in april in kentucky temperatures can still get down into freezing, and that rain is something to concern myself with. I can then buy the gear that will keep me warm, and dry

VS if I were hiking the Arizona Trail in October I no longer have to worry about rain, but I’m in for a lot of cold, and I better pack for that

You can also do this type of searching regarding bugs but generally I find the spring and summer is typically the worst for bugs unless you’re in the desert, and the fall is always the best as a rule o thumb

So basically the point of this episode is that information is power.

You have that power, and it will aid you in your journey, and can exponentially increase your chances of having a better time and a more successful time later when you’re on trail

If you can do this now while you’re at home, why not?

So I encourage you to take some time, watch some videos, buy some guide books, and immerse yourself in the trail you have chosen to hike

Many don’t do this type of research but when you’ve quit your job and have been dreaming of doing this for years, I personally would want the best chances possible at success when unfortunately so many don’t make it

I will say that many do go the distance without any of this, but it does make things harder

Just as well some trails are a lot easier than others

How much of this you choose to do is up to you! I think the planning is fun, but can see it from both sides

So for now that concludes todays episode! I hope it has been helpful, and a good window into some of the pre trail planning that goes on

As always I look forward to what type of adventures you find youself in, and I look forward to seeing you for the next installment of the how to thru hike series

Which Trail Should You Hike? – How to Thru Hike ep1

backpacker magazine map (somewhat inaccurate but good for reference)

Some of these trails aren’t so much ‘trails’ but again great for reference or ideas

So you’ve decided you want to do a thru hike!

That’s awesome! I’ve found love in these types of trips.

Hiking across the country, the small towns I get to experience, the animals and plants that I see, the epic views, the people I meet, and the community I’ve become a part of.

It’s really an amazing world to be in.

The first question you’re probably asking yourself is, which trail should I hike?

Now maybe you’ve already decided on a trail, I still recommend you watch this video as I take maybe a different position than most do on this subject

There are mega long trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail

Both over 2,000 miles, take months to complete, and are really a standard in the long distance hiking world.

But there are also shorter trails, I have done the 300 mile Sheltowee Trace Trail in Kentucky, The 300 mile Pinhoti Trail in Alabama, The 100 mile Uinta Highline Trail in Utah, and the 60 mile Ocean to Lake Trail in Florida, among others

In many ways hiking a shorter long trail you get a very similar experience to going off to hike something 2,000 miles. But you also gain a lot more than that, and that’s what I’ll be talking about today.

I would never tell anyone to not hike the AT or to not hike the PCT

I and many others have had incredible experiences on both

But what I will say is,

Hike a shorter trail first

Something that’s in the range of 40 to 200 miles.

A trail like the AT or the PCT that is upwards of 2,000 miles is a massive commitment. Often times you have to quit your job, sell your things, leave your family and friends behind for months

and the problem here being, these trails aren’t guaranteed. Only 1 out of 4 people that attempt the appalachian trail, are actually successful.

Imagine leaving everything behind, and then within that first week, or for many, that very first day…

you realize this isnt what you thought it was, its harder than you thought, its not that fun… and you wind up going back home.

After telling everyone in your life, that you’d be gone for months doing this thing, that would be pretty depressing

It’s a very unfortunate thing! But it can be avoided!! And here’s how…

Start small and then go big.

Do a trail thats shorter first, less of a commitment, something that can be done in a brief vacation from work, and then plan the big hike after you’ve seen how much in person, you actually want to do this

For many, the AT or PCT is their first ever overnight trip. It works for some, but of all the reasons to quit a thru hike beyond injury, or finances this is something that’s very much in your control

So why hike a smaller trail first?

1. Less of a commitment

we’ll we’ve mentioned that it’s less of a commitment, you can easily the take time off work to do a trip near home, in the 40-200 mile range, vs something that will take months upon months

this way you’ll have the opportunity to see for yourself and ask yourself, is this even something i would enjoy doing for months. Maybe the shorter hikes are truly what you enjoy! And that’s awesome, I love these shorter trails.

But it would be a hard lesson to learn early on in a super long distance trail

Less of a commitment to see where your heart is, is a big one.

2. Get used to your gear

Beyond that, doing a short trail first is also a great opprotunity to get used to your gear!

I personally had attempted the appalachian trail in 2012 as my first thru hike, and not only did I fail as that was one of my very first backpacking trips ever, but also that was the very first time I was using most of the gear that I had brought.

This is a similar story to many. My first night on the AT was my first night ever using my camp stove for instance. Your first night of a multi month backpacking trip, should probably not be the first time you’re ever using your gear.

This is actually known as a shakedown hike, to go hike something smaller prior to your big trip, and get familiar with your gear.

Or to see that maybe some of this gear you have you don’t actually like

vs finding that out later on the big trip, which would be much harder to swap things out or change what you don’t like.

3. Learn some new skills

These shorter trips are also a great opportunity to learn some new skills!

How to deal with the rain, how to use your gear, becoming more comfortable and confident in the outdoors, how to deal with blisters, what foods you like and how much you should be eating…

and generally just a proper backpacking 101 course for yourself before you head to the big time

try to find a short hike near where you live that would be great for doing this and learning

4. You can easily bail

you then also have the massive benefit of being close to friends and family should anything go wrong

it would be very hard to deal with gear failure, or crazy weather on your first ever trip if you were far away from home.

in other words it’s good to learn when you’re not that far from those that can help you, and those that care about you. it’s good to learn, close to home.

As a Floridian it would be much easier to learn and practice near home than say here, in Washington state, deep in Olympic National Park on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Some trails to consider

In the past I had done a video about some shorter trails out there that I felt were really awesome, you can check that out here

Maybe you live in the southern appalachian area, the foothills trail is only 77 miles and would be an incredible jumping off point

If you live in Florida the Ocean to Lake Trail is a wonderful 60 mile trail

If you live up near minnesota the 300 mile superior hiking trail may be the one

Or lets say you’re in northern California, how about the 40 mile timberline trail, or the 165 mile tahoe rim trail

Or for those in washington the 90 mile wonderland trail would be incredible!

Even things like the 200 mile vermont long trail

or the 100 mile uinta highline trail in utah

Texas has the 90 mile lone star trail

and the list goes on!! Nearly every state has some cool short trail for you to go find your legs on, and later tell others about when you are doing that massive 2,000 mile journey.

But you don’t have to necessarily do an entire trail from end to end, maybe you live close to a much longer trail!

A section hike is also a wonderful option.

Getting out on that super long trail near home, and setting aside so many days, and seeing how far you can get!

I know doing a section hike doesnt have the same romantic aspect as doing a thru hike, but I promise no matter the distance, or trail that you choose to do you can have a life changing experience.

Hiking the 100 mile Uinta Highline Trail in Utah

So what long trail should you do!

So lets get back to the original question here, which trail should you do? I dont mean which short trail, as I think the one closest to home is probably the best one for that.

But I mean which uber long trail

This may sound obvious but I think you should do the trail that calls to you the most.

Hear me out on this one, most people that hike the triple crown start with the appalachian trail, because in a lot of ways it can be the most convenient and accessible thru hike of the three.

But maybe you want to hike the continental divide trail, and deep down that’s what calls to you the most…

but maybe you’re afraid of the exposure, the vast wilderness, the animals, the navigational problems…

I think potentially you should go for that one, despite the fear.

I say that because, you may only have one chance at this. Say you go off and hike the Appalachian Trail when you really wanted to hike the CDT instead, you come home, find the man or woman of your dreams, find the job of your dreams, and never get to thru hike again.

That’s a pretty optimistic reason to never thru hike again, but i’m sure you could come up with worse scenarios to never make it back out there.

So you may have had a great experience on the AT, but forever will wonder what it would have been like on the CDT instead.

So I think you should follow your heart, and do what calls to you most. Some may require more research or planning than others, but in the end I think it would be worth it.

Do what you love

after failing my first thru hike attempt, I came back 4 years later, having done loads of shake down hikes, researching a lot, and training hard

I came back and not only hiked the Appalchian Trail but hiked 5,000 miles from quebec to key west florida, including the appalachian Trail.

It was what my heart truly desired, and ultimately I don’t think I would have been as happy if I had settled for something less at the time.

Having to quit your job, and leave your life is very hard. Make it worth it in every way.

Finishing my 5,000 mile walk down the east coast on the Eastern Continental Trail (which included the Appalachian Trail, Florida Trail, International Appalachian Trail, and many others) I did what called to me most, and made the best of my time

There’s a lot of cool trails out there, and I hope this series is useful to you in getting out there and doing them.

As a final little recommendation, in choosing exactly what you want, I recommend looking up a list of trails, then searching for youtube videos of them! The world is vast, and I promise there is something out there, that will totally blow you away

Thanks for watching or reading this first installment, I look forward to having you back for the next one.

See ya next time!

Into – How to Thru Hike Series!

Hi I’m Jupiter!

I’m starting a new series here on my website and also youtube about how to thru hike! It’s mostly focused on the videos on youtube but I know some people really prefer to read things instead of watch or listen, so felt I should have it in both places.

The first installment comes out tomorrow

So in the near future, check back here for more, or subscribe to my channel on youtube!

http://www.youtube.com/jupiterhikes

This will be the lessons and basics I’ve learned over 10,000 miles of hiking long trails around the united states to hopefully help others who also want to come out and thru hike a trail themselves

We won’t cover any one trail in specific but instead the knowledge you might need to get out just about anywhere, and certainly all of the basics! This will be an overview

We’ll cover topics like

  • which trail should you do
  • how to prepare
  • tips to lighten your backpack
  • shelters
  • electronics
  • cooking
  • clothing
  • luxury Items
  • how to stay dry
  • footware & footcare
  • how to train
  • leave no trace
  • how to resupply
  • financing a thru hike
  • pacing yourself & avoiding injury
  • things to do before you go

Some added bonuses might pop up in there as well as I may remove something if it happens to get covered inadvertently in a different episode.

I really look forward to doing this! I just want to create something useful for the community that has given me so much joy over the years

I personally have had many successful thru hikes, and I’ve also failed a couple for reasons that I think could help in advising others not to do that themselves

So I’ll see you next soon!

Florida Trail Thru Hike Statistics

Florida Trail statistics from my second FT thru hike! The first go around I was a bit preoccupied with simply hiking, and enjoying the world Florida backwoods has to offer. So I certainly wasn’t taking down numbers or counting things as I went, other than miles. Mostly thanks to my hiking partner Lotus, this time we actually paid more attention beyond just enjoying the scenery and motion! So here are a few numbers from our thru hike, and a bit of explanation behind them.

 

  • Miles: 1,108 – We went southbound starting at Fort Pickens, on the Pensacola Beach. Went East around Orlando, and West around Lake Okeechobee. Ending our hike at the Big cypress Oasis Visitor Center, the official terminus. Other than going southbound this is the most typical route to take, while there are many alternatives. One could even increase the distance by 200 miles by starting or ending their hike in the Keys, at the southernmost point of Florida! I had done that in 2017; it’s mostly a road-walk, and very unofficial, and we did not feel a need to do that this time. We took these routes even though I had done them before because in part I feel they are the best ways to do it occasionally, but also I wanted to see them again for nostalgia, and to better help others with information.
  • Jan 3 – March 10 – Part of the beauty in this trail is that you can hike it in roughly two months, over the winter. It’s not as big of a commitment as something like the Appalachian Trail, and you can do it while the rest of the country is covered in snow!
  • 68 days – I feel our 68 day hike is a pretty average time it takes for someone to complete the trail. I’ve seen some take as long as three months, and the first time I did it in only 28 days. The two to three month range is common, and what should be planned for, though you can obviously do it faster if you are extremely motivated or slower if you wish as well! The hiking season here runs from December to March so that’s the time frame you’re working with.
  • Zeros: 6 – Some of these zeros were for leisure, and few were because we felt we actually needed them physically, though mentally it was great to take a break! Early on we took a zero to help our bodies adjust to the constant exercise. Another zero early on to dodge out of a storm, as at the beginning of a long hike we were less interested in walking all day in heavy rain. Later on we took zeros to go to Billy Goat Day, an awesome Florida Trail hiker event. A zero to see Lotus’ friends in the Orlando area, and a zero towards the end around Melbourne to go see a movie with my friends. It was nice to take the time off, but it eats money which I was definitely feeling, and eats time which means by the end of our hike it was getting hotter very quickly.

  • Avg miles between town: 61.5 – Many were shorter distances, and we were never very far from a town, or food. Some stretches were a bit longer carries, which is what leads to this number being higher than I would have imagined. Often times we were able to stop for food multiple times in a single day for instance.
  • Avg miles per day: 16.3 – We started out slower, taking more days off, and more short days to try and find our legs and groove hiking. Towards the end it was extremely uncommon that we had a day under 20, and we had a handful of days near or over 30. The thing with Florida is you hike it in the winter when days are shortest, so getting miles is hard if you don’t want to wake up early, hike into the night, or do both.
  • Avg miles per day w/o zeros: 17.8 – Overall not the biggest change, we stayed pretty consistent throughout the hike, and generally between zeros would do a bigger day to make up for the day off.
  • Avg miles per day / first half: 15 – Starting slow to find our bearings! A smart idea, especially when hiking with someone else as more can go wrong.
  • Avg miles per day / Second half: 17.8 – Picking up pace as the trail went on, this still included multiple zeros or neros.
  • Days w/o seeing anyone: 3 – As states go Florida is pretty populated, and those populations are very dense. It’s amazing first of all that we even have this massive hiking trail that spans the whole state, and it’s amazing again we actually went quite a few days without seeing a single other person. This number doesn’t account for the days we had a single car whiz by us at some point, or days we maybe saw someone off in the distance.
  • Days w/o cell service: 5 – Rejoice, you can stay in touch with your loved ones, if you wish. Though you may not use it, or need it, it’s nice to know that if something goes wrong you can phone a friend. The places we had no service or very little were Appalachicola NF and Ocala NF.

Town Days

  • Motels: 5 – The Florida Trail doesn’t really have hostels so it was motels all the way for us! Though in White Springs there is a very hiker friendly bed  breakfast that we stayed at. Certainly the closest thing to a hostel out here.
  • Showers: 10 – Surprisingly you can find showers fairly often, more often than we actually used. Various recreational areas have them, trail angels, motels, the 88 store has a nasty one, and even one of the trail shelters has a shower along the Suwannee River.
  • Laundry: 7 – Laundry was mostly done at trail angels homes, though there are a few laundromats around towns, and at a few motels we were able to. A lot of the towns you pass through on trail are so small basically the only thing there is a gas station.
  • Resupply: 18 – The vast majority of this was gas stations, convenience stores, and the very occasional Walmart or super market. If you’re willing to hitch a ride (which isn’t so easy on the FT) or rely on trail angels to get to bigger towns you could get better food. Truly there are so many gas stations on trail, or places you could send a package that’s just my preferred way. Stay on trail and make due.
  • Resupply boxes: 3 – If I were to do it again I’d *almost* entirely send boxes. We sent boxes to the JR Aucilla store, 88 Store, and River Ranch.

Foot Problems

  • Feet wet: 11 – Everyone’s biggest fear when heading to Florida: the swamps, and wetlands. This year was a dry year, and we only got our feet wet 11 times. Nearly all of those times, the wet section was so short lived I took off my shoes and socks and just walked it barefoot. I only actually got my shoes wet once or twice the entire trail. You may hike in a dry year as well! 2017 when I hiked last it was also a dry year, so really they are quite common these days.
  • Blisters: 1 – This was very early on in our hike, within the first 3 days I got a blister on the side of my foot. My shoe was rubbing funny, and with a little leukotape over the hot spot that problem was handled nicely, and never came back.
  • Shoes: 2 – I went through two pairs of shoes this hike, swapping them out at the 88 store which is roughly 650 miles into our hike. Lotus waited a little bit longer to exchange shoes but she also went through two pairs. I think the southern half of the trail can be harder on the feet and on footwear so that’s why we did what we did, swapping where we did.
  • Socks: 6 – I exchanged socks more frequently, just because when a sock gets a hole I can pretty much guarantee I’ll get a blister there. Fortunately I was able to buy the socks I liked at Walmart’s along the way, and in one of the boxes I had sent.

In general we didn’t have much in the way of foot issues, Lotus in the beginning had some pain, which was expected given learning how to walk on totally flat ground, unvaried like many trails. I had a little blister, and we cruised comfortably most days. The northbound hike is a much harsher beginning, so we were glad to have gone southbound and have the plush beach walks, and the wilderness of Eglin to ease into. Many a hiker quits the FT in the first 200 miles NOBO.

Hikers!

  • Day hikers: 20 – Most day hikers we saw south of the Orlando area along the Little Big Econ River.
  • Section hikers: 15 – Most section hikers we saw in Ocala NF, or the Suwannee River, though there were two in St Marks NWR.
  • Thru hikers: 39 – Nearly every thru hiker we saw was around the halfway point. There were many more we didn’t directly cross paths with, just by how town stops worked. Them still hiking, and us resupplying elsewhere. We imagined there were more than 70 people thru hiking this year. Almost all of them going northbound.

The vast majority of our hike we saw no one, no other hikers, the occasional hunter, and of course when we were on a road or in town is when we saw life. The southbound journey is one of solitude.

Animal Sightings

  • Coyote: 1
  • Deer: 34
  • Raccoons: 6
  • Armadillos: 12
  • Snakes: 7
  • Alligators: 118
  • Bald eagles: 7
  • Turkeys: 16
  • Pigs: 16
  • Otters: 3
  • Turtles: 13
  • Owl: 1 

These numbers account only for the animals we directly saw with our eyes, and specifically these are only my numbers of the ones I saw. Sometimes we could hear armadillo, knew it was armadillo, but didn’t count it as a sighting. Same goes for owls, heard many, but only saw one.

All of the alligators we saw were over the course of two days. 35 of them in St Marks NWR and the rest along the canals south of Lake Okeechobee. None of these alligators were a threat to us, none were in the trail, and we never really felt concerned by them.

Similarly for the snakes, most of those were non-venomous, and got out of our way long before we were even close to them. In Big Cypress however we did come across two water moccasins that were very near each other, directly in the trail, and not planning on moving. Still, compare this to in 2017 I didn’t see a single snake non-venomous or otherwise my entire thru hike.

Thanks to Lotus for the idea of keeping track, and for helping me with some of these things I personally wasn’t paying attention to! Without her this likely wouldn’t exist.

For anyone planning a Florida Trail thru hike, I hope you go for it! It’s a great trail, and it’s only getting better as the years go by.

 

Jupiter

The Sheltowee Trace Recap

I finished my hike! I didn’t get the record or fkt(fastest known time) on the Sheltowee Trace I wanted, and actually gave that up maybe 4 or 5 days in but did still finish in 11 days and 4 hours. Somewhat of a quick pace for a 323 mile trail. So now what! Well I have a story to tell and something I’ve thought a lot about is I want to help the next guy or girl going out there with the same intention as me. Provide beta on the trail from the perspective of someone making a lot of miles.

First I’d like to give a couple shout outs.

Billy Sherlin helped me out on multiple occasions. He runs hiker shuttles for a very reasonable fee and lives near the trail, for instance he drove me a short ways to a restaurant once, and then the much much larger task of driving me from one terminus of the trail to the other where my car was parked over 300 miles. The Sheltowee Trace Association does offer shuttle support but ask that you get in touch with them 5 days in advance. Personally I hardly know where I’ll be hours in advance let alone days! Billy was there, and more than willing to help me out. I can’t thank him enough. If you are looking for a ride get in touch with him or the Trace Association. The alternative is what I call the ultimate rejection, standing by the road with your thumb out, visibly seeing the disgust on peoples faces as they wiz by you. Instead you can send Billy a message, he’s more than happy to shuttle and is even pet friendly. You can get in touch with Billy here:

(859) 398 – 9907

https://www.facebook.com/billy4shuttles/

City Gone Country Inn is a bed and breakfast in McKee, a trail town just off of the Sheltowee. After a bad couple of days, giving up my record attempt, and in very much need of some rest, relaxation, and a shower I needed a day off. I still made maybe 12 miles to town, and even with a dead phone Rick and Teresa still managed to find me. Waiting at the trailhead eventually finding me in town trying to charge my phone at the local park, they picked me up, brought me to dinner, a large grocery store outside of town for a real resupply, and back to their home to clean up. I felt like Michael Shummacher rolling into a pit stop. They had everything I needed. The bed and breakfast is on a very large property, I believe 100 acres if you so wish to explore. Rick drove me around in his ATV to see his goats, cows, chickens, and the most beautiful view I saw in Kentucky on top of their very own mountain. I had the whole house to myself though I believe it sleeps 19 complete with snacks, food in the fridge, laundry, shower, television, wifi, and everything I could have ever wanted. It was my most comfortable stay on any of my long walks beating out any hotel by a mile. They are incredibly nice people and even though it was Easter went far out of their way to help me and show me around. You can find them here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/17465016?guests=1&adults=1

http://www.citygonecountryinn.com/

And of course the Sheltowee Trace Association, and its community. The volunteers, and locals do a phenomenal job with maintaining, promoting, and organizing hikes as well as providing information! Coming from a background on the Florida Trail I know the struggle of not being, say the Appalachian Trail, with a seemingly endless supply of everything. I was constantly amazed with the bridges built along the trail, how clean and well maintained everything was, the trail was very well marked the entire way, and there were even a few shelters! I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out but given a 323 mile trail(which I hear is in the process of being extended) is no easy feat. Organizing chapters, crews, and work parties is a massive effort and they seem to have done it extremely well. Coming into a lesser known trail I had worried about markings or resources but was met with more than I’ve seen on quite a few other trails! The Association offers shuttles on their website, guidebooks, maps, trip reports from previous hikers, current trail conditions, and even notes on things that may have changed. As well as a bustling community on facebook full of experienced hikers, STA members, crew, and veterans all willing to help, offer information, or cheer you on. I think all of this is very important for those out of state looking to come hike the trail like me. It has been more than a positive experience and really adds a lot to the trail knowing there’s so many rooting for you and working behind the scenes to make your experience a good one. While you’re preparing for this trail consider becoming a member of the STA!

https://www.sheltoweetrace.org/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/STABigTurtle/

So! Lets get to some information

Weather & Start Date

I started the trail April 16th and found that was a PERFECT time to be out there. It was frankly just when I was available, while I had originally planned to hike the trail in March. I feel mid April is that happy medium, some days it was hot but the nights were always cool, in 11 days I only experienced two days of rain. And most importantly I think any sooner and I would have frozen using the sub 5lb kit I had. Going fast often means carrying less. Mid April suited that objective wonderfully. I used a 40 degree bag, wind pants, beanie, synthetic jacket, and rain jacket. Temps ranged from upper 30s into the high 70s, I was never cold but felt I was right there on the edge as if I had planned this out perfectly. Starting any later and I imagine it gets hot very fast. On the trail there are a couple unavoidable dry sections which extra ambient heat would have made a lot worse. I think 13 miles was the longest without a water source. Possibly the fall would be a prettier time to be hiking with all of the changing of the colors but in April I got to see spring in action! In the north all of the trees were still barren, with little flowers just starting to come out of the ground, and by the time I got to the southern terminus everything was in full bloom, all of the trees were lush, and I even thought to myself once that it felt like I was hiking through some jurassic age jungle. Fall may also present another issue you won’t find in April, streams, creeks, and springs may be dry. This could be a question to ask elsewhere but I was very happy for the snow melt and to have water sources all over. I personally only had a total of 1 liter carrying capacity so this was a huge win. Water is heavy, and April made it so I didn’t often need to carry much of it.

Shelter & Bugs

I used a tarp and ground sheet as my primary shelter. No bivy, and no bug protection, this is mostly because I’m a stubborn Floridian and down here we have some serious mosquitoes. However! Not a single darn time did I even see a single mosquito! Again maybe since I was hiking in April this played a big part, but often I was near standing water, lakes, rivers and no bugs ever gave me trouble. So leaving the tent or the bivy at home was a great choice for me. Maybe a small headnet as a backup would do you right just in case. Now there is one issue with bugs, and that is ticks. In the first three days I found a total of three ticks on me. In the next 8 days I found quite a few more, I feel because it was warming up as I headed south, and the trail is more overgrown in the south. All of these ticks I found on my legs, none anywhere else on my body. This is thanks to treating all of my clothing with permethrin beforehand, which you can buy in a big yellow bottle at just about any Walmart. Most of the ticks were big and easy to spot before they grabbed on, but I did find at least one very tiny one. This was honestly my biggest fear heading into this trail, I know the north east can be extremely bad, and often I was afraid to sit down. However given my experience now I think that fear is gone, and once again I have my chosen time of year to hike to thank. Any other time of year and for the ticks alone maybe you would want a tent. This said I never found one on me in the morning even though I was totally exposed under my tarp, only during mid day when it was hot, and I was moving, I believe they must have grabbed me from some trail side brush. Something I did extra to combat the fear of ticks was wear a white shirt, it got very dirty but I was happy with the peace of mind knowing anything out of the ordinary would be very easily spotted should I get something on me like an unwanted intruder.

Animals

Keeping up with the animals theme I got a lot of messages warning me of bears, snakes, and dogs. I didn’t see a single bear, I only saw 4 snakes all non venomous, but the dogs are another story. As for the bears, even locals I talked to said they have been seeing less and less on their game cameras. Some campsites(not many, I personally only saw one instance) had bear boxes to store consumables in but I didn’t really worry about sleeping with my food as a pillow. I don’t worry about bears generally and don’t think its a huge problem even for Kentucky. If this were a blog post about Yosemite or the Great Smoky Mountains I would be singing a different tune. A rule of thumb for me is avoiding established campsites. If you see trash there that means some animal has probably found food there and may come back to check for more another time. Sleeping in random places off trail where no animal has ever found food I felt perfectly safe. Now as for the real threat. Dogs. I have never in all of my long distance hiking(8,000+ miles with more than a thousand of that on roads) seen so many dogs while roadwalking. This trail has some road sections, the majority being in the north, while the south is more rugged and remote. You will run into some unsavory dogs in the north, off leashes, protecting their homes. I feel in just the first 100 miles heading SOBO I saw and dealt with more than 100 dogs. I cannot recommend enough carrying a small bottle of pepper spray. Wacking a dog on the head with a stick or trekking pole is likely just going to anger it further, unless you are trying to kill it. This is all much harder to actually do in person when the dog may just be coming up to you barking like every other dog, and by the time you realize you need to do something it’s right up on you too close to even hit accurately. There is one long roadwalk in particular where all of your troubles will come from, maybe in a few years the trail will be routed off of it, and into the woods but for now it’s just what you gotta do. For the most part it was very pleasant, very few cars if any, and nice views of the country. This roadwalk was maybe 17-20 miles in length. After that you can throw away the pepper spray as that is the end of your problem.

Resupply

As for food I know it can be tempting to go for an unsupported record of 7-9 days but you seriously walk right past so many stores it just seems silly to me. Heading southbound you walk right through the very big very small town of Morehead which has a lot of options just 26 miles into the trail, then there is Miguels, a pizza place and hangout for climbers(that may offer showers) less than a mile off trail by Natural Bridge State Park and the Red River Gorge. On that roadwalk mentioned above you pass a very small convenience store halfway through which is good for some Gatorade and a lot of candy with a small selection of chips. The 49er truck stop you walk right by, which has burgers and the like, as well as a fairly common selection of gas station foods as well as the option to shower. Arnold’s Grocery which is by Laurel River Lake, probably a mile off trail, again serving burgers as well as drinks, candy, and generally more than the other convenience store had. And for me the last place I noticed was the Cumberland Falls State Park has a small restaurant you walk by, or a much bigger one by the resort a very short walk away, as well as a store just across from the first restaurant with very limited stuff(more candy!) As you can tell I stopped at all of these. By the time I got past that long roadwalk I gave up the record attempt and decided I was going to get french fries as often as I could. As for a record though you walk right by 4 of these which means you could conceivably carry very little food the entire time and still be totally fine given your threshold for eating mostly junk food is high.

Water

I never had much problem with water though on that long roadwalk water was quite scarce, you will come across some easily accessed streams here or there but it’s something to be wary of. It’s incredibly easy to get dehydrated and electrolytes as well as keeping water consumption up as often as you possibly can is incredibly smart. Most of the water in this state I feel does go past some sort of farm land so filtering it is a good idea. I didn’t and am not sick yet, but can’t recommend my method seeing what I’ve seen. This isn’t the Appalachian Trail, and you won’t be drinking from mountain springs every mile. A lot of the water is from very fine rivers, but considering the potential run off means bring a filter to me. The heat often got to me so even though I was ok with just 1 liter total capacity, 2 liters is the way to go just in case. Better carrying an extra 2 pounds than dehydrated. The only thing that caught me off guard is just north of Morehead there is a 13 mile dry stretch, you are mostly following a ridgeline and there isn’t any water to be found. I didn’t realize this until I was well into that section. Bad news and really slowed me down requiring a very long break in town to regain myself. So make sure to have real electrolytes, fill up as often as you can, and drink as often as you can! I found in my guide most sources weren’t marked and feel I sometimes got lucky. An interesting thing about this trail is how many rivers and streams you cross. Some are on bridges, but most have to be done the old fashioned way, by getting your feet wet. If you’ve walked through one river, don’t stop to dry things out there! Keep going, I found I often crossed the same river many many times over in the course of a mile. This came as a surprise everytime as I would nearly always stop after crossing to take a short break, only to find myself crossing again, and again! Fun, but something to note. I never once had to swim across a river, but at Horse Lick Creek, the water did get all the way up to my waist. That creek in particular there are two marked trails to cross, pick your poison. I think in the past the trail used to cross in different places so you may find yourself if you get off track walking through the higher water 3 times over.

Navigation

I personally only used the GPS app for my phone, in the app store it can be found if you simply search Sheltowee Trace. For the most part it was excellent! However! You will definitely want more than this. Though it did help every single day with minor decisions the gps track loaded on there is somewhat old, I figured at least from 2016, maybe even 2014. Sometimes I was way off trail according to it, yet still following the blazes in person. This brings up an excellent point. Always trust the blazes! This trail is changing, just around Cave Run Lake for instance there is a huge reroute that maybe adds 5 miles, it is way prettier and follows much more closely to the lake. Had I followed the GPS disregarding the actual trail I would have essentially missed out on something really beautiful as well as cut the official trail. The Sheltowee Trace Association does offer a guidebook for both south and north bounders on their website, as well as maps. I’ve even heard the guides are currently being re done so rejoice! Through the Associations efforts you get an up to date account of the trail. I used the guide for planning but often wished I had it because the GPS just doesn’t provide any information on water sources, if I’ll be roadwalking, sights to see, or anything other than you are here and the trail is there. If the phone application is updated that would be the greatest thing I think the trail could do in regards to accessibility. In this day and age of technology where most long trails now have some sort of app there will surely be more like me who use it exclusively despite the pitfalls of trusting such things. Even if they charged money for it, I would happily buy it, as for now it is a free service. Beggars can’t be choosers. In that sense, consider becoming a member of the Sheltowee Trace Association while you’re at it, a membership goes a long way! You should especially do so if you are hiking this trail. As for navigational problems most of my issues weren’t on trail actually, it was on roadwalks! The trail itself is wonderfully blazed and marked, though I felt at times the roads could use a couple more signs.

Footwear

I went with a fairly minimal setup, thin nylon dress socks, and shoes with a pretty minimal stackheight, the Altra Superiors. If I were to do it again I would beef it up a bit. Certainly the Lone Peaks which have a little more cushion, and probably Injinj Toe Socks which are a bit thicker and might have saved me from a couple blisters I got between my toes. Though I was happy for thin socks given the sheer amount of times you have to ford rivers but given the rocky terrain, and the roadwalking I was definitely wanting more, and the quick drying was not nearly as important as the ache in my feet after a long day. I would however avoid anything crazy like Hoka shoes or the Altra Olympus, anything with a super high stack, that’s just asking for a rolled or even broken ankle. Something quick drying with a medium not minimal cushion would have been perfect.

Getting to the Trail

I chose to drive up from Florida, you can park your car at the conference center in Morehead KY and if you let the Sheltowee Trace Association know in advance they can give you a ride up to the trail head from there, or you could call Billy Sherlin. This is by far the safest place to park. Alternatively you could park at the northern terminus itself but your car would be left in plain view of a road, and I may not have heard of anyone’s vehicle being vandalized I don’t think you would want to worry about that for a week or two while you’re hiking. As for flying to the trail I think easiest is to book a flight to Lexington and again message either Billy Sherlin or the Trace Association to give you a ride from there. This is all considering you would be starting in the north and finishing in the south. The other way around and I imagine flying into Knoxville or flying out of there would be the way to go. I don’t know where you would park a car at the southern end that would be safest but the trail head is again an option just assuming the risk of doing so is there. This parking lot in the south is far more busy, though the road is not! But the trailhead itself is. There’s a big river right there which kayakers and rafters use, as well as multiple trails that all spring off from roughly that point.

My Time On Trail

Now information is out of the way, how was my hike? It was great! I was thoroughly surprised by this trail. I purposely hadn’t done a ton of research beyond weather, and where I would get food because I wanted a completely fresh experience and perspective. I’m happy I did as I could have spoiled a lot. Though I do love the extensive research it’s nice to break away from that once in a while. My record attempt was more in the sense thinking I could take it just hiking the same way I always do. 30 mile days are not at all unfamiliar so just an extra hour or two each evening isn’t that bad right? Right, but things can always go awry! And they did. With proper planning I think it would have been easier but after a few exhausting days, and low appetite leading to low energy I gave in and slowed down for a few days. Though quickly realizing I still had to be home in time for work, I wound up speeding back up to the pace I was on and then some! Some of my last few days on trail were some of my biggest just to meet a deadline. Ultimately robbing me of what I love most about hiking, the freedom. Typically I quit my job and have nothing really tying me down when thru hiking but this time I had a looming date I needed to finish by, I had to somehow get back to my car, and then drive 15 hours straight home. Exhausting! But hey I did it, and got for the most part exactly what I wanted. To experience a trail outside of what most are doing. I gravitated initially towards the Sheltowee because I wanted to support a trail not many are doing, or at least not many who don’t live in Kentucky! I hadn’t heard much about this one prior to starting, other than Zoner who had attempted an unsupported record a couple years back which put it on my radar. Then, I saw a climbing film, that featured the Red River Gorge, and that was it. I saw all of the crazy geology and the natural rock arches, and knew Kentucky had something special. Similar in a way to what I imagine Utah would be if it was covered in trees and lush green forests. It really interested me, and I was not disappointed! There were so many giant rock walls and boulders on every section of trail, at every river, along every road, it was exactly what I wanted in regards to scenery. The rocks were oftentimes humbling, which I think can be seen in my videos or in my photos. Me this tiny little human absolutely dwarfed by these giants protruding out of the land surrounding me. Now beyond this I also knew the trail wasn’t complete and honestly that was actually a draw. I kind of like roadwalking, it can be a nice break from hiking up and down mountains all day. More often than I’ll admit I question if maybe I should walk the American Discovery Trail, a route spanning across the United States as I understand it, almost entirely on roads. I enjoy seeing the country from a different perspective, and roads certainly give you that. Often times more so than a trail can. From a third party perspective you can see how the locals live, their towns and architecture, you meet more people on roads, and they are easy to travel. While in the woods it is certainly a more rewarding experience, with more opportunity for enjoyment, but it’s just a different experience. I appreciate both for what they are. I would definitely rather be on trail but a road here or there is nice too.

In recent years I’ve become more and more aware of those like me quitting their jobs, or putting their life on hold to go off and do a long trail. Now one thing that gets me though is that everyone seems to go to the same places. The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or Long Trail. While there are hundreds of trails out there just waiting to be walked other than these! When I was on the Pacific Crest in 2018 that was the thing I liked the least about it. The sheer amount of people. Thousands upon thousands, every single day seeing upwards of 100 other hikers. It was truly something, and I know a lot of folks enjoy the camaraderie and I do too, but it was a little much for me. I like the solitude and really enjoy the fact I’m getting away from all of that on these trails. Not running into the same in a different form. So my sights have been set on trails that aren’t as known. The Sheltowee Trace was very high up on that list and I’m very glad I went for it. This isn’t to say I won’t go hike one of those other ones. I can guarantee you I will! I would love to go back to the Appalachian Trail for a very late season sobo, maybe start in September. Or do the PCT as a sobo, which I gather very few do it that way still. I’m sure in the coming years I’ll become a repeat offender. But coming from Florida and spending so much time on the Florida Trail here as a hiker, and volunteer, I see how some of these trails that aren’t as well known deserve the love equally or probably even more so. Maybe they aren’t quite the same level of wow as hiking through the high sierra on the John Muir Trail. But still provide that solitude I feel may be lost in other places. Still provide that life changing experience, and still provide that look into some fantastic new place you couldn’t even dream of previously. So here I am, I have a large list, it definitely still includes the big ones, but it also includes a lot of small ones. Particularly the Ozark Highlands, and Ouachita in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Among many others. Numbers rising is a good thing, as some of those people will finish their hike, and be looking for another, and another. Certainly they will find the Sheltowee Trace at some point like I have.

I hope this post helps you or maybe inspires you to get out and try something new. Of course I’m open to any questions you may have but if it’s directly trail related consider these options as well.

https://www.sheltoweetrace.org/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/STABigTurtle/

https://thetrek.co/hike-sheltowee-trace-kentuckys-323-mile-long-trail/

https://trailrunnermag.com/destinations/south/fkt-appalachias-sheltowee-trail.html

https://fastestknowntime.com/route/sheltowee-trace-ky

Don’t forget, a membership to the Sheltowee Trace Association goes a long way and I’m sure they would really appreciate it! If you do get out there to hike the trail, let them know!

Jupiter

Sheltowee Trace

via NPS

I’ve decided to attempt a speed record on the Kentucky long trail known as the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Coming in at 323 miles total it is somewhat smaller than what typically interests me, but I feel regardless of the length getting to it is what’s important. You don’t need months on end alone in the woods to have a transformative experience, in this case it will be just a little over a week away from work. That is partly after all why I’ve chosen this one. I have a job and right now can’t afford the time off to do something larger, which I think should resonate with a few out there.

So why the Sheltowee Trace Trail? I know, Kentucky may not be the first choice of many when they’re booking a vacation, but from what I’ve seen in photos and video it looks absolutely beautiful and exactly what I’m looking for. From an aesthetic standpoint it may not be the Sierra Nevada but neither is the Florida Trail and yet I found a greatly understated beauty that I wanted to share. I feel Kentucky will offer that same experience.

And let’s be real, I really love hiking alone. My least favorite aspects of the bigger trails has been the sheer amount of people. Does the wonder of the trail make up for it? Yes certainly, and I know most love the community and I do to, but from a short distance. The solitude is something I look forward to. Ever since starting this hiking journey on my home trails nobody wanted to hike with me, mostly because of the prospect they would have to walk through some form of swamp land. Which was true. But it led to my ever growing appreciation for being alone. It seems to bring out feelings that aren’t often found in modern hustle and bustle of living in a city, and dealing with people. To escape for a little while and to have that is something special. Given the Sheltowee is relatively unknown at this point I see it as a huge upside. To meet the locals, travel through their land, and come away to tell the rest of the world about their splendor.

The most popular of the trails are popular for a reason, they’re exceptionally beautiful, there is massive amounts of support surrounding them, and absolutely no shortage of media coverage or information on them. But this can come with its downsides. Before starting the Appalachian Trail I knew of every little nook and cranny already, every little town, and even the majority of the most scenic points I had already seen in both photo and video. While in turn hiking through Canada I knew nothing. I had a vague understanding of where I would get food each week, and that was it. This added so much whimsy and excitement, to know I was having this alternate experience. I was one of the few out there, and I was walking through places few had before. Even in the trail registers on one page you could often see all the way back to 2009. While on the AT multiple pages of check ins get filled in a single day. Probably the best part of this is the people. On bigger trails the locals know who you are essentially, they know what you’re doing and sometimes it can feel as though there is no such thing as having the ability to make a genuine first impression.

So really I hope my story in Kentucky inspires others to venture out and come see it for themselves. I hope my stories from Quebec and the International Appalachian Trail inspire others to go there too. Looking back my best experiences and most authentic moments come from those tracts that are out of the way.

So why do I want to set a record on it? For me it’s exciting. Not knowing whether I’ll be able to, pushing myself in ways that inspire growth instead of remaining in comfort all of the time. Beyond that I really have some high hopes for Kentucky and this trail, it seems like everything I want, and though maybe a record isn’t the most optimal way to experience that it is my way at least this time.

I’ve been preparing and soon I’ll put my best foot forward to walk across the state.

The current record stands at 9d 8h 24m

I’m going for 8 days or less

You can follow my progress here:
https://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0gQKJCTYkHTJ3Qyae1aoWjqMqc2Czre6a

That link should go active Tuesday morning with live updates every 10 minutes for the duration of this hike.

The Next Chapter

I’m off trail. I broke my foot in two places around mile 200, and proceeded to walk on that broken foot for roughly another 800 miles. Very much so determined to achieve my goal, mentally 100% in it, but not knowing why my foot was in so much pain for an entire month.

You can watch the whole story unfold through this video: https://youtu.be/WdVskPFiLJU

Walking on a broken foot is rough. Some days I’d be in excruciating pain, then other days I figure where my bone was more aligned like how a doctor will ‘set’ a bone, weren’t so bad. This drastic difference in what I was feeling everyday added to the ever lasting confusion that was, “what’s wrong with me?” I took 5 days off at an unplanned stop in Tehachapi to see if things would get better. Looking back, I don’t think anything would have changed even if I took a month off right then in there, which would be unacceptable to still achieve my goal. Sitting in that hotel by the second day without the adrenaline of the trail I found I could barely walk from the bed 10 feet to the bathroom. I had to hold onto the walls and prop myself up limping just to get there. A friend who was hanging out saw me do this and I could tell he knew something was seriously wrong, but who knew what.

I made it almost entirely through the Sierra Nevada beyond that, which I’m very happy about. It is by a large margin the most amazing place I’ve ever been in my life. Mountains surrounding towering over everything up to heights of 14,000 feet. This sense of energy and wonder surging through the landscape. Snow still at high elevation even though it was April, and at the valley floor well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This area absolutely amazed me, just across from the Sierra you have the White Mountains, the Inyos, and Death Valley. How could one small section of this planet get so many cool features? Regardless of the pain, I was happy to be there.

I intended on getting off trail for a short break. I had taken 5 days and that didn’t seem to do the trick so I decided on 10. Finally I got off trail to rest, saw a doctor, had some xrays taken, and my worst fear was realized. I thought maybe the problem was an overstretched tendon, or at worst a stress fracture. Come to find I broke two bones. I remember the moment it happened clearly, descending Mt San Jacinto, getting up from a short break, and tripping. Catching myself with my right foot, and putting all of my weight on it. Immediately feeling a very sharp pain. Some days were ok, and some days were absolutely horrible. Still walking as many as 30 miles a day to stay on track.

I had still fully intended on coming back to the trail to finish what I started, I even had purchased a plane ticket to return after those 10 days. Learning what I did at the doctors office threw that plan for a loop. I skipped my flight, and decided after a full month I would see how I feel and maybe return then. No dice, after an entire month I felt no better. Coming to the conclusion that I need to rest, and focus on what’s next.

Now this isn’t all bad. I’ve now had a lot of time getting a head start in my next adventures. Things I had planned for after this hike. Though I’ve been recovering and unable to hike I have been able to work on a lot of art, a lifelong passion beyond hiking (even getting a job as a local painting instructor.) As well as continue to edit more videos! So a lot of my focus has been on those two things, and I’m happy to report that I have a large stock of videos to share with you about hiking. A ton of new artwork, and a video series surrounding it I’m very excited to begin posting!

Beyond that I’ve made future hiking plans, and have in general been setting myself up as best I can to do a lot of hiking this next year. My big focus will be on shorter trails, and going for speed records on them. There’s a lot of really amazing trails out there that interest me greatly, and it’s been impossibly hard to stay away while recovering.

Plus my wonderful girlfriend Nicole who has been so incredibly supportive and understanding through all of this is certainly happy to have me home, and I’m certainly very happy to be home with her too! In the coming year beside my own personal pursuits of records on long trails, her and I plan to do a lot of hiking together as well. After all she is a long distance hiker herself.

A lot of good to come.

For info on my paintings I just posted a lot of what I’ve been working on that I’m very happy with you can check out here: jupiterhikes.com/art

So I’m back! Hey!!

 

Here’s to a speedy recovery!

Jup

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