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Life of the Wanderlust

Tag: pacific crest trail

Pacific Crest Trail Yoyo 2018 – Introduction

I want to do something big. So I guess I will.

Welcome to the Pacific Crest Trail, in itself shorter than my 2016 Eastern Continental Trail hike, but if you do it twice! It’s quite long then, huh?

So I guess I will.

In reality, welcome to my 2018 Pacific Crest Trail Yoyo. Named such because the motion of the hike mimics the toy. First up, then back down again, or two continuous thru hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail back to back. Starting at the Mexico border, traveling up through California, Oregon, and Washington to Canada, then back the same way I came finishing my long walk just outside of Mexico again where I started 6 months prior. A total of 5,300 miles for the round trip.

Now the length in itself is somewhat daunting, but it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with mega long distance hiking as the ECT was 4,800 miles, and I completed that in just under 7 months. Feeling stronger than ever as I hit the half way mark, and topping it all off with a self supported speed record on the Florida Trail to complete my journey. This trail however has much harsher conditions. I start in the desert come May with extreme heat, exposure, and less than promising water sources. Thrown upward into the high country of the Sierra with the threat of many miles of snow travel, elevations reaching nearly 14,000 feet, treacherous stream crossings, and long distances between safety or being able to get more food. Swarms of mosquitoes will welcome me into Oregon, and Washington brings its own extreme elevation gain. All to turn around and do it again! Which should be it’s own fun mental experiment seeing the same things twice. I know of at least one person who quit this endeavor just after halfway for that reason.

This is all fine and dandy, I think there are much harder trails out there, and it is all perspective, but to complete this specific goal I have to go fast! Really fast. I’ll need to average 30 miles a day for 6 months straight, racing the unpredictable seasons. Should I fail this I’ll get snowed out on my way south in the Sierras, and either seriously risk my life or call it a day. This is without a doubt the hardest aspect of the journey. Hiking so hard to beat this fluctuating unknown date in October when the first big snow storm hits, coming more than 4,000 miles, and having to quit. However If I get through I’ve basically done it, and the final 700 miles will be somewhat of a victory march.

Though I’m mostly focusing on the difficulties in this post it’s because not everyone is familiar these trails. So long as you come prepared I think some of these conditions are overstated, but they are there. I don’t think just anyone could simply get up off the couch and successfully complete this hike once, let alone twice, as I’m attempting. As the trail goes it’s actually known as having much easier tread than its weird east coast cousin, the Appalachian Trail, which throws you around in every which way via rocks and roots in truly sadistic ways seemingly never evening out, only going straight up a mountain or straight down a mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail was made for pack animals, so it’s extremely evenly graded, and clean. In other words, if the conditions surrounding the trail don’t get me, miles should come easier, and I’m very excited for that.

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PCT yoyo watercolor depiction

I left you all in 2016, with my last public writings here about the 4,800 mile Eastern Continental Trail, and that faithful walk across America. From one point far away up in Canada, 7 months later finding myself in the deep south, Key West Florida. I knew it, I had been working towards it, maybe you saw it too. That was less so much a “trip of a life time” for me.It was more of a beginning. So here I am, less so much beginning again, and more so continuing what I started.

So why am I so driven to continue my journey along this particular trail?

While hiking over the mountains in Quebec, and again in New Hampshire I was left above the trees for many miles at a time, through storms, clouds, wind, rain, and sun. I was exposed, often given the opportunity to see forever. I was filled with glee, feeling as though I truly was on top of the world. But the Appalachians are best known for its dense forest, and relatively small mountains as opposed to the majestic, endless views that define the West. Thus these two points in time were the rare chances I had to experience that euphoria, bar a couple sections far south in Tennessee. I knew this, and though I loved all the rest, that was feeling above all the trees was where my heart suddenly felt strongest. I laughed at myself, resigned to hike this massively long trail that only shared a few key moments with that alpine environment. I joked while skipping on rocks above the trees that last time, maybe I should have just done the Pacific Crest Trail instead. Known for its sweeping views, exposure, and exceedingly tall elevations. No, this was what I needed, and this was ultimately what I had dreamt about for years prior, meticulously planning each step forward. It was right. It was a good beginning. If you could say that about a 7 month hike which nearly reaches 5,000 miles in length. A good beginning.

So here I am. The West calls, it did then, as it does now. Engraved in the human spirit maybe.

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Northern California on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Trinity Alps looming in the distance 2017

On this hike I’m following some self imposed guidelines.

  • I will avoid any sort of support from vehicles. This means no hitch hiking, or rides to and from town. I will walk the entire distance, and walk in and out of any town I choose to stop in, or pick up food.
  • I will carry all of my own food, water, and gear between towns as a backpacker. Or in other words I won’t partake in what is somewhat commonly known as ‘slack-packing’ where someone shuttles your gear ahead a days length away for you so you can do the same distance without the burden of your provisions.
  • Should there likely be a closure for fire, or otherwise I will walk any official detour around back to trail, connecting footsteps. Again, not accepting rides.

The point of all these rules is to stack the deck against myself. Each and every time you set your sights on a new objective, it’s about giving yourself an obstacle. Instead of seeing it as 500 laps of punishment for losing I see it as the path to beating the odds next time. By leaping that hurdle it’ll be that much easier to achieve my next goal. This is, as I like to say, self imposed suffering. If I should deviate from these rules in some way I’ll be honest about doing so, as I think it goes towards my own purity in this endeavor.

Only 3 people before have done a yoyo of the PCT. Most notably Scott Williamson, the only person to do it twice. To say he’s well known out west is an understatement, having hiked the trail 13 times as of 2011. Then there’s Eric D, who has done it fastest in 183 days. And Olive McGloin most recently, becoming the first woman to do this.

I’ll be aiming to beat Eric’s time this year with a goal of less than 180 days, and become the fastest to ever do it.

Interestingly enough all 3 hikers have started, hit the half way point, and finished at very roughly the same dates give or take a week. I think this is a testament to the extremely tight time frame to which one must adhere. This is also why being the fastest is so appealing. If I am to complete a PCT yo-yo, I might as well be the fastest. If you followed my ECT hike, you know I do love those long lonely days, and I never was much for being normal.

I start walking May 10, with an ambitious goal I’m eager to take on. And let’s be real, there’s much more ambitious journeys out there, but this is another good step in that direction.

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John Zahorian and Castle Crags on the Pacific Crest Trail 2017

You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

Jupiter

Review: Pa’lante Packs Simple Backpack

This year I’ve had the great pleasure to carry a new pack!

For my thru hike of the 4,800mi Eastern Continental Trail, I took a chance on a new company, and purchased the Simple by Pa’lante Packs. They weren’t in production yet, but I had been seeing photos of it online. Similar to the pack I had been using for the last few years, but an improved design.

“Hey that thing looks awesome, take my money.” Is to my memory, the message I sent Andy Bentz. He mailed it out to me while I was on trail, and I received it the same day I picked up a very heavy resupply (6 days.) Immediately I was stoked on how comfortable it was, even while carrying 15lbs of food on top of my gear.

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Grabbing a snack from the secret bottom compartment

Andy Bentz and John Zahorian are the two founders of Pa’lante Packs. Some info on Andy’s making history can be seen in this cute video, showing packs he’s made in days past, leading up to what you see now in this final product!

Since receiving it I’ve now carried it for the last 2,800 miles, and this is what I think about it.

Basic Info

  • Volume: 35L or 40L
  • Price: $210 – $250
  • Weight: 13oz
  • Frameless and Hipbeltless
  • Material: X-Pac

Where can you find it? PalantePacks.com

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Size

They come in both a 35 liter, and 40 liter. Very low on internal volume, but in a world where ultralight backpacking is becoming more popular this is a perfect size. The bigger the backpack you buy, the more stuff you tend to fill it with, and then consequently have to haul up that mountain!

For me, with a 6lb base weight the 35L is just right. I’ve carried 6 days food in it without issue, even thinking I had room for more. I would go for this size if you’re looking to seriously nerd out on gear, for most everyone though, I think the bigger size might be wiser. If you’re unsure, definitely go for the larger 40L. You’ll be happy you did when you want to pack out bonus foods from town!

As a frameless, hipbeltless pack it does well. The shoulder straps are large enough with enough thickness to take the heat of heavier carries. I find it’s comfortable up until around 25lbs.

All in all the small size is something I really like in a backpack. It gives me the ability to maneuver freely.
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Durability

Amazingly, after 5 months of use every single day. Sleeping on it. Rubbing it against, and sitting it on rocks. Brushing it against trees and branches accidentally…. there isn’t a single hole, not a single tear, or even any real sign of wear. Even the stitching is holding up, without fraying or coming loose. It’s almost the same as when I first got it.

When it comes to durability most consider ultralight gear flimsy or that it won’t last. In the case of this pack that is clearly not true! I could easily get a second multi thousand mile thru hike out of this pack.

I had remembered seeing pictures John posted online when he first came up with this design. I was skeptical about the bottom pocket, and it’s durability. After 2,800 miles of abusing it without a single hole forming I’m convinced. The east coast is very rocky, Maine and New Hampshire are no cake walk, so to come out unscathed was really impressive, and admittedly surprising.

I give it a big thumbs up for durability! Unlike cuben fiber packs this X-Pac material is gunna last. I expect I’ll get another few thousand miles outa this one, at least.

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Design

  • Waterproofness: The fabric used for the body of the pack is waterproof, but overall water will get in the seams. So I still use an internal liner like a trash compactor bag.
  • Single strap top closure: I love the single strap! It sinches down so nicely, creating an excellent seal. The last pack I had before this used a Y strap, and I greatly prefer the single.
  • Shoulder strap pockets: One of my favorite features of this pack. The stretchy integrated shoulder strap pockets! I like that I have everything I need right at my fingertips. These pockets are perfect for a camera or phone, snacks, guidebook pages or maps, trash. Really handy, and sleek. I highly recommend getting them added to your pack, as they are optional.
  • Secret bottom pocket: Annnd my favorite feature is the bottom pocket. Large enough to fit almost an entire days worth of food. But why do you care? Because every time you’re hungry, you can just reach under and grab a snack! No need to stop. Just keep moving! Alternatively, keep a rain jacket, or wind jacket under there for quick access.
  • Aesthetics: I mean, it’s super cute. Really small. Black. Beautiful. Clean.
  • Side pockets: Good height to grab my water bottles while walking. Stretchy enough to hold two bottles in one pocket. Or as I often do my umbrella, and a water bottle. Or my rehydration jar, and a water bottle. Tight enough so that they  don’t slip out when jostled.
  • Shoulder straps: Comfortable width, shape, and thickness.
  • Draw cord compression: Unsure of what to call it, but it needs to be mentioned. On one side of the pack there’s a small cord that can be pulled tight, to either compress down loose space inside, or firmly secure an item there. Personally I use it most when I have wet socks, or to dry out a wet groundcloth. Sinch the item down, and let it sit outside your pack all day. Or if you’re looking for a place to stow away trekking poles or a trekking umbrella while not in use, this is it!

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Extra Thoughts

John has used this pack for thousands of miles, and I’ve used this pack for almost 3,000 miles. He loves it, I love it. I hate to gush er whatever, but of all the gear I’ve been using this year, this pack is the only thing I wouldn’t swap out if given the chance. Since leaving Canada and receiving this pack, its been wonderful all the way down to Florida.

It’s made for efficiency. Most everything you need during the day is at hand, and I love that. So until these boys come up with something similar but smaller and lighter this will remain my main hiking pack.

The waterproof material, the clever pockets, a pack that won’t deteriorate after a single season…

So if you’re looking for that perfect backpack for your next thru hike, the Simple from Pa’lante has treated me right.

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