Zero training

This piece first appeared on www.theTrek.co It happens to be my first blog post for the Trek.

How hard can the Pacific Crest Trail be with no training whatsoever?

2,650 miles over a 5 month period, averaging 20 miles a day.  It’s just walking… with a pack on… right? Well I’m about to find out. Dropping below the 40 day mark until my kick off at the southern terminus of the PCT, reality is fast sinking in. Between my work as a forest firefighter in Australia and commitments to two bands as a drummer I’ve done next to no training for the PCT at all. Things sort of just got in the way.

Backpacking forums and social media share lots of up and coming thru-hikers launching into pre-hike training regimes, strapping the pack on and hitting up the hills. Hell, some even do smaller pre-hike thru-hikes for training to ensure they are in tip-top shape. I thought about doing the same, or to at least do some sort of training, honestly I did, but for some reason or another it just didn’t happen. Obviously having a good general level of fitness before taking on a trail like the PCT is going to help anyone, which I have,  I just hope it’s enough.

My saving grace from lack of training…

…may just be the fact that a typical work day on the fire line involves walking off trail in the remotest of country, carting in a 20 pound pack and swinging hand tools for up to 14 hours a day in the heat. I’m counting on it being enough.  Only Time will tell.  Thru-hiking Te Araroa in New Zealand 2 years ago I know what I’m in for. I’ve been at the starting line before in very similar circumstances, having had zero training under the belt and I made it to the finish (at a reasonable pace by all accounts too).

Starting at Cape Reinga within a day or two of several triple crowners and reaching Bluff with those same hikers to spray Champaign around the place (shout outs to POD, Disco and Skittles) I know I can go the distance at a good pace. Hopefully Hubris does not get the better of me this time around. Even if I considered some sort of training now, time has gotten away and I’ll have to settle for training along the PCT itself.  So for everyone else with zero training here is how it goes down with no training….

The first couple of days are going to be tough. They always are.

On the morning of Day 1 you show up to the starting line. The belly fat that you have been telling yourself is your buffer for the expected weight loss later along the trail spills over your hip belt and you start walking.  The excitement of kick is all consuming, the extra 20 pounds strapped to your back seems to float effortlessly. The miles fly by as you take in the sights and sounds, sharing your excitement with others around you. By lunch, it feels good to have a break, taking the pack off and resting in the shade but you’re still digging it. Emotions are strong, “I can’t believe I’m doing this! This is awesome.” you say to yourself.  After lunch you throw your pack back on and start walking again. Your legs are a bit stiff on moving but loosen after a couple minutes and all is well with the world.  By mid-afternoon reality is sinking in and you’re starting to feel the pain creep in. Shoulders start to ache, unaccustomed to pack straps digging in; your legs are tired and you realise you have muscles that haven’t been used in years. Thoughts start to falter.  “I can’t believe I’m doing this ☹”, “Can I do this?”, “Canada is so far”.  (Don’t go there, just yet, it’s only day 1). By evening, you are shattered, wanting nothing more than to be done for the day, throwing up a tent and cooking some food if you can be bothered. You sleep like a log, exhausted.

The following morning…

…those long dormant back muscles scream out. Sore feet and tight calves make the first steps of the day a real challenge. Hoisting your back on again shoulders burn and hips remind you they are not yet accustomed to the additional weight. Everything hurts! Especially your legs. Unfortunately, your belly still wobbles over your hip belt (you haven’t done enough yet to burn off that baby fat).  Easing into the day your pace slows on the slightest of climbs and you pant for air.  You question again, “what am I doing?”, “why didn’t I train?”. Day 2 is always the toughest. Embrace the suck. Things will get better.

Week one mirrors day 2 to lessening degrees…

…as your body slowly accepts the fact that are now walking 20 miles a day for the next 5 months and it starts to adapt. By the end of week 2 you’re a natural. The muscle pain has gone, mostly. Your pack becomes an extension of you, except with the added weight from your fresh resupply. Your pace still slows on ascents but your miles start to increase.

By the end of month 1 you are killing it

Your pace quickens and miles seems effortless. Day-hiker’s dreams are crushed as you breeze by them on the steepest of climbs and you breathe easy. Fat is burnt away and hip belt straps need to be pulled in slightly.  This continues for the next few months as the insatiable hiker hunger appetite kicks in. You can literally fuel your body on junk and crush out 30 miles days, ever tightening your hip belt all the while finding additional items you can cull from your pack in the race to get lighter. You are walking 8 to 10 hours a day, forever pushing your distance out. What better fitness program is there? 15 miles is a piece of piss, 20 swings by and 25 mile is looking promising. You cross the threshold and push your first ever 30 miler ever and 40 dangles like a carrot in front.

On reaching the finish line

You have become a well-toned, calorie burning, somewhat emaciated, super human machine who looks for rocks to throw in the pack before practically running up the steepest of hills, wondering what all the fuss about training was at the start.

This was my experience on Te Araroa anyway and I expect similar on the PCT. Besides the PCT has a few bonus features going for it. For starters the American’s actually know what a switch back is (please explain this our Kiwi cousins) and it’s a purpose built, graded trail – New Zealand brought with it many days completely off track on the roughest terrain.

So don’t fret about training

Unless you are trying to knock out a fastest known time or are really restricted to finishing the trail in a short time frame, there is no need to be in absolute peak condition. The PCT is long, really long, and if you ease into it you will be fine. Your body will adapt. You will get stronger, tougher and you will go the distance. So, while an average of 16 mile/day on the Te Araroa is a good pace I’m looking forward to being able to knock out 20, 25 & 30 mile days before reaching Canada on the PCT.

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PCT blog may change location

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It’s official. I recently put in an application to thetrek.co to become an official PCT blogger with them which has been accepted. This is awesome! I’m yet to find out the finer details and I’m unsure if I can post my blogs on both sites or if I can only share content via The Trek but I’ll be sure to let you know. So watch this space as my PCT content here may shift in the very near future. I have a story ready go but am holding off on posting until further details are at hand.

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40 days out

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40 days to go! Wow! Very, very exciting. Still a long way off but close enough to start concerning myself with finalising everything at home.  The last few weeks have flown by with a busy work period fighting fires. The next few weeks will go just a quick. Time to knuckle down.

I have my gear sorted, maps printed, permits in place and plane tickets in hand. I really just need to get on trail now.

Most of this this years PCTers have started and will continue to do so right through April. Lots of pictures and info are being shared on social media and it’s almost at saturation point. Time to switch it off to avoid all the spoiler alerts… Leaving in early May I’ll be at the back of the main pack but timing wise it should work out well. Many leaving now are reporting winter rains and several snow dumps on the higher regions. I’m a fast hiker and should complete the desert section by mid June, reaching the start of the Sierra as the snow starts to melt, setting up for crossing of the higher passes, although this year is nothing compared to last year in terms of the record levels of snow.

Even before starting this trip I am already blown away by the generosity of ‘Trail Angels’, people who open their homes, their lives and who go out of their way to assist complete strangers during their hike. Coming from Australia I needed a base for a few days to organise myself for the first section – buying food, arranging a US SIM card and sending my bounce box ahead. I’ve been lucky enough to be put in touch with Scout and Frodo, two trail angels known the world over, who have offered to pick me up from San Diego, provide a bed for 3 nights and all meals, and drive me to the southern terminus, for a total cost of just sharing my stories. They do this for several hundred hikers each season. So very generous.

That’s it for now…. stay tuned.

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Lets talk gear

Gear – one of my favourite topics. I could talk about gear all day if given half a chance. But let us focus down and talk more specifically about the gear I’ll be carrying at the ‘start’ of my upcoming hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I say what I’ll be carrying at the start of my hike because it is bound to change along the way. In fact it will have changed by the time this is posted as my gear is constantly evolving.

For now, I’m happy with what I’ve ended up with. It works for me. My base weight (weight of all items, except what you are wearing and consumables) is around 7kg (16pound). Having had the Te Araroa under my belt certainly helped to have a really good idea of what works for me on a thru hike.

Now, you ultra-lighters out there are bound to have a look and say ” Whoo there buddy – far too much stuff, you can cull.. [insert most of my gear choices]”. And on the other hand all you weekend warriors are looking at my gear and saying “What! is that all you’re taking? What about ..[insert unlikely scenario]”. And that is all fine.

It’s definitely not an ultralight set up, more of a light weight kit but it meets my needs. This gear will keep me safe, sheltered, fed, hydrated, dry and is adaptable to rain, hail or the harsh desert sunshine. Most of all it will be comfortable. For me the PCT is a journey, it’s not about racing others to the Canadian border and having to pair down every single item and scrape through by the skin of my teeth.  Horses for courses right? I do go ultralight at home most of the time.

I’ve watched far too many gear setup videos on Youtube from all sorts of people and have more than a fair idea on what I need to meet the goals of this trip. Ultralighters do move quick and cover plenty of ground in a day but I’ve watched ultra-lighters sans underwear for the sake of saving 30 grams and suffer massive chaf for hundreds of miles; ultralighters ditching paper maps (again to save a few grams) and loosing the trail for entire days because their phone charge has died and they can not navigate; and ultralighters bailing off trail to town at the first hint of a rainstorm because their gear is not going to handle it. And many more examples of ultralight fails – although plenty of successes as well . I’ve also seen videos of peeps planning on carrying hatchets, 6 pound tents, bowie knives and an array of pots and cutlery for cooking… only to struggle under the weight and ditching most of it at the first trail town. On the flip side I ‘ve also seen plenty of heavy hitters successfully complete Te Araroa.

Again, there is nothing wrong with either of these options – ultralight vs mega weight – it’s just not going to work for me.

So, lets get into it.

Check out most of my gear here – but it does keep changing. 

  • Base weight:             7.5 kg
  • Food / Water                6 – 10 kg
  • Carried:                      12-18 kg, dropping back to 7kg as food & water is consumed.

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The Big Three

IMG_6455Packing system:

  • Osprey Exos 58 pack
  • I’ll use a garbage bag as a liner

Sleeping system:

  • Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 degree quilt
  • Z packs cuban fibre stuff sack
  • Sea to Summit silk liner (to keep my quilt clean)
  • Thermarest pad
  • Sea to Summit Aero inflatable pillow

Shelter system:

  • ZPacks Hexamid tarp modified with Sea to Summit nano bug net
  • Cuban fibre ground sheet

Clothing worn: 

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  • La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners
  • Dirty Girl gaiters
  • Darn Tough socks
  • Outdoor Research Equinox zip off pants – may ditch to use Purplerain kilt
  • Exofficio boxers
  • Bandana
  • Exofficio shirt
  • Prescription glasses or sunnies
  • Outdoor Research Sun Runner hat – with detachable neck flat.
  • Not in photo – Leki Corklite walking poles

Clothing carried: 

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  • Generic Flip-flops
  • Icebreaker 150 weight merinobottoms
  • Light gloves
  • Sleep socks (Icebreaker)
  • Spare socks (Darn tough / Injinji – I’ll trial the best setup)
  • Icebreaker merino beanie
  • Spare Exofficio boxers
  • Buff
  • Town shirt and town shorts
  • Ibex 200 weight hooded thermal top
  • Montane wind jacket
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket

Wet Weather Gear: 

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  • ULA rain skirt
  • Z packs Challenger mitts
  • Marmot Precip jacket (has pit zips) – changed to Frog Toggs UL2
  • Euroschirm umbrella – this will double as sun protection in Southern California

Cook system: 

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  • Food bag – undecided on Zpacks or Ursack (rodent/bear proof bag)
  • Macpac Titanium 900ml pot and lid
  • Homemade pot cosy
  • Homemade cosy for commercially made dehydrated meals
  • Sea to Summit collapsible cup – probably the 1st thing to be ditched – yep, gone now
  • Soto Tianium stove head
  • Optimus Ti long handled spoon

Water and hydration system: 

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  • Sawyer squeeze filter – guaranteed for 100,000 gallons
  • Sayer dirty water bag
  • Extra 2 Lt Platypus water bag
  • Smartwater Bottles
  • plastic water scoop

First Aid & Repair: 

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  • Medicines: Vitamin I (Ibuprofen), Telfast, Imodium, aquatabs
  • Tenacious tape
  • In container with yellow lid: Needle, thread, razor blade, dental floss
  • Mole skin, k tape, few band aids
  • Nail clippers, splinter picker, gauze pads, alcohol swabs
  • Spare lids – platypus bladder, smart water and gatorade

Toiletries: 

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  • Deuce of Spades potty trowel
  • Toilet paper and baby wipes
  • Ear plugs, Dr Bronners, tooth paste, tooth brush
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Pack towel

Ditty Bag (odds and ends):

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  • Stuff sack, bug mix, sunscreen, chap stick, head net, cord
  • safety pins (ie. clothes line), sharpy, biro, Sunnto clip it compass, pocket knife, thermometer, mini bic, Black Diamond Storm headlamp

Electronics:

Probably the biggest area in which weight could be lost from my pack. I’ll see about bringing the GoPro, associated batteries and charger.

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  • Garmin inReach Explorer 2 way satellite communicator
  • Anker 26,000 mah battery pack
  • iPhone tripod mount
  • stick pic camera mount
  • GoPro Hero 4
  • GoPro batteries and dual charger
  • Joby mini tripod
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • Spare SD cards, cables for Anker, iPhone SD card reader, dual wall cahrger
  • SanDisk wireless storage – to transfer photos/video off phone to SD cards direct
  • Apple earbuds

Wallet, ID and permits – self explanatory

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Bounce Box with Section Gear / Change out gear: 

Different sections require different bits of pieces. The Sierra requires ice spikes and an ice axe as well as warmer clothes. Washington demands warmer clothes and good rain gear. I’ll mail these ahead to myself and collect them as required. The bucket looks like an odd container but this will double as my food drop bucket required for Muir Trail ranch in the Sierras.

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  • Bucket
  • Rain pants, thicker thermal bottoms, spare pair of trail runners
  • Sol thermal bivvy, spare platypus bladder, spare cables, thicker gloves, snow mits
  • Fleece pullover, merino long sleeved top, spare socks x 2, Kahtoola micro spikes
  • Maps for each section (obviously I’ll carry the first lot)
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Pacific Crest Trail here I come.,

Pct-logoWell, it’s been a very long while between drinks and actually posting a blog update to this site. And what a way to kick this blog back off again by announcing that I’ll be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) next year.

During my hike across the length of New Zealand 2 years ago, I got bitten by the long distance hiking bug and got bit bad. Hiking, I love it! And the longer and harder the better. The PCT has been on my bucket list for many years but without some long distance hiking experience under my belt I felt it to be out of reach. Now, having completed the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand on top of my extensive shorter hiking resume I am more than confident I have the necessary experience to take on the PCT.

For those unfamiliar with the PCT, it is a 2650 mile dedicated scenic trail in the United States, extending from the Mexican border near Campo, California, to the Canadian border in Washington. It covers diverse and challenging terrain, starting with 700 miles of desert walking, including the Mojave desert, moving the Sierra mountain range, dry northern California, volcanics through Oregon and into the North Cascades in Washington. Check out the PCT Associations page for all the ins and outs of the trail: www.pcta.org

Planning has been underway for a while and it is quickly coming together now. My first hurdle was actually securing a long distance hiking permit to walk the trail. A first come first served ballot was launched online on November 1st his year and I found myself glued to the laptop at 3:30am Australian time to match the US time of the launch. It was like trying to buy tickets for a Rolling Stones concert. You have 13 minutes to complete the application but with everyone around the globe attempting to get a permit at the same time the server was really, really slow. I would enter my name and hit enter… tick, tick, tick… the clock ticking down and the timer showing 11 minutes left… The screen would refresh and I could move onto the next question with the same result…tick, tick, tick… and time disappearing, fast! Each page would take 2 to 3 minutes to complete and refresh onto the next. The whole process timed out on my 3 times. But fourth time lucky I secured a start date and a permit. What a relief. Without securing a date I was going no where.

With a permit date confirmed and knowing I would be hiking, it was time to start the US visa process. Luckily I started planning early. To obtain a long term B2 visa for the States required that your passport has at least 6 months validity beyond the date you expect to be in the US. I was out of luck. Expecting to depart the US in October, my passport only extended to February and I was 2 months short. So, off to get a new passport it was. With a new passport in hand I then kicked off the visa application process and I’m pleased to say arrived in the mail this week. Wohoo!! This trip is definitely on. Now to apply for extended leave from work.

pct map

The biggest challenges on the PCT are mainly logistical and mental, not physical, although a high level of endurance will be required to back up 20-25 mile days, day after day.  Starting too early from Campo could mean that winter snows still block passage through the high mountain passes in the Sierra; and leaving too late in year could mean walking through the desert in mid summer or allowing the summer snow melt to turn the many river crossings into uncrossable torrents. Then, it’s a case of staying strong mentally and physically to reach the Canadian border before the winter really kicks in and deep snows make it impossible to reach the northern terminus. Early May is my chosen Goldy Lock’s zone to start this epic journey and I expect it will take around 4.5 to 5 months to complete.

The logistical challenges come from the gear swap outs required for different sections and the need to ship food resupplies ahead for some locations, particularly in the northern states. Hikers in the US typically have some support from home to mail food/gear supplies to key locations on the trail ahead of hikers which are picked up at as the hiker comes through. Being a foreigner, I won’t have that luxury of support from home and it’s a bit tricker trying to work out how to stay supplied or swap gear out. I’ll be looking to switch to warmer gear through the Sierra and add equipment like micro-spikes and an ice axe; switch back to summer gear for Northern California and switch again to wear gear and better rain rain for Oregon and Washington. I’m really thankful to have enlisted the support of a fellow thru hiker who I met on the Te Araroa who may be able to assist.

Very exciting and I can’t wait to get back on trail for an extended period of time.

I thought about creating a separate blog page similar to my Te Araroa page but have decided to use this one. So watch this space for many new updates over the coming months and to follow my journey from Mexico to Canada.

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McKillops Bridge uncoventionally

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Gloucester Tree

With some time to kill today I made the short 3km walk to the Gloucester tree that is just out of town. Wow. It is massive and the view from the top awesome. Not much in the way of protection up the 53m climb, just hold on tight.

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