Saturday, March 31, 2012

I am a multicolored ninja

What do garish orange and purple, zebra stripes, bright blue and red all have in common? They are just a small taste of what my clothing looks like. Gotta love closeout colors (okay I'll be honest, I am a child of the eighties and can't quite shake the love of bright colors). So here it is, the gear talk.

Some people can talk about gear for hours on end, while others despise this kind of talk. I’ll admit it; I love gear, and can chatter away for an obnoxiously long time. If you are one of those folks who hate gear talk, step away and feel free to come back later. J
So why has this post taken me so long to get to? It is aways one of the first questions I’m asked. The problem is, every time I turn around, I seem to change my mind about what I want to take. I mean on a short overnight, you can pretty much guess the weather and what you will need, but for 5 months? Not so much. Those pesky 2 or 3 pounds are a pretty big deal.  Every little ounce that you put in your backpack you have to carry, for a really long time. So weight and space are huge issues. Now when answering that yes I will be carrying a backpack, a tent and a sleeping bag. Some people want to know nothing more, but for those who would like a closer glimpse into the madness that is my gear, here goes.  

When it comes to backpacking you will hear the term baseweight is thrown around a lot. Oddly enough there have been heated debates over what exactly goes into a baseweight. Seems people get touchy about pretty much anything (Whose glad we're hiking in an election year...). But simply put, your baseweight is everything in you pack excluding consumable (ie the water bottle counts but not the water). After that you add your food and water to get your total pack weight.

When it comes to base weights there are a few main categories.
Traditional: more than 20 pounds
Lightweight:10-20 pounds
Ultralight:  under 10 (now under 5 is super ultra light but we won’t even go there)
(there are some really great resources out there if you are curious, I’d suggest starting with: backpacking light )
I have been trying to move towards a lighter system for some time now and my base weight has been around 12 lbs. I had sinking feeling that my PCT gear was a little heavier b/c I have more insecurities about my gear choices. Last night I found out I was right, I’m stuck right around 15 pounds. After the small panic attack I had after discovering this I told myself to calm down, take a deep breath and chill. Many people have successfully hiked the PCT with heavier packs, and I am 99% sure that much of my gear will be switched up within the first few weeks as I hit my stride. But until then there it is in cold black and white, 15 pounds. Then figure 1.5-2 pounds of food per day (typically 4-5 days of food so maybe 8-10 pounds) and water at 2.2 pounds a liter isn’t exactly light. If there are numerous water sources you can get away with maybe 1 or 2 liters but I am starting in the desert. There are stretches over 30 miles long with no water and typically very hot temperatures so we’re talking 6-8 liters (for those of you too lazy to do the math that’s 13- 17 pounds of just water). At least as you eat and drink your packs gets lighter…
My whole gear list is under the gear list tab so you can check it out, but as of right now my big three (shelter, sleeping, pack) are:

ULA Circuit Backpack                                          Western Mountaineering Ultralight Sleeping Bag

Tarptent Notch 
Bernadette exploring the new tent

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thank you Canada

Like everything else there is a little bit of paperwork involved with hiking the PCT, and I can now officially say its done. I have a fancy piece of paper allowing me to hike the whole trail (permit from the pacific crest trail association) and one allowing me into Canada! Canada you made my day today. There is also a fire permit allowing me to use my stove, but it's not quite as exciting since you just print it from online. Nice to finally feel official, just a few short weeks to go...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mud skating

Rainy day trips used to mean cheap bright yellow rain pants, a poncho and a garbage bag with some slits cut for your pack straps. Yes you got wet and cold, but you survived, although there was always a lot of whining along the way. As an adult, getting ready for a rainy day has become a quest for some mythical fabric that will keep you perfectly dry. In a world or goretex, pertex, event and a million other fancy fabrics there still doesn't seem to be a perfect answer. I'll admit those fancy fabrics are tempting and I have a few, but between sweat and wind and other mysterious factors I haven't had a ton of luck. So what's a girl to do on a wet and windy day with a dog that's bouncing off the walls? Last I checked I don't melt, so hiking it was. With a loaded backpack and some fancy duds we hit the local ridge line. Those of you in the bay area know we've been having our fair share of rain lately and the day of my hike was no exception. Exposed on a ridge line I was surrounded by eucalyptus trees whipping around and creaking away in creepy chorus. My dog looked at me with a reproachful expression as we went slipping and sliding away in the icy cold wetness of the day. I figure sticky and slick mud is a bit like hiking in snow, your ankles and knees get jarred every which and those solid little spots seem like heaven. Does that make my mileage count more as far as training goes? After a long and cold day I'm not going to lie, my toasty warm house was pretty sweet.
almost done, I swear it was tougher than it
While hiking I got to spend some good quality time with my fancy rain gear. I'm sure in certain conditions it's great but as past experiences have taught me it was pretty useless keeping me dry. With the high wind and hill climbing I was sweating away and was saturated within an hour on my exposed side and by the end of the day I'm pretty sure the upper portion of my left thigh was my only dry spot. Old lessons were reinforced. Fancy rain gear is a whole mess of money and not a whole lot different than the cheap stuff. Which still leaves me with the choice of what am I going to take? There is no way that I will forgo raingear for washington but what about the rest of the trail?
Lots of folks consider socal all desert, but they have to remember that the weather can get pretty nasty down there, snow and ice storms seem to hit PCT hikers in socal almost every year. I'm not a fan of hypothermia and know if it gets really bad I can hunker down in my tent but I'm not willing to completely leave out rain gear even in socal. The thing is rain gear loses its waterproofness the more you use it, and I can't see rewaterproofing gear on the trail. Staying dry seems to be impossible but sleeping warm is something I can work on. So as of right now my fancy rain jacket will be nice, happy and dry sitting in my closet at home ready to be mailed to me if I so desire closer to Washington. Until then some simple frogg toggs for emergency use will be sitting in my pack.
Right after I came to these lovely conclusions I stumbled on Guthooks recent blog post (past thruhiker of the PCT and AT) on just this debate, definitely worth checking out.

On an unrelated note I have been bogged down by work related things recently and have done basically nothing for the PCT. As of today all of my certifications are current and back to PCT planning and stressing it is!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect

Through some trial and error I am working on getting my gear setup ready for April (which is getting crazy close by the way!).  Back in January I went on a quick overnight trip to Pt Reyes National Seashore. It’s a spot I love and on weekdays (especially in winter) you can wander in at 4pm and still get the exact spot you want. So off I went into the unseasonably dry January to spend the night on a bluff by the ocean. I rushed the miles to make it by dark, set up my tent and sat down just enjoying being outside. It was beautiful and clear and as I sat using my little alcohol stove I noticed pretty cold, actually it was really cold. So I slowly put on layer after layer until I was wearing every item of clothing I had brought, and was still a little cold. Hmm that’s not good. So I decided to go to sleep, I fell asleep but woke up multiple times cold, even getting out of my sleeping bag for some jumping jacks to warm myself up. Lesson? My clothing and sleep system was definitely a no go.

So fast forward to last week, I’ve slowly been acquiring new gear and somehow the stars aligned perfectly for me to go on another short overnight. I was especially excited to get out and play with my tent (a tarptent notch for those of you who are curious). Only in the shuffle of grabbing all my gear and my dog and being generally scatterbrained I forgot my trekking poles. Now this tent uses trekking poles for its poles so no poles means you have a really pricey piece of silnylon to flap around and glare at angrily. But hey go with the flow right? I actually prefer not camping in a tent so I figured I could at least see if my new sleep system worked, and drum roll please…it’s a winner. Thank you who ever invented sleeping bag liners and goose feet down socks. I woke up covered in ice but warm as can be J Some other helpful things I have come across are to eat something fatty before you sleep, your body processing that food helps keep you toasty. And make sure your bladder is empty, your body works hard to keep all that urine warm and who wants to waste all that heat on pee?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oh electronics

I decided to finally jump on the bandwagon and get a smartphone. For those of you who know me you can appreciate how big of a deal this was. I just haven't seen the need to pay ridiculous amounts of money so I can see what everyone is doing on Facebook this exact moment and I have somehow I have managed to get by not checking my email until I get home in the evening. With all of that said I know there are lots of perks to these fancy phones and the cheapskate within finally gave in.

There is a saying within the hiking community, hike your own hike. Some people oppose a lot of electronics on the trail. Detracting from nature, a dangerous crutch etc. I understand the disadvantages of relying on a little piece of plastic and glass but I also see how handy it can be. With pay phones disappearing I will be able to check in with family, coordinate mail drops, and make town stays more efficient plus I can journal when I feel up to it. I still prefer the good old map and compass route but I will also have a backup set of maps available offline (thank you halfmile). I'm sure there are other uses but those are the big ones right now. So as long as I have service and power and don't break the silly thing this lovely little iPhone will be making my journey with me. Now I just need to learn to use it.
On that note this is my first time posting with the phone so be kind.

The photos are from a quick overnight this week. More details later...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What are your weaknesses?

I graduated college all bright eyed and ready for a real job in a field I had actually worked hard to get into. Only when I graduated there were no jobs (don’t get me started on the whole nursing shortage thing that’s a rant that can go on for far too long). So as the months continued to find me jobless I found myself spending hours researching interview and resume tips in desperation. I couldn’t even get an interview but I was going to be prepared if I ever did manage it. One of those classic interview tips was about how to spin your weakness’s into strengths. As I continue to prep for this trip I find myself dwelling on traits that I think are going to cause me problems if I don’t actively work on them and what the heck am I going to do about it.

One piece of advice I keep hearing about the PCT is that you have to go with the flow.  This is not something I am know for, I like planning and lists, I like knowing where I am and where I am going. Simply put I can be too high strung for my own good. Somehow I don’t think that saying head north towards Canada is going to calm my nerves at some dusty trail intersection in the middle of nowhere.

As I sit with my giant pile of maps, my calendar and the great website: Craig’s PCT Planner (  a website where you plug in a few statistics like pace and hours hiking and it helps you create a rough itinerary with days between resupply points and more statistics than I know what to do with) I keep trying to remember to step back and go with the flow.

It helps that I know it’s very logical. Realistically there are just too many things that will be out of my control on this hike. I just can’t know how fast I will be hiking and how good (or bad) I will be feeling days from now let alone months from now, there could be forest fires or freak snow storms or I could fall and break my ankle. The what-ifs are never ending and frankly pretty depressing and scary. So instead of getting bogged down by little details I am working on this flexibility thing.
With that in mind I have finally nailed down a rough itinerary for this whole shebang. There will be lots of changes and fine tuning to come but at least I finally have a base.

Oh and in case you were wondering there are other things that need tweaking but let’s just focus on one thing at a time ok?