Very last morning on the PCT. 06:55 am, walking alone through a meadow in the quiet lee of Goat Rocks. Way up high on the ridge at the top of the photo was where I camped....
I'm home from my PCT adventure and it feels really strange. I tried to prepare myself for the post-walking slump, but nothing can be done about it. I'm bummed out and I don't know what to do with myself. I walked daily, every day, for the last 23 days without taking a single day off. I walked for a total of 56 days and over 800 miles through California, Oregon and Washington. Some days I walked 28 miles. Other days I walked 20 or 25 or 16, but I always walked. I walked through rain, wind, snow and blistering heat. And now, without much ceremony, (I ended my journey before arriving in Canada due to financial constraints) I am finished. I am enjoying the things I couldn't carry with me over the past month like yogurt and toast (bread yes/toaster no) and cold cereal with soy milk. I devour fresh vegetables from the garden and find myself still needing to eat once every hour. At the grocery store I look at the food aisle with the eye of a hiker trying to resupply herself for 100 miles of hiking in the mountains alone-- which is to say I look for foods with over 120 calories per ounce, I imagine how much this or that will fill me up and give me the calories I so desperately need. I see Snickers bars on sale, 2 for one dollar, and I get excited. Just a few days ago I was eating at least 2 Snickers bars per day.
There were so many emotions that caught up with me towards the end of the trip-- ones I never expected, but which taught me things about myself nonetheless. Like how much I wanted to be alone. This sounds contradictory, but there were so many people clustered together on the trail in Washington that it became very difficult to get any privacy. I actually started resorting to hiding (yes! hiding!) from people so that my camp spots would remain solitary sanctuaries instead of PCT thu-hiker hangouts. I had to tell people, specifically, that I wanted to camp alone so that I wouldn't hurt feelings or cause new found hiker acquaintances to wait for me or try to keep up with me. I managed to get a really great ridge spot all to myself on my very last night on the trail. The picture below is my little spot, just at tree line (about 6,500 feet) on Sept. 15, 2014. Wonderful place, majestic and gorgeous, and I had it all to myself. It was worth the extra burden of carrying 2 liters of water 3,000 feet up so that I could dry camp here on my last night.
Amazingly, my shoes held up for the entire 800 miles! I tried to show the tread, which is worn down but not too terrible. Maybe I'm light on my feet? Good ol' Cascadias. I'm a believer.
I think it helped that I managed to get my pack weight down to a very reasonable level. My base weight (sleep system, cooking system, pack, clothes and toiletries) came in at 16.2 lbs. This isn't terrible considering that I didn't go out and buy a bunch of new ultra-light gear. I used a 7-year old pack (weight unknown), a 10-year old down sleeping bag (2 lbs, 12 oz), and the wonderful Big Agnes Fly Creek UL-1 (2 lbs, 1 oz.), purchased as a gift for me by Faron and Liz for my birthday. My Thermarest Z-lite came in at 14 ounces, so my total sleep system came in at 4 lbs, 11 oz. The PCT pros recommend no more than 5 lbs.
For the most part, I was carrying between 2 and 2.5 lbs of food per day (3200-3800 calories), so my pack weighed about 24-26 lbs with food, and when fully loaded with water, 28-30 lbs. Again, not ultra light, but it worked. I was able to cover a lot of pretty touch terrain pretty fast and put in some big miles when I felt like it. I had numerous days over 25 miles on this last leg of my trip, and often did back to back to back 20 + mile days. My body held up pretty well, but I definitely ran a huge calorie deficit when putting in the big days. Towards the last few weeks of my trip I was waking up at 2 am with a voracious hunger. One night I ate and entire can of Pringles while laying in my sleeping bag at 2:30am. 1000 calories, just to get me through the rest of the night. Most nights I woke up hungry. Many nights I raided my food bag and ate what ever the hell I could. There just isn't a way to carry enough food for all of the energy expended unless you want to feel like a pack animal... The calorie deficits are very real, and fun to make up when hitting a little town or resort or gas station.
In Cascade Locks, between 1pm and 8:30 pm I ate the following:
1 chili dog
1 bacon cheese burger
2 orders of fries
2 soft pretzels
1 salad bar
1/2 bag of Fritos
1/2 jar of cheese sauce
1/2 gallon of orange juice
.... ummm, yeah. And I was still light on my feet the next day, climbing out of Cascade locks, 4,500 feet over 20 miles with a fully loaded pack in 91 degree heat.