Fun Facts – My PCT Hike

While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve had plenty of time to think. Most of the time my mind is preoccupied with how many miles I have to do in a day, how many miles I’ve  done so far and how many more miles I still have to  do.

Because I’m walking while thinking, it is easy to be distracted while calculating the Math. That way I am not actually thinking about how bloody steep the mountain is! But more often than not it is quite discouraging to start out at 6:00 a.m., consumed with these thoughts and by the time everything has been calculated, realise I’ve only walked for 17 minutes and not even covered three quarters of a mile yet!

One morning I said to myself that I would not think about mileage and yet as soon as I said that, all I could think about was mileage. Later, while hiking through a pine forest, the smell of pine needles was somewhat distracting, so I came up with the idea of using pine cone as my trigger word. As soon as I started to think of my mileage, I would shout out “pine cone” and that would force me to switch my train of thought.

“Pine cone!”

My last two weeks of hiking before reaching Kennedy Meadows (mile marker 700) were mentally, and physically challenging.

This section had many steep climbs, scorching hot days and initially not many pine cones! I began to write my blog in my head and once I was off trail I put pen to paper (or thumb to keyboard) and poured out my feelings. I allowed my emotions to flow freely and expressed everything that I had felt.  But once I read what I had written I didn’t feel like sharing all my baggage here.

I found this excercise therapeutic and a way of letting go of all the drama. I had in fact shared, even if it was only with myself. The point I am trying to make is that I have decided to keep this post lighthearted and fun.

Here are some fun facts that I’ve collected from my hike.

Recently a friend from South Africa asked if I had seen any wildlife while on trail. Well, of course after spending 50 days in the wilderness there must be lots.

Snakes are probably the most common wild animal I’ve encountered. Twelve snakes in total including one big rattle snake that I didn’t see until I’d almost stepped on it. It rattled once I had passed by and there is nothing more frightening than the sound of that rattle! The fact that the hiker behind me had to warn me about the snake shows how oblivious I was to its presence. Afterwards I was on high alert for all sticks and branches that appeared snake shaped.

I started counting lizards on day one, mile one. But when I reached 30 something I stopped. They are plentiful in the desert. Some dart out across the trail and some are sunning on the rocks and sneak between the cracks quickly before you even realise that they’re there. Some have yellow bellies and long tails and some walk in front of you on the trail almost as if they’re showing you the way. I was fortunate to capture many pictures of the horned lizards which remind me of mini dinosaurs.

I haven’t seen many insects except the annoying gnat type pests that fly just in front of your face while you’re trying to walk.  You have to either swat them away which sometimes means slapping yourself in the face or exhaling forcefully right when its near your mouth to chase it away.

One day I’m certain I had three of them for company and they took turns each mile annoying me for a total of 16 miles.

The most interesting insect that another hiker pointed out is the velvet ant which is not an ant but a flightless wasp. It looks fuzzy and cute but can inflict copious amounts of pain with its sting or bite which has been known to take down large animals like cows. The white one was pointed out to me and then I realised that I had been seeing numerous red ones on the trail. Not knowing what they were, I figured they were harmless?

Birds are few and far between in the desert, but I have seen some. Only been quick enough to capture ravens on camera. Not a common sight in the California desert, is the ostrich. I had the pleasure of spending the night at a trail angel’s ostrich farm. Did you know that ostriches can mate up to 25 times a day and lay one egg every second day.

Ostrich farm near Lake Hughes

I had a had a fleeting glimpse of a small black bear. I am not sure who darted off quicker, him or me.

Trail angels

Before embarking on my quest to hike the PCT I had watched many YouTube videos and read enough blogs and posts to know what trail angels are and what they do. However, nothing prepared me for the absolute generosity and kindness of these people.

Having come from a career in law enforcement it seemed unnatural to me that people would do something nice for you without expecting something in return. I had no reason to be cynical however, these people honestly and without ulterior motive, just want to help hikers. But for the readers who don’t know trail angels appear anywhere and everywhere on the trail and provide food, drinks, rides or accommodations to hikers. They call it trail magic.

I met a TA who drove me from Wrightwood to Acton (over an hour drive) and wouldn’t even take money for gas. Instead, he suggested a donation to a different organisation on his behalf. What a selfless act.

Then there was the TA who hosted us in her home for two nights letting us do our laundry and picking us up from town and dropping us off wherever we needed to go. TA give rides to hikers just to help them out as they once hiked the trail too and know the value of a free ride or a place to stay.

My favourite experience was a couple of gentlemen who brought a few days of food and snacks (and most importantly beers) to a campground on Memorial Day weekend.

They invited hikers to sit and visit with them after a long day of hiking. Everything is provided and no money expected in exchange. We ate hotdogs and drank beers and in the evening they even sang some campfire songs before bed.

Not only were they the kindest couple of guys but they had embarked on this tradition of providing trail magic for hikers for years as a way of honouring their friend who had hiked with them and had since passed from ALS.

There have been so many TA that I’ve met and my experience meeting them has always been impactful. That human connection truly makes this hike an amazing experience.

I was also very fortunate to have met a familiar hiker in Kennedy Meadows who introduced me to his wife. I explained how I was looking to get a ride to a town or airport in order to fly back to Canada for a few weeks and not only did they offer to help me out with a ride but offered me a place to sleep and fed me for two days.  The pure generosity of people astounds me.

Speaking of people

I have had numerous travelling experiences and I enjoy meeting people from all over the world. I didn’t actively keep track but I have tried to remember where most of the hikers I have met are from.

Not in any particular order; India, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Australia, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Norway, USA, South Africa, Scotland.

Trail towns and zeros

A zero is where most hikers take a day off without hiking any trail miles. In my 50 days of being on trail I have enjoyed five zero days.

The towns I stopped in were mostly small mountain towns including Julian, Idyllwild, Big Bear and Wrightwood. They all had a certain charm and in each one I experienced something different.

Although not a picturesque town, Ridgecrest was my favorite zero. I booked a hotel for two nights and enjoyed the luxurious king bed all to myself. I enjoyed a day relaxing at the pool and getting to know some new friends.

Trail Food

At the start of my journey, I carried way too much food but later learned how to shop and prepare my food almost perfectly.

My breakfast usually included a few granola, protein and energy bars. I love the Dutch Stroop waffle as it has so many calories and is super yummy in the morning. I have stayed clear of oatmeal, but I did carry granola my first few weeks on trail which I would mix with a meal replacement, Breakfast Essentials which basically tastes like a protein shake to me!

Lunch consists of tortilla with either tuna or chicken filling and potato chips or corn chips. My evening meal was either couscous with bacon and cheese or mashed potatoes and fried onions. In addition to all of these meals I added trail mix for snacks and of course my trusty Snickers bar which I have eaten for snack, dessert and breakfast on occasion!

Other Fun Facts

Injuries Sustained – 3

On day three I scraped up my knee pretty badly by just hiking too fast over rocks. I guess I got a little cocky since I had hiked out of Hauser Canyon the day before which is super steep and took me all day and almost killed me.

When the trail was flat and easy out of Lake Morena I thought I had gotten my trail legs and was almost skipping down the trail. It looked worse than it was and no harm was done.

Another time while hiking on San Jacinto, I sank into the deep snow and slipped down a bit of a slope which in my mind seemed life threatening but again, not as bad as it appeared. Scraped up the other knee in the snow! At least they now matched.

On the day before hiking into Kennedy Meadows, I tripped while stepping over a fallen log. My gaiter had hooked onto a splinter and ripped. I didn’t quite understand what was happening at the time, but fell on my hands and knees in slow motion. Might have been quite comical for anyone watching me.

River crossings – 33 plus

I have not actually crossed 33 rivers but there was a day where the trail followed Mission Creek and we counted approximately 33 times walking through water on that creek alone! There have been some other crossings, most of them to get your feet wet but nothing too treacherous!

Days hiking  – 50

Average mileage per day – 16 miles

Most mileage in a day – 19 miles

Longest water carry – 17 miles, 5 litres

Gear I’ve enjoyed the most – sleeping bag liner

I am loving my tent and have learned to get a good pitch and am much quicker at setting it up and taking it down. My mattress pad although heavier than most has proven to keep me very warm and comfortable.

The piece of gear I value the most however is my sleeping bag liner. It is protecting my quilt from all my nasty sweat smells and dirty feet. It has also added warmth on many a cold night.

Gear not used – Ice Axe

I bought an ice axe in Canada so that I could have time to learn how to use it. That meant carrying it from the start of my journey. I decided to mail it ahead knowing that it would be used later on. Once I decided to skip the snow sections there was no need to keep holding on to this piece of equipment I would never use. Another hiker was in need of a new axe and I paid it forward by gifting it to him.

Nights Cowboy camping – 5

My first time cowboy camping, (no tent) was out of necessity as the campsite didn’t have space for my tent and it was very windy. I rather enjoyed the night although I kept waking up and checking my surroundings for animals and insects.

I camped this way again a few more times by choice. Less to pack up in the morning and this was beneficial when starting out at 3:30 a.m. to avoid the daytime heat.

Trail name – Desert Moon

It only took me six days to adopt my trail name. My hiking partner known as “Snow Angel” opted to walk behind me on the trail. I suggested that our pace was similar so it didn’t matter who walked in front or behind but she insisted. I advised her that my shorts were slipping down and if I wasn’t diligent in pulling them up constantly she may see more than she wanted to.

“Ok,” I said, “I’ll walk ahead, but I might moon you!” shortly after that the trail name Moon emerged but evolved into Desert Moon.

Highs and Lows

Since day one I have kept a journal of two highs and a low for every day. This has been a good exercise in always reminding myself that there may be low moments on trail but there are always more highs.

As I take a short hiatus to wait for snow to melt, I am enjoying a visit with family and am being spoiled with good food and great company. I look forward to returning to the trail and continuing my journey North.

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Comments 3

  • Jeff Greene : Jun 10th

    Great stuff! Keep up the good work. On birds, I’d think you’d seen a number of vultures and hawks as well? They’re always so impressive gliding over us when we hike here in Southern California.

  • John Riddle : Jun 11th

    Love this post. I always find it fascinating how counting things becomes an occupation when hiking. Your trail name is great. You can class it up or down!

  • Lauren Maker : Jul 25th

    I admire your sheer determination, Desert Moon! Remember why you doing this and don’t sweat the small stuff!

    Love your post. Take care, take it all in. This journey will be a memory soon, and you will wish you could be doing it all over again!

    Shjoe, much respect for you, sleeping night cowboy style!! Such stories to share! Love that you gave your ice axe to someone who needed it!


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