Part 2: Getting Prepped

I’m not a big preparer. Growing up, my parents had a clock that said “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – I would glance up each morning on my way to school to confirm, yes, I was late. These last weeks have been a bit of a scramble, but for once I actually feel a bit prepared. Yes, I was still ordering bits of kit in the final week and dashing to REI every day, but final week is a big improvement on my normal final day prep.

On a shakedown – read on to find out more

Getting the gear

I had a limited collection of kit that included a two-man tent, a solid decathlon roll matt and a backpack I got off Facebook marketplace. Some of my kit could come with me, but most will have to sit this one out, and wait for future weekend trips.

Over the past month I’ve been filling out the gaps in the collection. I am currently in love with all my gear – the old classics and the new shiny gems. Gollum-like I have them laid out all over my floor. The process has taken place mostly in my head circulating between different sites online, getting sucked into comparison articles, googling random materials, panicked texts to my one experienced thru hiker friend. Until I’ve taken the plunge – sometimes swayed by colour alone.

A couple of my prize processions:

  • A bear canister with a good number of stickers – but room for more
  • A buff that was a freebie from a cancelled rowing race in London in 2018
  • New hiking poles which have the PCT logo on, and a little map snaking up it (I’m currently wondering at which mile imposter syndrome will wear off and I can start using these with pride)
  • Very light tent durston pole tent which was my first time ever in a one-man tent, and feels spacious enough to play cards in
  • A carabiner from my long-time hiking buddy, with some meaningful coordinates on
  • My avocado green (official description) backpack from Mountain Laurel – bought second hand via Reddit

My sun hoodie is the only thing that didn’t come as I expected…. I tried to dye it another colour, pretty unsuccessfully. Now I’m hoping I didn’t boil out the SPF.

Cooking up a storm…?

I’m waiting on the last few items, but I’m looking at these bits and prices excited for the adventure we’re going on together.

Trying to get fit

At one point in my life, I was a rower. The good (and bad thing) about rowing is that someone is telling you what to do. So long as you keep turning up for the many sessions, voila – you’ll get fit. You might cry in the changing rooms, you might throw up in the bin post test erg, but the strange psychology of the group keeps you committed (there are good times too don’t worry!).

But for the PCT, I’m the only one who can get me fit. No one is going to boss me around. I did try some good old commitment mind games – organizing runs and climbs with friends to keep me accountable, and a day hike in upstate New York. One of my colleagues has one of those snazzy machines that lets you walk while working and I borrowed it to bob around for a few hours each week while trying to put together slide decks.

My biggest fear is my knees. Hard to know how much this is in my head, but these knobbly knees certainly creak. I did some knee exercises, a bit of backwards uphill walking on the treadmill and a lot of worrying. I’m not sure they are ready, but I am hoping by taking my starting miles steady, and by popping some tumeric pills I’ll manage.

Snowy day hike in New York

Shakedown time

Finally, I got prepped with two shakedowns. A shakedown is a multi-day prep hike where you test out your kit, your body and maybe check that yup, you do really want to do this for five months.

Doing a shakedown in March from NYC with only public transport is not impossible, but it’s not a walk in the park. (Or it could be if you wanted to just loop around central park 30 times).

My first shakedown was a tentative 50 miles in Harriman, taking the train out to Harriman on Friday after work, then zipping back on the tuxedo train in Sunday afternoon. It was my first time setting up the Durston tentpole tent, and I was pleasantly surprised how simple it was (my cockiness learned its lesson on shakedown number 2). We had predictably mixed weather and on the second night slightly wimped out in torrential rain and slept in a shelter. Kit was mostly good – I did suffer from being a bit chilly, so noted I needed some thicker leggings, but overall a good first test.

River crossing practice – the before photo. No damp after photo to be featured

The Lemon Squeezer in Harriman State Park – aka ultimate test of bag size

Second shakedown was 110 miles over five days, along the Shawgunk Ridge trail and then onto the Appalachian trail, to catch a bus back from Greenwood Lake. We pushed ourselves and had some longer days (20-28 miles in the middle days). The Shawgunk trail was stunning – and I really enjoyed seeing more of the trail culture on the AT. I felt very accomplished at the end, and excited for the real thing. I only had one tantrum.

Funky signs on the trail

Getting in the zone with poles

Some things I learned on the shakedowns (lots, but not all, are food related):

  • I can vibe with a frameless backpack
  • The wholefoods vegan “jerky” is delicious (unfortunately also expensive, this may become a problem)
  • You can wilt a whole bag of spinach into a ramen, upgrading it significantly
  • Hot sauce sachets are the MVP
  • Avocados can last quite a few days
  • I have sadly become a cold sleeper (when did this happen? Why?)
  • My tent has quite a large footprint, and if put up in a little hollow in the rain, one pole might fall down in the night. Hopefully not an issue on the PCT campsites
  • Sometimes you just have to order take out food to a random trailhead (I’m reading for the Uber eats at the i10 underpass)
  • If you are having a tough moment, you can ride it out and things will look better the next day
  • Dance pants don’t just sound groovy, they are groovy

Dotting the is and adding fig bars to boxes

The final parts of preparation have been moving everything out of my apartment and into storage in the rainiest week NYC has had this week. Thanks to friends for carrying a sofa down the street in soaking rain. I have also sorted some food boxes for the first leg of the journey. It’s generally considered not needed, but as a vegetarian who’s also woefully misplanned food in the past, I decided to try it out for the beginning. It’s also quite fun pillaging the shelves of trader Joe’s for good snacks. (I’m currently a salty snacks girl, but we’ll see how the PCT changes my sweet tooth) I think I will almost certainly become more frugal as the weeks go on, but for now am starting out with some yummy snacks.

Organized mess

Once prep is done (still quite a bit to do), I’ll be off. Likely all in a rush.

Happy trails, it begins!

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Comments 1

  • George N Sibley : Apr 10th

    Alice, becoming a cold sleeper may be totally related to your energy expenditure. You are using a greater portion of your calories to move your body 20+ miles a day leaving fewer available to keep your body warm at night. A combination of eating a bit more and wearing warmer kit at night should help, but you may still experience some of this until the weather gets a lot warmer.


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