Beginning the PCT: Questions and Answers

If you’re reading this, it means I have left my job, said goodbye to loved ones, packed my bag, and am days away from beginning a thru-hike of the 2,650-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail.

Those of you reading are probably coworkers, peers, family members, or faraway friends (although all are welcome here in my small corner of The Trek-iverse). Many of you have asked questions relating to thru-hiking the PCT. Some are curious to know why, some want to know what I’m packing, and others have doubts about thru-hiking and hygiene.  The truth is, I don’t have all the answers yet. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. But for as little as I know, I can try to answer a few of your questions, especially those related to why I’m doing this and how I think it’s all going to.

Hopefully this brief Q&A helps you find the answers you seek. Feel free to send me any other questions. I’ll respond with an answer as soon as I have one.

Q: Why are you hiking the PCT?

Answer:  I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.

There’s no one reason. I would say the challenge of it really spoke to me. I’m also trying to live my life with a bit more intention and feel the PCT was a great way for me to focus my energy toward a monumental goal. Hiking was not part of my life before deciding to thru-hike. Proving to myself I could learn enough skills to keep me alive on trail was one of my biggest motivating factors. I’ve found a great passion for the outdoors in my pursuit of this goal, and that is something I cherish well beyond the span of this hike.

Q: So why the PCT over the AT?

Answer: West Coast, best coast!

The AT sounded interesting, but the PCT spoke to me. I grew up in Northern California, spent time in the Sierra as a child, had a strong connection to the desert after living in Arizona for a few years, and had loved Washington and Oregon for as long as I could remember. There was no question in my mind I was going to hike the PCT over any of the other long trails.

Q: How did you prepare?

Answer: Time on my feet… and YouTube.

I began preparing days after I decided I wanted to hike. I reconnected with a high school friend who had backpacking experience. I told him my plans and to my utter surprise, he let me tag along on an overnight trip he had planned the next week. I was off! Backpacking was happening. I shared the details of that first trip on my Instagram. I encourage you to give it a read if you enjoy stories about a green backpacker forgetting to pack essential pieces of equipment.

I returned from the trip hungry for more. I quickly began researching local hikes, gear, and consuming as much PCT-related content as I could. I found trail vlogs, gear videos, how-to guides, and the dark depths of reddit backpacking communities.

The trail information was only part of the puzzle. I quickly began day hiking on weekends and even took up running. I ran miles and miles the years leading up to hike (thanks to my girlfriend who was training for her first marathon when we began dating in 2017).

I continued to tag along on my friend’s trips. After our first trip to Hat Creek, we backpacked trails along the California coast, Crater Lake, a 75-mile section of the PCT, the Lost Coast Trail, Lake Tahoe, and many others.

My final challenge was a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail in August 2018. This was the first time I had been backpacking alone, the first long trail I had ever hiked (although 170ish miles isn’t long in comparison to some trails), and the first time using gear I planned to take with me on the PCT. It was my PCT test run and I knew if I completed it, I would be ready to attempt the PCT. You can read more about that trip on my Instagram.

A plug for the TRT: it’s an amazing trail. I encourage you to go for it if you’re thinking about hiking it. It is beautifully maintained, full of side trips, great views, and a diverse landscape. Some sections are easy while others are grueling. I’m planning on hiking his trail at least once a year from now on.

Q: When do you start the PCT?

Answer: April 21.

I’ll be starting on my 26th birthday.

Q: How long will the PCT take you?

Answer: I honestly don’t know.

If I had to put a number on it, I would say five months.

Q: How do you get food and water?

Answer: I honestly don’t know.

Just kidding. I’ll buy food as I go. I should be hitting a town or resupply point every couple of days to a week depending on my pace. I’ll collect water from natural sources and water caches stocked by volunteers. I’ll use a water filter to make sure what I’m drinking is clean.

Q: Where do you poop?

Answer: In the woods.

To be specific, in a cathole dug to meet specific Leave No Trace (LNT) guidelines. This also means packing out TP. Bathrooms are a thing, though, so I’ll for sure use those where available.

Q: Where do you sleep?

Answer: Under the stars.

I’ll be camping outside 90% of my time on trail. There will be certain times I sleep in a hotel, hostel, or someone’s home.

Q: How much stuff do you bring?

Answer: Not much!

I tend to keep it pretty light. You may even say I’m ultralight. Check out my full gear list for a look at everything I’m taking.

Q: I didn’t see a gun on that list. Where do you keep it?

Answer: At home.

No need for six-shooters round these parts.

Q: What does your family think?

Answer: They think it’s cool…

…but I’m pretty sure they would prefer I take up a hobby that didn’t involve leaving for months on end. But they have been incredibly supportive and I couldn’t do it without them.

Q: What are you expecting to gain from the hike?

Answer: Nothing

I have no idea what to expect from the trail except that I’ll be tired, hungry, hot, cold, thirsty, sweaty… did I mention hungry? I’m going in with an open mind. All I want to do is start walking.

If you made it this far… wow… you must really like me. I’m planning to post semi-frequent updates here on The Trek so check back soon. You may even feel compelled to subscribe and have my updates sent directly to you. I’ll also be sharing photos, videos, and stories on my Instagram if that’s more your jam.

Hike on.

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Comments 4

  • Chris Dillman : Apr 18th

    Wishing you the best on your 2019 adventure. I dig the attitude. From a 2018 finisher, don’t overthink it. One step in front of the other for 145 days, and hello Manning Park. Will follow your adventure. Thanks in advance for sharing.

    • Brandon Smith : May 3rd

      Thanks for checking out the post and the words of encouragement! I always appreciate hearing from those who have gone before. Cheers! – Brandon

  • Tom Sweet : Apr 20th

    Say hello to Grayson at the Big Bear Hostel. Treat yourself to a couple of good meals because the next “restaurant” is at the McDonald at the I-15.

    • Brandon Smith : May 3rd

      Thanks for reading and the great tip! I’ll be sure to check in with Grayson when I reach Big Bear. Cheers! – Brandon


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