Cutting My Teeth On The CT: 7 Things I’m Glad I Learned Before Starting the PCT

On July 5, 2017, I set off on my first thru-hike after two years of obsessively researching, reading trail blogs, acquiring gear, and fine-tuning my base weight. Although I’d been an avid day hiker for several years, there’s no good backpacking within six hours of my home in South Texas and consequently, my longest backpacking trip to date was a three-day, two-night trek of about 35 miles. I picked the Colorado Trail not only for the splendor of the Rockies but because 486 miles seemed actually doable while not being too short. 

Somewhere in the San Juans, I decided that the PCT was happening for me in 2018. I was gonna go for this trail that I’d been internet stalking for two years because my little taste of trail life left me wanting more. Here are some of the things I learned on the Colorado Trail that I’m glad I learned before starting the PCT.

 

  1. People Who Pick Up Hitchhikers Are Rad

    Getting into a car with strangers was one of my biggest fears about thru-hiking so I always hitched with other hikers. These rides all ended up being fine, and not just fine, the people who picked us up usually ended having cool stories and/or cute dogs. When I missed a hostel shuttle back to the trail I conquered my fear and continued to hitch alone when necessary without incident. Being able to hitch alone will really help me hike my own hike on the PCT – no rushing to catch up to people who are heading into town and no getting back on trail earlier or later than I want to.

    Puppy hitches are the best hitches.

  2. Take More Pics

    I feel like I was always pulling my phone out of my hipbelt pocket to snap photos of nature but I’m sadly lacking in people pics. On the PCT I’ll take more photos of hikers doing hiker things, friends, campsites, and I’ll ask people to take my photo once in a while.

  3. Resupply On-The-Fly

    I prepped resupply boxes for the entire trail but early on I struggled to eat the stale and crumbly food. I eventually cut my losses and hiker boxed anything that wasn’t prepackaged and started resupplying at grocery stores, delis, and bakeries. Not having to worry about USPS hours and saving money on postage was great but the best part about resupplying in town was buying exactly what I was craving for the next section. There are probably places on the PCT where I’ll need to send boxes but aside from those, I’m just gonna rummage through the hiker box for anything that looks appealing, buy whatever else I need from the grocery store, and pack out something outrageous for dinner. The time I packed out a 28-ounce tub of seven-layer dip with a bag of Tostitos Scoops was one of my proudest moments of the CT.

    Seven layers for $7.

  4. Gear Snafus Are Inevitable

    Whether it’s losing or breaking something, or just deciding that I’d like to update a certain piece of gear, it can be ordered whenever there’s service and shipped to the next town. That being said, I’m going to try not to be an idiot again and leave my trekking poles in the bed of someone’s truck.

  5. Hostels Are Fun

    I’m an introvert so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the hostel experience as much as I did. But because I usually hiked alone and even camped alone a decent amount,  it was nice to share a dorm with a bunch of hikers and feel like I was at some strange hiker-trash summer camp. Hostels give you instant friends for town – it’s totally reasonable to ask people you just met if they wanna join you for dinner and in my experience, hostel peeps will form a group and go out for a night on the town. Would I have preferred to have my own hotel room every time I went to town? Of course, but hostels are like a quarter of the price of a hotel and they often have sweet loaner clothes for doing laundry.

    The Simple Lodge in Salida, Colo.

  6. Post-Trail Depression Is Real

    I’ve never felt so consistently dead inside as I did in the weeks following the completion of my thru-hike. If the end of a five-week trek can make me feel that bad, I can’t imagine how earth-shattering the end of the PCT is gonna feel. I already have a tentative plan for how I’m going to ease back into society post-trail that does not include immediately going back to work/school and I have a plan B in case I have to get off trail. I never want to feel that shitty again.

  7. I Can Do it!

    Up until about mile 300, I worried that I wasn’t going to finish. I felt slow and the remaining miles seemed daunting. I had a couple bad days and several blah days, but even when I was at my lowest on the trail I never wanted to quit. In fact, as the trail was winding down I wasn’t ready for it to end. I felt like I just hit my stride. 2,660 miles still seems incredibly daunting and I realize that the PCT will be a completely different beast but it’ll be helpful to know the adjustment period ends and after that, things get easier and the miles start zooming by.

    That feeling when you make it to Durango.

I know I can’t be too confident – the PCT will teach me things I never knew that I didn’t know, but I’m glad I’m starting with a decent amount of experience and the self-assuredness that comes with it. I’m grateful for my time on the CT and I know that even once I’ve logged thousands of miles on other trails there will always be a place in my heart reserved for that stormy, marmot-riddled path between Denver and Durango.

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Simba : Jan 9th

    The CT is a great trail for longer trail training, or for that matter, as an end to itself. I thru-hiked it in 14 and the challenges and rewards were epic. If you finished the CT feeling good, I have no doubt you’ll do well on the PCT. Good luck!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Holly Mueth : Jan 12th

    Congrats on completing the CT and good luck on the PCT!! My husband and I are hiking the CT this summer. I’m interested in how you resupplied in towns…we are bringing out dogs and plan on mailing their food as well as dehydrated meals for resupply about once a week.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Sarah Camacho : Jan 14th

      I’m so excited for y’all! I came across a few other people that were thru-hiking with dogs. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest purchasing a databook from the Colorado Trail Foundation’s website. It has a couple pages with all the trail towns, miles from the trail, trail milage at exit point, whether or not it’s an easy hitch, and the amenities they offer. I did a post on my Trail Journals account with my town reviews which you can read here.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Mary Meixner : Jan 12th

    Great advice! I found all of this to be true, too, Especially the parts about taking more pictures of people and about post-trail depression. Happy trails, and good luck on the PCT!

    Reply

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