It’s Hard. It’s Complicated. I’m Doing It Again

Hey everyone. It’s been a long time since I published here. Almost two years already. The last time I wrote in this blog I was doing the Appalachian Trail, my first thru-hike in the US. I had left Tennessee and entered Virginia, just after I got my trail name, Speedy Gonzalez.

A lot has happened since then. I’ve successfully finished my Appalachian Trail thru-hike and got to the top of Mount Katahdin on Aug. 23, 131 days after my first step in Georgia. A year after that I hiked the O Circuit in Torres del Paine, Chile, and that was incredible. Patagonia is espetacular. Earlier this year I hiked in the Azores, the beautiful Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And I have spent a whole year preparing myself for my second thru-hike: I’m starting the PCT in a couple of weeks.

During my last weeks on the AT I had promised myself that I would never do something like that again; however, I started thinking about the PCT just a couple months after my summit. I had two years to plan and prepare for my hike. I’m Brazilian, and not being an American makes everything more complicated when you decide to spent five months hiking in US. Everything—I mean EVERYTHING—is way more complicated to us.

Examples? If you are American, doesn’t matter on which coast you live; it’s relatively cheap and quick to catch a flight and get back home to celebrate a birthday, a wedding, an unexpected event. If you live abroad you basically have to decide on a date to start and a date to get back to your country. It’s your wife’s birthday? You can pay $1,500 for an extra ticket or just call her. Your best friend is getting married? It’s better to buy a gift online and send it to the happy couple. Have you finished your trail a month before you have planned? Open your wallet and pay $300 for the air company to change your flight. That’s your best option.

I’ve seen some people complaining about how difficult it is to get a permit to hike the PCT. “Oh, you have to get online early, it’s always full, you never get the date you want…” Yes, it’s not simple, but it’s nothing compared to how hard it is to get a B1/B2 Visa—and being a foreigner you certainly will need one. First you have to fill the DS-160 form, a five-parts, 26-page questionnaire with questions like, “Have you ever ordered, incited, committed, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide?” (Yes, it’s a real one). I understand the value of questions like that. I’ve filled out this form many times, but It’s always a surprise when I got this section.

After you have finished the form you have to pay $160—and it’s not a guarantee that you will have your visa stamped in your passport. You first have to schedule an interview at the American Embassy. There’s no embassy or consulate in your hometown? You have to travel, on your own expenses, of course. Finally got your visa? Good. Now you have to pay for the shipping costs.

Even with the visa stamped in our passport, it’s not a guarantee that you will be allowed to enter the US. It will depend on the Border Patrol. I’ve been to the US a dozen times. I’m on my fourth B1/B2 Visa, and even so I was almost denied entry into the country prior to my AT hike. When asked how long I was planning to stay in the United States, I said the truth: between four and five months (B1/B2 visa allows you to stay up to six months). When asked how much cash I was carrying, I also said the truth: not much. I believe that is not safe to hike with $4,000 in my pocket, so I was planning to withdraw during my hike. That was enough to the agent put me aside. I told this story before.

It is easy to prepare your resupply boxes and send it in advance if you live in the US. Not an American? Well, your best option is resupply as you go. The brands won’t be the same from your home country, you may have no idea what jerky beef tastes like, you never had dehydrated mashed potato before… Doesn’t matter. Adapt and survive. Are you vegan? It’s going to be more complicated, but still doable.

You may come from a tropical country like me. You may never have seen the snow. You may have no idea how to use Microspikes or ice axe or bear canister. You can’t understand how much a pound weighs, how long is a mile, how hot is 87.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Better get used to it, my friend. Do your research, watch some videos on YouTube, check the good articles here at The Trek. It’s going to be part of your life from now on.

Have a problem with you credit card? Need to get in touch with your insurance company? Have to get in touch with your bank? Everything is going to be more difficult, expensive, time-consuming for you, fellow foreigner hiker, than the others. Add a few extra points if English is not your first language.

If you, like me, are not American and are planning a thru-hike and I could give you just one piece of advice that would be, “Take it easy.” Relax. No matter which long trail you are doing, don’t let the bureaucracy, inexperience, language barrier, or different culture interfere in your hike. Plan in advance and enjoy every second. When you face a complicated situation, be prepared. My thoughts during the AT and during my preparation for the PCT was always, “At least I will have a good story to tell.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the only thing you have to do is think positive; I’m saying that being a foreigner you need to plan more and better. Get prepared. It won’t be easy, but it can be fun. So fun that I’m doing it again.

My PCT they-hike attempt will start May 15 from Campo, CA. I already bought my ticket back home: Oct. 1 from Vancouver, Canada. In the meantime I’ll be hiking and blogging. I’m also planning a new project, that I will tell you better next week. See you!

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