Mental Preparation: Why (and how come) I’m training for 2653 miles
This blog is part 2 of a series of preparation.
You can read part 1 on physical preparation here.
2018 was the year where I finally started planning my own vacations with my husband. Soon we learned that we didn’t like the busy cities or the crowded places. We went to Malta’s Blue Lagoon not to lie on the beach, but to walk across Comino in solitude and silence. In 2019 we went to Iceland on our honeymoon to marvel at it’s beautiful nature. 2019 was also the year in which I put the PCT on my bucket list. In 2020… well, we all know what happened in 2020.
A breeding ground for insane ideas
Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened in 2020 and everything was cancelled. I was fortunate to have a job where I could work from home.
During lockdown, my workdays started and ended when it was dark outside. I would use my lunchbreak to run outside, lie face down in the nearby patch of woods, and crawl back inside again 30 minutes later. Rinse repeat every single day for months. Over time, my husband saw me turn into a shell of my former self, defined by work achievements and absolutely nothing else.
This is by far not the worst experience you can read about online, and it wasn’t the trigger for hiking the PCT specifically. But I can’t say it didn’t fuel my plans for a long, long break from work. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I started using my aimless free time of 2020-2021 to plan possible shakedown hikes and research long trails. I started making my own gear and clothes for hiking. My dad even graced me with the best awful compliment I’ve ever received, which is “You’re a great hiker behind the sewing machine, Ann”. Thanks dad.
So how did I prepare for the PCT in ways that didn’t involve walking or my sewing machine?
Meeting fellow insane people…
To a European hiker, something like a Zpacks Duplex tent is a thing of legends. A sought-after shelter made of magical material, obscured behind the veil called “insane import fees”, only seen in pictures on this mysterious website known as Instagram.
And here I stood in some guy’s backyard, only 7 miles from my home, with not one, but two Duplexes within my field of vision. As well as an array of other US cottage company made tents.
This was all thanks to a few amazing people who organized a local PCT preparation weekend. Hikers from the Netherlands and Belgium got together for a weekend of walking, lectures, exchanging advice and trying out tents.
Meeting up with people who also knew what the PCT is and either already hiked it or planned to do so was such a great experience. Before that first weekend, this massive undertaking called a PCT thru-hike lived in my head rent-free (and boy do I wish it paid rent, then maybe I could’ve considered a Duplex).
But the thing is that it lived in my head only. After meeting other hikers and talking about it did it become a real, tangible thing to me.
…and getting very sane advice.
During this weekend, some experienced hikers gave lectures on how to prepare for the PCT on topics such as nutrition, training, staying warm and how to handle a bear encounter among other things.
This was extremely valuable information for us hikers from non-bear and non-mountain country. If you plan to hike the PCT, regardless where you live and how much experience you have, I can absolutely recommend getting in touch with veteran thru-hikers and asking them all the questions you have.
Lots of introspection
Shortly after deciding I wanted to hike the PCT in 2023, it was time to make some lists.
Of course I already knew why I wanted to hike, as well as roughly what I wanted to get out of the experience. But there is a lot to gain by writing it down, especially if you are reconsidering your life choices on a bad day on trail.
My “why” is quite simple. Basically, hiking the PCT is an experience that I want to have, even if it’s not a fun experience. It provides an opportunity to disconnect from my busy life and technology. I’m also looking forward to lots of quiet time to think.
“What do I want to get out of this hike” is a bit more complicated. Ideally, I’d like to thru-hike, which – to me – means hiking all of the PCT in one season. But at the time I made my first list, I didn’t yet know that 2023 was shaping up to be an absolute record snow year. Very much like forest fires, high snowfall can stand in the way of the “ideal thru-hike”, such as a continuous footpath. It’s still possible to try and beat the conditions if you think it’s worth the risk. In my case, my priority is getting home safe. I hope this is your case as well if you’re a fellow class of ’23.
So this is version 2 of the list, or at least, here’s what I’d like to achieve at minimum:
- I want to hike at least 1779 miles (2863 kilometers).
- I want to meet the version of myself that hikes 40-mile days.
- I want to raise money for charity by doing something exceptional.
- I want to get home safe and meet my unborn niece and hug my grandma.
Living in the moment
I’m currently counting down to my starting date. My bag is packed, tickets are booked, insurance is taken care of and I have inspected my gear too many times already. All that is left is enjoying the time I have left at home.
I’m really not good at mindfulness, but basically I just try to really appreciate the everyday things that I take for granted now. Spending time with my husband. My warm bed. A wide array of tea flavors to pick from. Quality time with grandma. Being able to take a shower whenever. Bothering my cat by burying my face in his fur. Visiting friends.
Even though I’m excited to start my hike, once I’m on trail, I am going to miss these days. And without and doubt, once I’m back, I will desperately miss life on trail. But that’s a blog for another time.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you.
Without further ado, my reading list in no particular order with my thoughts:
- Journey’s North by Barney “Scout” Mann
An engaging story that focuses on the people as well as the journey. I recommend reading this with as little prior knowledge as possible, it’s a great book.
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I was told this book is a must-read for PCT hikers, but I don’t think it is.
- Six Months with three pairs of undies by André and Lian de Jel
A charming account of a couple hiking the PCT together. They find beauty in the smallest things that most hikers would overlook, and experiencing the PCT through their eyes was an absolute joy. I had the honor of meeting these two lovely people as they organized the PCT Prep days in the Netherlands.
- Thirst by Heather “Anish” Anderson
This was an extremely good read, but not necessarily always a fun one. Anderson demonstrates what the sheer power of will and resilience can do in people as she shares the experience of hiking the fastest known time on the PCT in 2013.
- Pacific Crest Trials by Carly Moree and Zach Davis
I wasn’t told this book is a must-read for PCT hikers, but I think it is.
- The entire PCT blog of Roaming Wild Rosie
I read it at least two times over the past few years.
Roseanne thru-hiked the PCT in 2019, and wrote a little bit about it every day. Engaging writing combined with beautiful pictures.
I’m still planning to read Crunch: A Million Snowy Steps Along the Pacific Crest Trail by Daniel Winsor (very relevant this year) as well as Bliss(ters) by Gail M. Francis.
If you have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear them! I’m assuming I have enough time to read on trail as well, but no promises.
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