Mistakes I’ve Made Before the Trail (And I’ve Already Made Quite a Few)

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taken something like this on before. I knew I would invariably make mistakes. Trust me, I’ve already made plenty, and I haven’t even set foot on the trail yet.

Counting Grams

I hit the word ultralight early on in my research. Lighterpack lists. Cuben Fiber (now Dyneema). (Not, as I originally thought, “Cuban fiber;” I couldn’t figure out why fibers from Cuba would be ultralight.) Quilts. Hammocks. Cutting the handle off your toothbrush.

It made sense; half a pound isn’t heavy, until you have to carry it 2,000 miles. My pack was going to be as light—ultralight. But I started to shed ounces in too many places.

Take my sleep system. If a quilt was lighter, then by golly, I would bring a quilt.

That didn’t last long.

On an overnight, I was excited to test out my quilt. 

Well, apparently I move in my sleep. A lot. Violently. I was freezing, and couldn’t sleep that whole night.

mistakes-shakedown

A (freezing) Mount Baker shakedown overnight shook me down, alright.

I came home and reevaluated.

Yes, my quilt weighed about a pound. But no matter how I oriented myself, how I strapped myself in, what sleeping pad I used, I was cold. This sleep system works great for many people; it didn’t for me.

Although my gear was ultralight, for me it wasn’t ultra-right. I’ve since decided that adding few ounces here and there for comfort is a cost I’m willing to bear.

Wanting the Absolute “Best” Gear

Like I said, I spent a lot of time reading up on the best brands, best materials/fabrics, best weight-to-warmth ratio, best bang-for-your-buck, best everything.

I convinced myself that I needed it.

Sure, it was good to replace some of my stuff. Like I said earlier, I knew I had to replace my sleep system. After researching a ton, I dropped a chunk of money on a Western Mountaineering Versalite, which I couldn’t be happier with.

Happy as a clam. A puffy clam. A warm puffy clam.

But it didn’t stop there. I spent hours reading about the lightest trekking poles out there. Microspikes. Sporks. I had tunnel vision, and I had to force myself back to reality.

I’ve already got poles, even if they aren’t the lightest. My Microspikes work fine. My plastic spork has served me great for as long as I’ve had it; I didn’t need a shiny new long-handled titanium one.

I didn’t need to replace every single thing on my gear list with the crème de la crème. Plus, it’s not like I’m made of money! 

Listening to the Fearmongering

I joined the Facebook groups, thinking they’d be a great place to get information.

I mean, I wasn’t wrong. People who had thru-hiked before shared some great information. Other thru-hiking hopefuls were asking the same questions I had, with solid advice in the responses.

But while some of that information was helpful, a lot of the information was fearmongering.

Posts about how this year will be the worst one yet in the Sierra. Posts about ten-pound base weights and how anything more would kill my thru-hike.

I started to doubt myself in reading all of these posts, thinking, “I won’t be able to do this.” But I talked to a fellow 2019 hopeful who I had become friends with, and she told me that she actually left all of the Facebook groups because of the fearmongering and negativity.

That’s when I realized that it wasn’t just me. And just because I didn’t follow some advice or didn’t have a certain piece of gear, that didn’t mean I stood no chance.

I’m still a part of the Facebook groups. I still read the information people share. But I don’t let it scare me anymore, and I take all of the advice with a grain of salt.

FOMO

FOMO /ˈfōmō/ n. informal fear of missing out.

I admit it—I’m not new to the feeling.

A reason I hesitated at taking on the PCT was that I was afraid I would lose everything I’ve built up at home while I was gone.

What if my friends just forgot who I was when I got back, because I wouldn’t have been there for the cool things they’re going to be doing?

Around the time I decided to go, some of my friends asked if they could hike a section with me. It seemed like I had found a solution. A tie to my life and friends back home while on trail.

I spent hours researching what the best sections to bring a companion along were… which was hard. What places were easy to get to from an airport? How would they get back to civilization? How would we coordinate schedules? What if my hiker legs paced us too differently?

Hiking with friends can be fun 😊

I felt like if I couldn’t find a way to include my friends on my trek, they’d just forget about me. I stressed about this to the point of almost not wanting to go, not wanting to risk being forgotten.

Finally, I admitted to myself that having friends join me for sections in the middle of my hike was too complicated. I couldn’t let these feelings of FOMO affect or drive my thru-hike.

Hike your own hike, even before the hike.

Trying to Plan All of My Resupply

I worried about resupply. I’ve got a dairy-intolerance, which knocks out some popular trail foods. Whey protein, cheese, Snickers bars… And maybe it’s more economical to buy food beforehand than at resupply points. But what if I had to wait for the post office to open? What if stores were closed? What if I ran out of food? My neuroticism screamed.

I put together resupply boxes so that my friends in civilization could ship them to me, with a bunch of protein bars, energy bars, and bags of dehydrated food. I would learn exactly which post offices and stores would accept packages. I’d plan out exactly where I’d hitch into town.

I’d have a perfect resupply strategy.

An actual screenshot of part of my comprehensive resupply plan. It took forever to make, and I know I’ll never use it. But hey, it looks nice!

Nope.

Veteran thru-hikers advised fewer resupply boxes. They talked about their tastes changing. And I was having a tough time figuring out where to ship, where I’d get off trail, the timeline of where I’d be. 

Since I still had months to go before my hike, I’d started going through the bars on my day hikes. Then, I decided I was going to do a southbound hike instead, so I’d be around until July.

At this point, all I have left is a couple boxes of bars, which I’m sure will disappear before July. I’ve given up on the resupply plan.

I still think some things are worth buying beforehand, especially with dietary restrictions. But planning out my entire resupply overwhelmed me. And I threw my plan out the window anyway with my delayed start date.

Sticking Too Much to “The Plan”

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a planner. I like to set expectations—and meet them.

Well, that hasn’t worked great so far.

For one, I changed my direction from northbound to southbound. My start date moved from March to July. Not trivial. (If you’re not up for reading my long post about why I decided to switch, tl;dr: I knew in the back of my mind it was the right choice to switch, but I agonized over it for months. I didn’t want to deviate from the plan!)

At this point, I’ve given up completely on creating a comprehensive plan for anything. I’ll be showing up at the Northern Terminus with the gear I like, with a couple months of training, and hope for the best.

It took me awhile (and practicing with some pretty big changes in the plan) to figure this one out. But hey, it was good practice for the changes in plan I’ll have on trail.

Thinking I’d Be a Failure If I Don’t Finish

  1. What if I don’t make it?
  2. What if I hate it?
  3. What if I have to tell everyone I couldn’t do it?
  4. What if I quit my job for nothing?
  5. What if I fail? 

I asked myself these questions a lot. For a long time, I didn’t have any answers. Like many others, I considered anything less than a full thru-hike a failure.

But then I told my mom my plans to thru-hike the PCT. She surprised me by supporting my decision. She told me that if I ever think it’s getting too hard, I should get off-trail, no judgment. That inspired answers to my questions, even though the questions still pop up sometimes.

  1. If I don’t make it, the trail will still be there. I can give it another go.
  2. Obviously, this isn’t the same as a day hike or a weekend backpacking trip, but I love hiking. I’ve reached places I never thought I would be strong enough to get to. I’ve seen just how hard I can push myself outdoors. I might hate the PCT, but chances aren’t high.
  3. My friends and family want the best for me. My mom proved that. By thinking they’d judge me, I’m not giving my loved ones enough credit.
  4. I’ve already been planning to quit. I’m burnt out. Even if I wasn’t going to thru-hike, I’d be looking for a new job.
  5. It would not be a failure. Just by deciding I wanted to thru-hike the PCT, I’ve done something I never imagined I would ever have the confidence to try. That’s not failing—that’s growing.
mistakes-defiance

Did I ever think I’d be strong enough to hike something like this? Hint: No.

A Person Who Has Never Made a Mistake…

… has never tried anything new,” as they* say.

I am 100% certain this blog post doesn’t capture all of the mistakes I’ve already made. I’m sure I’ve got many more mistakes to make, with plenty of chances to make them. (Especially once I start my thru-hike.) But don’t worry—I’m certain I’ll end up making them all.

 

*I tried to find the actual attribution, but turns out that was more complicated than I expected.

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Comments 8

  • Leo-Yermo : Apr 25th

    Thanks you write well and so much fun to read.
    Looking forward to your next

    Reply
    • Tiffany Chou : Apr 26th

      Thanks! 🙂

      Reply
  • Stephanie : Apr 26th

    I’m in the planning stages of my JMT hike right now. I needed this read. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Tiffany Chou : Apr 26th

      Wow, that’s awesome! I hope you have a great time on your trek. Don’t make the same mistakes I did 😛

      Reply
  • mallthus : Apr 26th

    To celebrate my 50th trip around the sun, I started planning my CT hike last fall, reading everything I could, collecting gear, etc. I’m a person that usually has a plan, a backup plan, a backup backup plan, and an emergency plan. Then, last month, I broke by collarbone into 4 pieces skiing and I surprised myself because I didn’t already have a plan for such an eventuality. Turns out not having a plan is pretty liberating. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll be sufficiently healed by July to carry a pack without pain and I’m OK with that uncertainty.* I may hike on schedule. I may hike a couple or three weeks later. I may not hike it until next year. Who knows? Who really cares?

    Love the “Plan your own hike.” I’m adopting that!

    Enjoy.

    * “OK” is an overstatement. I’m living with the uncertainty and experimenting with the associated feelings.

    Reply
    • Tiffany Chou : Apr 27th

      It really can be overwhelming, right? I realized that being uncertain, and uncomfortable because of the uncertainty, is alright, though. Plus, when I over-plan, I just end up being uncertain again when the plan gets thrown off.

      Best of luck with your recovery. I hope you’re able to get out onto the CT!

      Reply
  • Jonathan : Apr 30th

    I’m really looking forward to reading your trail updates. Good luck with the final couple of months preparing!

    Reply
    • Tiffany Chou : Apr 30th

      Thank you! I’m also looking forward to them 😉 I’m rearing to go!

      Reply

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