Nearly a Month into the PCT
About a month in and learning every day.
Since our last post, we have learned a lot about trail life. Here are the takeaways and a peek into our current routine.
With my blister problems and Sarah’s shin pain no longer an issue, we have been adding slightly longer days this past section. I’ve found that a shorter stride length reduces heel strike and eliminates my blister problems since the first section (along with bigger shoes).
A shorter stride length also allows the foot to work as it’s intended. It loads the foot and transfers the ground reaction force into the entire skeleton, rather than the heel. Heel striking can lead to knee, hip, and low back pains.
*If you are experiencing any deep aches, joint pains, or sharp pains that effect your ability to be a functioning human, consult a physical therapist.*
The body has a very predictable timeline for adaptation and healing; it cannot be rushed. Stick to a rest schedule for at least the first four to six weeks. We took one day off in Warner Springs after six days on trail, which was the plan. For some reason, we skipped the next planned day off in Big Bear City. That pushed us from ten days on trail to 16 without a day off. We still aren’t sure why we skipped it. We managed fairly well, but we were more fatigued the last week on trail.
Heavy water carries and fresh resupplies add to the fatigue. I think every ten to 14 days is a good plan for most hikers starting out, but listen to your body.
Your body needs to adjust to thru-hiking in many ways. Muscles are quickest to respond, typically in 30 to 45 days. Tendons and ligaments and other connective tissue take much longer to adapt, typically 270 to 290 days. That is why prehike training is so important. The nervous system is likely on overdrive hiking for six to ten hours a day.
Rest and low stress activity will help reset the nervous system; it is highly adaptable. Proper nutrition will help your body recover, as well as sleep. Prioritize those areas first and rest often in the beginning. Longer miles will come and you will reduce injury with a gentle entry into thru-hiking.
A hot issue in the desert. How much do you carry, how do you filter or treat your water, or where might there be a cache located? However, there is more to it than that. Let’s look at the other side of the coin with dehydration and how subtle the signs can be.
The general rule is clear and copious. Mind the frequency, too, if you’ve hiked all day but not made a pit stop. Drink up.
The color may also have some yellow tint. This is fine but avoid dark yellow, or any other color. Electrolyte replacements should be taken daily.
Dehydration: Subtle Signs
Less common but important first signs of dehydration are decreased or no hunger, and no bowel movements for a couple of days or more. Your body needs a lot of water for digestion. If you are not getting enough water intake, your body will mute the hunger signal. By quieting the hunger signal, you will generally eat less and that helps the body prioritize the hydration it does have.
This is also likely why your crap cannon has fallen silent. Drink up and things should start to become regular again.
As always, practice Leave No Trace by digging a six-inch deep hole and packing out your used toilet paper.
I need to have checkpoints and little goals throughout the day as we hike. I told Sarah that 70 percent of my daily mental energy is spent on logistics: water spots, camping sites, and mileage goals. Twenty to 25 percent is food and snacks and five percent is random thoughts or making up songs or haikus in my head.
You should always know how long water carries might be. Is it 18 miles or 25? Plan accordingly and never trust a cache to be stocked. The water report is sort of handy, when it’s updated. Other apps allow hikers to update trail conditions, and stream or spring flows. They work great when they are up to date and often the last update may be a week or more before you arrive.
We select our campsites based on the mileage we plan to cover. I look for something 17 to 20 miles out and see what might work based on terrain and how we seem to be feeling. Campsites near water are likely the best but most in the southern part of California are dry camps. A dry camp means you bring the water you need for that night, the next morning, and then enough to get you to the next water source. Generally, a liter for us covers dinner, another liter for breakfast, and one to two liters for hiking to the next watering spot.
The desert winds are intense. We use a Zpacks Duplex tent, which we love. The only flaw I have found is in the wind; the side guylines work themselves loose from the gusts. One morning at 3 a.m., after restaking the side of the tent for the fourth time, I finally figured out how to correct it. I took an extra stake and drove each stake in at opposing angles. The tent has been quite stable now in heavy winds with no restaking needed during strong winds.
The People You Meet
Faith in humanity does exist. There are so many generous, caring, thoughtful people and hikers we have met and it’s been less than one month on trail. Those trail angels are truly givers: rides into town; amazing trail magic consisting of snacks, steak, wine, fresh fruit, cold water, water caches, baby wipes, hand sanitizer; and trash cans.
Those things mean the world to you when you aren’t expecting anything. Generally, donations to trail angels are accepted, but often their gifts of kindness are free. Wrightwood in California has been exceptionally kind to hikers. You feel like a celebrity walking around town. Seriously. Everyone from the grocery store employees to the gas station, hardware store, coffee shops, restaurants, and just folks on the street are excited for you and stop to chat. Mind blown.
As great as towns are, there is a flurry of activity that needs to be done. Laundry, grocery shopping, gear maintenance, showers, eating, sleeping, eating, blogging, eating, and napping. The trail always calls you back and after a day in town you are ready to get back on trail to get to the next destination.
Our daily routine looks something like this:
4-4:15 a.m.: Wake up; no alarm needed.
5:30-5:45 a.m.: Packed, fed, and on trail.
7:30 a.m.: Snack.
9:30 a.m.: Snack.
10:30-11 a.m.: Lunch stop; usually ten to 11.5 miles into our day.
12:30 p.m.: Snack.
2:30 p.m.: Snack.
2:30-4 p.m.: Arrive at campsite, time depends on mileage and terrain.
5:30 p.m.: Start dinner.
7:30 p.m.: Usually in the tent listening to an audio book.
8-8:15 p.m.: Hiker midnight; it’s bedtime.
Most of the snack times are for Lee, but both of us have found bottomless hunger already. Lee sets up and takes down the tent. Sarah does 99 percent of the cooking. We each have our tasks and fall into a natural rhythm that works for us.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.