Panic… process of permits and visas for a Non-US thru-hiker.
Nov 2021… ballot day… panic! Jan 2022… ballot day… Panic!
My little hiker friend.
Every prospective PCT’er sits at their computer, on that specific day in November. Typing PCTA.org into the address bar, filling in the necessaries. My little hiker comes up and begins his stroll across my monitor. His end goal? site entry and the premise of getting a coveted Pacific Crest Trail permit slot… I watch him stroll along, a sense of anticipation and no small measure of WTF are you thinking.
The screen flashes with a message ‘most of the places for the first ballot have filled’… I persevere… my little hiker keeps moving along the screen. I messaged some of the potential PCT’ers who I had started to follow on social media to see how they are getting on. They all inform me ‘I am going, I didn’t get the exact date I wanted but I’m on’ or words to that effect. All of them! My hiker keeps on keeping on.
Long after their little hiker has reached their proverbial Canadian border, mine is barely halfway across the screen. If this was the PCT he would be somewhere around the Oregon border. After what feels like an eternity, my eyes squaring at the constant screen glare, a change… am I in??… My little hikers quest is over… NO! All the early ballot spaces are full. 35 out of the 50.
Time to decide, do I wait for January and attempt again or do I forget about this crazy idea to hike 2650 miles. But what about my little hiker? I want him to fulfill his goal… it plays on my mind.
Fast forward to January 2022…
I didn’t really think about the PCT again, I felt the time wasn’t right, what’s meant for you doesn’t pass you by, or simply that I was crazy to even contemplate that I could achieve walking 2650 miles in the first place.
The first few days of January dragged, the weather in Scotland was grim, stuck indoors flicking through my hiking photos from before Covid was a thing. Social media was rife with several PCT class of ’22’ prospects gathering gear, or beginning their training and planning. I sat down to read a blog, and who popped up? Only my little hiker, pack on his back, more determined than ever. I looked at the calendar… Jan 11th. Ballot day. Something felt right.
This time there was no long wait, no fear, no frustration at his speed. He plodded along, steady! Panic, that’s what I would describe the feeling, sheer panic. My little hiker was moving swiftly along, and then boom! Panic fully set in… I was in, I looked at the calendar… what was available… days are filling fast.. what were my friends dates again… panic… April is gone… 50 50 50 50 50… date selected, start of May, damn it’s gone… PANIC… 50 50 50 50 … I panicked… I jumped to the end of May… 46 42 48… panic, panic, manic panic, I’m clicking my mouse… I grab the 28th of May. WOOP!
Panic over, I’m on the PCT permit list. As I settle down, the nervousness subsides, I check with friends. I am nowhere near their dates, but heck, hike your own hike!
And then that panic all over again.
For non-US based PCT prospects, the drama of waiting and anticipating does not end there. That’s just the beginning. When I finally come to realise the seriousness of what I’ve gotten myself into, I panic, but not the manic panic of clicking to get a date. My hiker had run his race. The panic is over a VISA.
To enter the USA for the length of time needed to complete the PCT, I would need a 6 month visa, issued at the discretion of the US consulate in London. As I had not got a place on the November ballot, I hadn’t thought to apply for a visa in advance, as the PCT was just another fleeting idea, a whim, something that flashes into one’s consciousness but is never fulfilled. Not this time, this time I wasn’t letting the little hiker down. He hadn’t failed me, I wasn’t about to fail him. However, the US consulate and the world have other ideas. Covid was causing issues at consulates across the world, there were the rumbles of war in Europe.
Fast forward to April.
There is 1 month and 17 days until I am due to hit the Southern Terminus, and I am still without a suitable visa appointment. I check the schedule for it at least 10 times per day for a better slot. Nothing… panic… panic. Each day heralds a new wave of panic, not at the PCT prospect, the blisters from the 2650 miles, not at the heat, or the financial difficulties, or the bears, coyotes and rattlers… but at the fear that I may not get a visa in time. I have a backup plan, one sounded out by several ‘Class of 2022’ hikers. I’m coming on an ESTA, this may mean I need to panic at around day 90, and attempt to leave trail and re-apply for a new ESTA, even leave the country to do it, but there is a whole raft of Non-US thru-hikers doing the same. PANIC.
I am done with panic, my flights are booked, my plans are sound… I, like my steely little hiker, will persevere. Until the shuttle stops near the Southern Terminus, no more panic. Then I will allow myself one more moment of panic. That first blissful blister free step on the Pacific Crest Trail… PANIC!
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