The 5 Questions You Get When You Say You Are Planning To Hike The PCT

Since deciding to hike the PCT in 2023, the process of telling friends and extended family members about these plans has turned into something of a party trick. The trick goes something like this: I tell the person I am planning to hike the PCT next year, they look at me confused, and ask the five following questions, in some varying order. 

What is that? The Pacific Coast Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail is a long-distance hiking (and equestrian, but I’m scared of horses) trail that runs from the California-Mexico border all the way up to the Washington-Canada border. It is 2,653 miles long and is officially designated as a National Scenic Trail, which is really just a fancy way of saying that the trail is funded, in part, by the federal government and administered, also in part, by the National Park Service. In lieu of giving you a history lesson that you most certainly did not sign up for, here is a link to a really cool article put together by the PCTA that explains the history of America’s National Trails System. 

Are you quitting your job?

The short, cocktail party answer is yes, I am going to have to quit my job in April to hike the PCT. When I return from the trail (hopefully in September), I will need to get a new job and find a new place to live. 

The long answer is, although I am quitting my current job to hike, I am planning to come back to the same company and team in October. Earlier this year, I brought up to my manager that I wanted to do this hike and pitched the idea of a leave of absence. She was very supportive of this idea and she brought it forward to the leaders of our business unit, who in turn brought it to HR. HR denied my request for a leave of absence so, as a workaround, the leaders of our business unit pitched to me that they would hold my spot until I return – making it, effectively, a leave of absence. I agreed to this approach and so that is the longer-form plan. Acknowledging that there is a school of thought that says I shouldn’t go back, I think that school of thought is dumb. This team has invested so much into me and is sticking their necks out for me in a way they do not need to, and if I were to not go back I feel like it would be spitting in the faces of people who have done a lot for me. 

How can you afford to do it?

This is usually the last question that people get to when I mention my plans to hike the trail, but the answer is longer – so I’m bringing it up now! I can afford to do this hike for several reasons but the most important is that I have a lot of economic privilege. I have no debt, my parents have offered to take in my dog, and stuff, and have me live with them post-trail, I live in a college town where finding a subletter is easy, and I work in a field that pays me well.   

These privileges create a safety net but they do not make money apparate into my bank account, and this may come as a surprise to some, but the trail is not free. So, I had to create a plan to bridge the gap. The first part of this was to establish the goalposts: how much money would the trail cost? Since survey research is my day job, I looked around to find self-reported data on this and stumbled onto Halfway Anywhere’s 2021 PCT thru-hiker survey. It found that the average thru-hiker spent about $8,000 on the entirety of their hike, so that is where I started my planning. Once I established my goal, I had a decision to make: would I get to this goal by creating new income or reducing expenses? As that little girl in the late 2000s taco shell commercial said, why don’t we have both? 

When it came to reducing my expenses, this came down to a few things: I got rid of the 1997 Toyota Corolla that my parents gave me and now I bike for my day-to-day transportation, I moved out of a studio in Portland, OR, and into a shared house in my hometown with two friends, and I started doing something that all boomer uncles love – making my coffee at home. The net result has been a roughly $500/month reduction in my spending – which has gone a long way when drawn out over the 6-9 months since implementing each of these. On the other side, I created new income for myself through some consulting I did on the side during the first half of this year. The consulting piece is like a whole thing that I don’t really want to get into (the word consulting still makes me queasy), so the abridged version is that I started a business with an old friend that advises political campaigns on targeting and voter outreach strategies. We had two clients during the primary election but those causes/candidates lost in the primary and we came up empty for the general election. Although this dashed my dreams of being a real-life West Wing character, the combination of this reduction in spending and additional income has put me in a position where I am set, financially, for next year.  

Are you going out there by yourself?!

Yes and no. Thousands of people attempt to hike the PCT every year, not including the countless others who section hike or day hike along the trail. So while I am planning to hit the trail solo, it is a given that I will meet tens, if not hundreds, of other folks along the way.  

What about the dog?! What are you going to do with Gordy?

Don’t worry folks, Gordy will be okay. During my hike next year, Gordy will be staying with my parents and their dog, Finn – who is the only dog in the world that Gordy actually likes. 

One of my primary concerns, when I decided I wanted to hike next year, was whether Gordy would be comfortable staying with my parents. So this past summer, we did a trial run where he lived with them for a month while I moved back to California. There is no other way to put it, he thrived. He went camping with them for over a week, went on daily walks with my mom and Finn, and those two dogs formed what I can only describe as a dominion over my parent’s backyard, ruling it with an iron paw that would make any autocratic dictator jealous. 

Bonus Question: Will you have cell service? How are you going to talk to people?

Since I love hearing myself talk so much (does that saying apply to the written medium?), I thought I would add one bonus question that I have gotten from friends and family. 

Next year, on trail, I am going to be carrying a Zoleo Satellite Communicator that will allow me to do two-way texting with anyone whose number I have or who has the Zoleo’s number. The PCT has solid cell service for the majority of the trail – due to its proximity to many populated areas – and this will allow me to stay connected with friends and family while on trail. However, for the few weeks I am in the Sierra and, later on, parts of the Cascades, the Zoleo will allow me to bridge the communication gap and stay connected. Most importantly, it will allow me to send an “it’s all good, I made it to camp” pre-set message every night.

Being away from friends and family is hard. Being away from friends and family while you are doing something that has inherent risk is even harder. It is important to me that I spend the money and time to stay connected with them, ease their minds, and bring them as close to me as possible on this journey because I love them. That message each night tells those who care for you that you are happy, healthy, and safe, but most importantly it makes them feel like they are right there with you, experiencing all of the highs and lows together. I know I am going to miss my friends and family when I am out there and I wish they could be experiencing the trail with me – but knowing that they will be able to follow along with me eases my nerves, lifts my guilt and makes me so excited to hit the trail.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be publishing a few more posts that cover topics like physical and mental preparation, the gear I will be starting my hike with, and my motivations for hiking. If there is anything I haven’t covered – or you are not sure if I will cover it later on – please leave a comment or reach out to me via email or social media and I’ll do my best to answer in a coherent fashion. 

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