The procrastinator‘s approach to trail preps: Fit-to-thru-hike in six weeks
Remember me? Here I am, back from the rabbit hole that I went down a couple of weeks ago when I returned to Germany from my previous travels to kick off the critical phase prior to my thru-hike attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail. I call this part of the journey completed: Sunday was my last day in Germany, I had a slow breakfast with my temporary roomie, finally packed my backpack, tested my satellite communication system for one last time and went for a lovely – what I call – ‘last supper’ with my friends at my favorite California style Mexican food place. I only cried four times which is astonishingly little compared to my daily average and given the extraordinary circumstances (like … how often do you need to say goodbye to people prior to a thru-hike and why does it get worse every time?!). And while I am on my travels to San Diego, I have the time and headspace to look back at the past weeks which circulated around nothing but the preparations for my lil’ PCT adventure.
Hoods vs. Hats or: How ridiculous gear research can become
If you ask my friends what I’ve been up to for the past six weeks, they’ll tell you that I’ve been doing one thing and one thing only: obsessing over my gear for the thru-hike.
By the time I started my preparation in mid March, I literally had no clue what exactly would land in my pack, except for my ‘big four’ (i.e., tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack). So, I scoured every outdoor store within a 50-mile radius, ordered online, returned, re-ordered (yes yes, my overall environmental footprint compensation is in the making, before everyone jumps!) and spent countless hours contemplating whether my puffy jacket should have a hood or if I am better off with just a hat. I calculated price-to-weight ratios like a mathematician on steroids, finally came to terms with the fact that two pairs of underwear is plenty, and that I’m a total expert on the latest power banks and solar chargers on the market by now (and ultimately kept the two I already had at home). I’ve even added “women’s outdoor gear designer” to my post-hike career options, because let’s be real, nobody – well, at least not me – wants to wear knee-length beige bermudas every day for half a year.
In the end, I managed to trim my pack weight down to below 8 kilograms. I may have removed all the labels and washing instructions from my clothes to save weight (who have I become?), but despite my best efforts to pare down on any luxuries, there are still some items I should and probably will toss. But the most important thing is that I finally found the pants of my dreams (they are not beige, not knee-long, and yet hyper functional – take this, all you local outdoor retailer sales assistants!). You can check out my full gear list here. Feel free to judge me for my packing dilemmas as, after all, a thru-hike is a journey of self-discovery, and sometimes that also means discovering just how indecisive and label-removing obsessed you really are.
The importance of (focused) practice
Don’t be surprised, but preparing for a long-distance hike also comes with practice (at least for some people, including myself – not saying there is not a multitude of other approaches out there). And, for once, I didn’t just sit around twiddling my thumbs until the last minute, but have made sure that I have some hiking experience from the past 1.5 years under my belt before heading out – because I knew I would have never been able to incorporate it into my final preps or as I say: Shakedown hikes?! Ain‘t nobody got time for that (even though they are hella important)! At least, I did core health checks and had a solid workout plan for the six weeks leading up to the hike … which I ended up doing about half of – not too bad if you ask me.
By now you might be wondering if I am actually taking this seriously, but fear not, for I did not slack off entirely on the physical aspects of my final preparation: My primary focus was on refreshing my navigation and hiking skills in snowy conditions. I tested spikes and crampons with my trail runners and slid down mountains in the Alps in every possible position to practice stopping my fall with an ice axe. It’s like they say: practice makes perfect… or at least hopefully less likely to end up in a miserable situation. I still have a healthy respect for the trail conditions this year, but I’m more confident by now that I’ll be able to make the right decisions based on my capabilities.
Why, oh why? The quest of sorting your mess of thoughts before heading out.
As a psychologist, the mental and emotional aspects of a successful thru-hike preparation are what interest me the most, and it’s also what I’ve spent most of my time on (and no, not just because of the endless opportunities for introspection that you can from a very comfy spot on the sofa). I spent hours – consciously and subconsciously – thinking about all the reasons why I am putting myself through this, so I can remind myself especially in moments of doubt, which will inevitably come, or when others question my sanity for doing what I am doing. For me, my “why” is so personal that I’m not too worried about forgetting about it, but I’ll still carry it on a physical piece of paper, just in case. More on that another time.
The other part of mental preparation for me was conscious decision making about a variety of aspects of my hike – from gear choices to resupply plans (again: why do I carry a certain luxury item or why do I avoid pre-sending resupply boxes). A constant process of self-evaluation that got a little exhausting at time, where I was glad to have some people around me that told me to shut up when enough was enough, but still it calmed my „slight“ tendencies of overthinking, made me feel more confident in my overall approach and will surely support me in staying focused and motivated. Plus, it actually already helped me shut down the well-meaning folks who wanted to give me unsolicited hiking, gear or – even more specific – self-defense advice or warn me about trail kidnappers. Thanks, true crime podcasts, you have officially ruined society.
The essential final piece: finding emotional comfort & balance at home
During Sunday’s final farewell dinner, I earned myself a new nickname (thank you, Laura) and yes, I might be a “boomerang” – good in making an exit every once in a while (particularly in the last half year) but eventually returning home for that sweet, sweet coziness. This is precisely why I decided to spend my six weeks in Germany instead of prepping for the PCT while continuing to travel. I feel most at ease, relaxed and balanced when I am around people I love and trust and from an emotional perspective that was essential to experience once more before stepping on trail all on my own.
Not only was I able to do all the things that I love with the best human beings in this world … working out together, having drinks & dinners, dancing, teaching my nephew some après-ski bangers, going to a theme park for the first time in maybe 10 years, or just hanging around. Additionally, it was a time to reconnect to some things that I want to preserve while saying goodbye to others that I do no want to drag along the trail with me. This has certainly led to some ridiculous situations (sorry, Rebecca, for crying a whole Sunday afternoon about the latest season of Love is Blind and thank you, Leo, for being the “brain” to my all-over “pinky”-ness), however it gave me all the balance and calm I needed to be ready for this very moment.
How to prep for a thru-hike: My one unsolicited piece of advice for you is …
… really none, to be honest. You will find all the necessary information to prepare for the Pacific Crest Trail in a variety of books, websites and forums that certainly hold the right information, tips and how to’s that serve your needs. The magic trick – if you ask me – will be to really know what those needs are and to tailor your last weeks of preparation around it. For me it came down to those three focus areas: Having a gear compilation that balances my capabilities, weight and a certain level of comfort. Trying to get as much prepared for the upcoming weather conditions on trail (even though I am still left with only a rough idea of what those will really be like, it soothed my mind a lot!). Spending quality time with my favorite humans to ensure I have all the memories to keep me warm at night, complemented by my cozy sleeping bag – the combination works perfectly together!
See you soon – next time on trail already!
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Oh I knew I was on to something when I followed you. What a great, well written posting. Can’t wait to follow here and on IG as well.
Happy walking on you PCT pilgrimage of self-discovery and adventure.
All the very best.
Thanks for your next posting in advance.
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