Trail Magic on Permit Day and My Official Start Date

There I lay, wide awake at 4 a.m., still two and a half hours until the permit process started. Sleep did not come easy, if at all, the night before. The anticipation and excitement were boiling over. There were a lot of people freaking out and super nervous about the whole process, but I was not one of them. Deep down I knew everything would work out and fall into place. I was just too anxious to be one step closer to sleep.

I logged on to my one device at 6:18 a.m. (12 minutes before the queue opened). I heard others were using five-plus devices to ensure they got an early place in line. This frustrated me at first, but maybe it was because I only had access to at most two devices of my own while abroad. I was not confident in my Wi-Fi connection. Fearful that connecting multiple devices could short out the Wi-Fi, I stuck with the one device, hoping good karma would be on my side by doing so.

I post my obligatory Instagram post of me anxiously waiting to receive my place in line stating, “Hoping for top 1,000!” The clock hits 6:30a.m. The page refreshes…

“Your number in line: 8,140. Approximate wait time three plus hours.”

Not sure how I was suppose to feel when I saw this.

I literally laughed out loud. I knew a lot of people were trying to get permits, but holy shit, I was 8,000-plus deep in the line with over a three-hour wait. On top of that in the next five hours I was supposed to pick up my car at the mechanic and then go grab my parents at the airport at noon. Sorry, folks. PCT permit is taking precedent here. You may be waiting at the airport for a while.

I sat there staring at the little green walking man barely moving that acts as the progress bar, wondering what dates would be left—if any—come my turn. I follow the frenzy of people on Facebook posting their spots in line. At first it seems like I am at the back, but then a few people started chiming in with numbers in line greater then mine. I do the quick math in my head:

35 permits/day x (31 days + 30 days+ 31 days)= 3,220 available permits.

At that point I was banking on and hoping that the 8,139 spots in front of me consisted mainly of those people who logged on to those five-plus devices. One by one people started to post their almost-official starting dates, coupled with other people freaking out with how far they were back in the line. I even saw a post that decided to give up on their dream of hiking the PCT because their date they wanted was full.

I still held my head high and never had a doubt that I would find a suitable start date. Whether I got lucky with something that was left when it was my turn on the first release, had to wait till January when the 15 other permits were released, or if I had to play the wait for someone to cancel game. I knew a suitable date would come my way.

New Zealand has been a great training ground, but it has also helped prepare me for the permit process. They have their Great Walks out here, which can be heavily impacted, including “The Finest Walk in the World”—the Milford Track. The Milford Track’s walking season usually sells out within a few hours, and I did not plan that far in advance. Instead I hopped online every chance I got looking for cancellations. During my regular number two one morning I checked and wallah I got a spot. From that experience and others like the Half Dome permit I knew if there is a will there is a way.

A magical sunset along the Milford Track.

Then magic happens

I get a message from one of the slew of my new Instagram friends I received from exchanging and posting our handles in one of the Facebook feeds. The message had no description just a link. The link brought me to the PCTA website, but read, “This link is no longer available.” I responded to my new friend telling them just that. They reply quickly, “Sorry, wrong one. Try this.” I clicked the new link and the page loads up.

“Your number in line: 3,350. Wait time 35 minutes.”

My little green man is nearly there!

Completely stunned, not knowing that it was even possible for them to give me their place in line, I stare at the computer in shock. Then jump up and do my best happy dance. I start thanking my new best friend profusely. At first it seemed like it was going to be a bit more of a process to find a good starting day, but now things were in my favor.

I never asked the circumstances of how and why they gave me the spot in line. They said they were happy to help out a fellow thru-hiker when I thanked them and that was good enough for me. I realize they were probably one of the many who logged on to multiple devices so I guess I should be thankful and not frustrated by those who did.

My start date is…

I swear it was probably only another five minutes until it was my turn in line. I followed the prompts and there was the calendar. April completely full. Didn’t even look at March; too early for me. May 1 full. May 2 full. May 3 was the first day with a few slots available. Then I saw it: May 4. It looked too perfect and just sounded right. I selected it and finished the rest of the application and hit the submit button. I was now one step closer to hitting the trail.

In days since my official approval of the permit has been received. I will officially be setting foot on trail on May 4, 2020. Let the Star Wars puns commence. May the fourth be with you. Now I will spend the next few months trying to decide what color light sabers to use as my hiking poles. Any and all Star Warsthemed suggestions welcomed.

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Comments 6

  • Emily and Parkes : Nov 16th

    I got so lucky and scored #64 in line. I still cannot believe that happened to me, and then my husband was placed in the #1700’s. We both start on March 30th! Hope to see you out there.

    • Kevin Neft : Nov 17th

      That is super lucky! Not only top 100, but you and your husband got the same date. Pretty cool. I’ll have to pull some Jedi magic to catch up to you guys, but I’ll try.

  • Shannon : Nov 17th

    I hope you’ll catch up to this thru-hiking Padawan. I’m going to need The Force to get me over Mather Pass!😂

    • Kevin Neft : Nov 17th

      That is super lucky! Not only top 100, but you and your husband got the same date. Pretty cool. I’ll have to pull some Jedi magic to catch up to you guys, but I’ll try.

  • Lance A Goehring : Nov 17th

    Love the post, Kevin! Will probably see you on the trail as our starting dates are pretty close. I just got my bus ticket to San Diego and registered to stay at Scout and Frodo’s. The situation is definitely getting real now.

    • Kevin Neft : Nov 17th

      How exciting! I’m trying to convince my parents to fly down with me to San Diego the weekend before (I embark on a Monday) and shuttle me out there. If that doesn’t work out maybe I’ll do Scout and Frodo’s. Part of me is like “Hell yeah it would be dope to meet everyone before!” The other part of me is like “Well shit I don’t know if I want to start in a hord of people.”


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