The Trail Provides: Preparations for the PCT

“The trail provides.” An adage I’ve heard time and time again when it comes to thru-hiking. I have limited backcountry experience, but as I look forward to a PCT thru attempt this year, I already have firsthand knowledge of exactly how the trail provides, even from afar. 

The trail definitely provided for me on this weekend AT hike in 2017.

Securing a Permit

I’m not sure exactly when or how my hiking partner and I decided to hike the PCT (we each believe it was the other’s idea), but we agreed 2020 would be our year. We daydreamed and day hiked until October 2019 when things became tangible and we tried for our permits. When the application day came, we thought we were prepared. We logged into the PCTA website 30 minutes before the start of selection, aware that the odds of having similar numbers and landing on the same date were slim. 

Finally, we were assigned our places in line. The good news was we were within a few hundred spots of each other. The bad news was both of those numbers were in the 6,000s. 

Like most other people, we were hoping for a mid-April start date, but by the time we were granted entry to the calendar, May 19 and 20 were the earliest options available. We were thankful to even have permits and that they were only a day apart from each other. Still, we weighed our options, concerned about the ability to finish what will be our first thru-hike, with that late of a start date. We decided to keep the May permits, but cross our fingers for better luck during the second round of applications in January.

Knowing what to expect during the permit process helped, and the second time around we had better luck; we both had numbers below 2,000. We worked our way to the selection calendar within minutes of each other and jumped on the earliest day with availability for both of us. April 27 worked perfectly—it would be good timing to fulfill our personal and professional obligations before dropping into the wilderness for several months. 

Day hike with my hiking partner and our friends in October 2019.

Quitting My Job

I kept my departure on the down-low at work until about two months out. When I finally did tell my managers, they could not have been more supportive, excited, and just a little bit confused (as most people are who have never heard of the PCT). I am lucky to have such good coworkers who make leaving my job a difficult prospect. Fortunately for me, the trail was providing once again. 

As I informed those in higher leadership positions about my departure, I was surprised to be offered a leave of absence. Instead of completely resigning my job, I would have the option to return to my position after the hike was over. This was not a situation I thought would be possible, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to take it. Having something familiar to return to after a summer of new experiences has been such a comfort during my preparation efforts. 

Am I Really (Still) Doing This (Now)?

As my start date inches closer and closer, there is a lot of uncertainty about how the next few weeks and months will look for the United States, and the world. Many folks have been forced to abandon their 2020 hiking plans for any number of reasons, related or not to COVID-19, and others have voluntarily elected to postpone their adventures. Currently, I am not one of those people, but I know that life happens and things change. No matter how my plans may or may not differ in the coming weeks, I can only hope that the trail will continue to provide. 

Feature image courtesy of Ruth Skonecki (my mom and first trail angel).

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