Why Would I Decide to Wait ANOTHER Four Months to Start My Thru-Hike?
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything, but it’s not because I’ve given up on blogging my thru-hike. Below is a post I wrote a few weeks back, but never published, because I was conflicted about a pretty large decision. For reference, NOBO = northbound (Mexico to Canada) and SOBO = southbound.
I began planning for my 2019 NOBO PCT thru-hike attempt a year ago, saving up as much money as possible, researching the best gear out there, learning all there was to learn.
I’d had my permit in hand to start in Campo.
I’d booked a plane ticket from SEA to SAN.
I have an email in my inbox from Scout and Frodo, telling me they’re expecting me on March 30 so I can get started at the Southern Terminus on March 31.
I’d read a ton about going northbound on the PCT. When I google “PCT NOBO,” all of the links that show up on the first five pages are purple.
At the time of the writing of this sentence, I am 30 days out from my March 31 NOBO start date.
Hiking NOBO vs. Hiking SOBO
Northbounders certainly play by a different set of rules than southbounders. Disclaimer: I am neither of these yet. I’ll be heading out later this year, so I can only speak on what I’ve read and heard.
NOBOers start somewhere between March and May, with mid-April considered the sweet spot. It increases the chances of reaching the Sierra at a time when it’s less dangerous to hike through. The Sierra in summer can be rough. You’ll hit a lot of snow if you go too early; you’ll hit massive stream crossings if you’re late.
I only just started doing research on SOBO, so I didn’t know much about it until very recently.
Why I Chose NOBO
There were a few reasons I chose to go northbound when I decided I wanted to attempt a thru-hike of the PCT.
A huge thing to me was that a majority of people go NOBO—by some accounts, about 90% of thru-hikers. That meant several things to me:
- I’d probably get to meet a bunch of awesome people, from all walks of life.
- I’d be safer around so many others.
- It’s got to be better for some reason, since so many people decide to go that way, right?
I kept researching. Then I realized there were other benefits.
- Trail angels are more active during that time.
- I could stay with Scout and Frodo near Campo and get to experience a unique way to start the trek.
- SOBO is “harder.” I knew there was a shorter hiking window, which scared me.
- I could leave earlier than if I started SOBO.
- My hiker legs would build up starting on some of the flatter parts of the trail.
- You can practically drive to the Southern Terminus. To get to the Northern Terminus, I will likely be hiking 30 miles to it, then backtracking those 30 miles on the PCT. (Of course, I could also cross into the US from Manning Park for an eight-mile trek instead, but that’s super illegal and I don’t think I’ll go that route.)
And I’ll be honest; the biggest reason I chose northbound was because “everyone else is.” I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be the right choice for me.
I don’t call myself a religious person, but as they say: “Man plans, and God laughs.”
Perhaps in this case, “Woman plans, and Mother Nature laughs?”
A couple of days ago, I defenestrated (love that word) my plans to hike NOBO, and last minute decided to go SOBO.
The other day, I mentioned to a friend that I switched my plans to wait a few months to go southbound instead, and he was surprised. He asked me why I was thinking of making such a drastic change.
Why I Started to Reconsider
Well, I began considering it after listening to an episode of Backpacker Radio. Zach and Juliana talked about the benefits of going SOBO, and how the weather conditions were lending themselves well to a SOBO hike this year. The snow conditions in the Cascades up north are right around (if not slightly below) average, whereas the snow conditions in the Sierra are bordering on the conditions in 2017 (compare this year to 2016-2017).
2017 is when two women drowned in water crossings in California.
When the snow starts to melt in the Sierra, the water crossings become huge, dangerous, and deadly.
At the same time, and this is totally subjective, the Sierra/John Muir Trail section is also often considered one of the most beautiful sections of the PCT. And I don’t want to potentially have to skip it. I wouldn’t be as concerned if I wasn’t only 5’1”. I wouldn’t be as concerned if I was as dense as Mumbai.
I watched videos of some of those terrifying water crossings. The streams could sweep me away. I could injure myself. I could drown. Like those two women, I could die.
I don’t want to fearmonger. But I do know what I can handle, and this wasn’t something I could handle.
I agonized over this for a few weeks, nonstop. I was so ready to go on trail, so ready to leave my job and take that much-needed time away from my everyday, regular life.
But It Wasn’t Easy
I had spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours planning for a northbound thru. One reason it took me so long to decide that was that I didn’t want to deviate from my “plan.”
I had already made so many decisions around a northbound trek, damn it! It almost felt like I needed permission. From whom, I don’t know.
But I knew in the back of my brain that I would make the switch—I was just too stubborn to commit.
Why I’m Choosing SOBO
The concern about the Sierra got me thinking about SOBO. But it wasn’t the only reason I changed my direction; as I considered more, I became more convinced:
- The Sierra water crossings would have more time to dry up.
- There are no quotas to start up north, so I wasn’t worried about getting a permit. I had more flexibility on when I wanted to leave.
- I prefer solitude on hikes, and fewer people take on a SOBO thru-hike. (This was a big one.)
- Although I’m mentally ready to quit my job, I could stay to save more money. (This was an even bigger one.)
- I’ve been thinking about grad school post-trail; I could study for the GRE and take it before leaving.
- I could drive up to Hart’s Pass in Washington and eliminate worries of the airline losing all of my gear, airport security, or tiny coach seats.
- I’d have more time to train before the trail.
- My partner and I had considered taking on a section of the trail together, but it sounded logistically difficult on a NOBO. Now, we could do the 60 miles together: Hart’s Pass to the terminus and back.
- Apparently, hiker boxes going SOBO are bomb.
When I weighed out what was important, SOBO made more sense for me.
I’ve swapped out my NOBO permit for a SOBO one.
I missed my SAN flight.
I wrote back to Scout and Frodo about my change in plans.
I’ve researched what it would mean to do a PCT SOBO thru-hike.
And at the time of the writing of this sentence, I am four months out from my July SOBO start.
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