Walking the Preparation Tightrope

Four months to the day till my PCT start date.  The realness of the impending hike has been present for a while. But the close proximity, combined with a daily battle between anticipation and decision paralysis, amplifies it.

I’m walking a preparation tightrope, with merits and pitfalls on both sides.


I train hard:

  • I hike/walk 9+ miles every day.
  • I often hike at elevation (Humphreys Peak:  12,635  feet).
  • I do hikes with large elevation gains/losses in short distances (Flatiron, Superstition Mountains).
  • I train, carrying weight.

But I don’t want to train so hard that I injure myself. If I’m going to get overuse injuries, at least let them be on the trail.


I want to eat healthy but not be so precious that I start the trail too lean.  For middle age men especially, the danger of losing too much weight early on the trail and sacrificing valuable muscle mass is a real danger.  I’d much rather start the trail physically ready but carrying an extra pound or two than being thin and not able to handle the exertion.

Declaration of Intent to Hike

I want to shout from the rooftops about the PCT with everyone I meet because I’m genuinely enthusiastic and also to hold myself accountable.  But I’m also constantly checking myself. There’s a fine line between being proud and excited to talk about the hike and being embarrassed by my narcissism. Especially in this social networking age, when is it all too much? (fellow Trek blogger Shannon has a nice post on this:  Thru-Hikers: Are We Selfish?)

Maps, Apps, Gaps

I’ve bought maps, I’ve printed out maps, I’ve stared at maps until my eyes popped out of my head. I’ll probably buy more maps.

I’ve downloaded and bought THE app, Guthook

Filling the gaps:

All the big items have been bought and have been tested in real world situations (several Grand Canyon multiday backpacking trips).

But, I’m probably going to upgrade my old dented aluminum cookpot to a titanium one.

I still need to get my passport.

And, in the interest of easing the minds of those at home, I’m probably getting a Garmin inReach Mini.

I make spreadsheets, I weigh everything. I read books, blogs, watch videos. I plan in my sleep. And in the end, none of this really matters. If you are not ready mentally and physically, all the prep in the world won’t mean anything.

And, in overplanning, am I risking losing the joy of discovery? I want to be surprised by things and to have to think in the moment when something unexpected comes up.

Hiking Alone, But Not Alone

Christmas was great and a culmination of my family jumping on board with my hike. I never imagined myself getting weepy over getting a head net and bug spray as gifts.  They are small items but symbolic of my family buying into my dream. My son, a college sophomore and aspiring writer, also got me a waterproof daily journal. He wrote messages on many of the days, asking me questions about that day or giving a motivational quote.  I haven’t even left yet and I can already see how much I will miss him and how those little bits of him will just leave me in a puddle of my own tears daily on the trail.  

I’m spending time with him now as he is home for winter break, but there is a good chance that I will not see him again until the winter break of his junior year.  My trip begins a week before he gets out for summer and I won’t get back until well after he goes back to school. I’m hopeful that they can make a trip out to visit me on the trail this summer, but it’s not a definite.

While no one can walk the trail for us, the weight of each of those steps can be lightened by people who love and care about our dreams.

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Comments 10

  • Twogirlsgowalkabout : Jan 1st

    Great post! We are now down to just over 9 weeks till we start our AT thruhike and we share many of your fears and also all of your excitement!!!
    I know that physically this will be tough but it is the headspace that worries me most – you don’t know how you will react till you get there! We have agreed in advance a couple of things…history has shown us that we are stronger than we think and we need to remember that…and never quit on a bad day! Happy hiking to you along the PCT – we will keep an eye out for your posts!

  • Lance A Goehring : Jan 2nd

    Thanks for the wonderful comments! Good luck on your hike and I am looking forward to hearing more about it. I would love to hike the AT someday.

  • Jessica Arundel : Jan 2nd

    Loved to read this. I too have the anxiety of leaving my daughter in 8 short weeks. But I know I will be teaching her a valuable lesson in following your dreams, building confidence and being resilient. I told her that she has an open invite to come along and join me, I gave her all my old gear and bought her a new sleeping bag to encourage her to make the idea more inticing. But at 18, in college and with a boyfriend, she has some reservations. So all I can do is just hope and pray that it works out and we can get to experience a portion of the trail together. And until I take off, I’m just going to enjoy every minute I can with her!

    • Lance Goehring : Jan 2nd

      Jessica, I love your outlook and the perspective you have. I agree that our experience should provide an interesting example for our children. Good luck on your hike!

  • Glide : Jan 2nd

    Don’t worry too much, you’ll be fine! I hiked in 2015 and I did the over-training thing and ended up hurting myself about 3 weeks before my start date. So, for three weeks before my start date I got almost no exercise. But I was fine. I just jiggered my schedule to start slower (10-miles a day) and within two weeks on the trail I was back in good form. Truly, there’s no way to train to hike 12 hours a day other than to hike 12 hours a day.

    I was also really stressed about mailing my food (including deciding what to get, buying it, repacking it, packaging it for mail, getting someone to mail it on the proper day) and then I just said “heck with that, I’ll figure it out as I go.”, which was a fine decision. Made one box for Warner Springs and figured the rest out once I was on the trail. This article helped: https://www.halfwayanywhere.com/trails/pacific-crest-trail/pacific-crest-trail-plans-useless/
    He’s got a lot of other great articles too, if you have any free time left!

    Happy Trails! I look forward to following you on your blog.


    • Lance Goehring : Jan 2nd

      Thanks for the advice, Glide! On the food front, that is the exact conclusion that I had came to. And I read http://www.halfwayanywhere.com all the time. Great site!

      Thanks again for the encouraging comments.

  • roger mertens : Jan 22nd

    just moved from tucson to sub arctic illinois and can relate to your love of the desert and take some solace now that I know ( thanks to your sharing) that I am not alone with all of my silly first timer questions. Thanks to the uncaring unsympathetic permit computer , I wont be starting my 2020 thru hike until may 28. I am going to take my time ( cause I think trying to do the whole trail in one shot is inviting disaster) and besides arent we supposed to stop and smell the roses? whats the hurry ? remember theres no such thing as a “fast” sailboat a “fast “runner a “fast’ biker or a “fast” HIKER. anyway Im going to layover in ashland and finish the very best part of the hike in 2021. thats the plan anyway. Id love to meet you and perhaps I will . My comment was going to be ( before I started rambling) , Dont worry ! if your prep is as u say- YOUR READY. JUST GET THAT PASSPORT , LOOSEN YOUR TOE STRINGS AND GO MAN GO.

    • Lance A Goehring : Jan 22nd

      Roger, ramble on! I love reading it. And I’m pretty sure that the many hours we will have to think about things on the trail will bring out even more of the words from us in the future. Not that different than John Muir, just a couple of walking philosophers! I completely agree that we need to be sure to savor every moment we have on the trail. I certainly hope our paths cross. Enjoy your hike!

  • Tracey : Feb 23rd

    Good luck and enjoy your adventure. I like to come out and provide trail magic near the Hat Creek Rim. Maybe I will be out there when you come through. I hope it is all you expect it to be and more. Have fun!

  • Lance Goehring : Feb 23rd

    Thanks so much for the encouraging words, Tracey! Hope to see you out there.


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