Where I Am and What’s Left to Do: Nine Weeks to the PCT

I start my PCT journey in early April 2018. It will be my first thru-hike! Here’s who I am and exactly how (un)prepared I feel about it all.

Who I Am

My name is Katie Elder, and I’ve got an adventure habit. I’m from rural Texas originally, and lived there through college. Since then I’ve moved around a lot, collecting amazing friends, and overcomplicating my resume across five states. I’ve lived in Portland, Houston, and New York (twice), and spent summers in Montana and New Jersey. At one point, it made more sense to move to a cool place than to save the money to plan a vacation. I’ve also taken a few extended road trips up and down the West Coast, car camping and visiting friends. That being said, I’ve always had to crawl home broke and hungry between adventures. In Texas, I’m able to work at my family’s business and get all the hours I can handle (a privilege I’m very thankful for). I moved from New York City to Texas in August, and will be here until I leave for the trail in April.

I started day hiking in 2013 around Portland, Ore. I used to sleep in my Honda Element on road trips and cross-country moves, usually in the parking lots of truck stops or grocery stores. I bought my first tent and started car camping while I was living in Bozeman, Mont., in 2015. I was planning a week in Yellowstone, and knew I’d need a placeholder at my campsites while I was out roaming around with the car. So I bought the cheapest tent at Walmart, a child-sized blue and green one with dinosaurs all over it. And it’s still awesome, even though I have to sleep diagonally in it.

My dino tent in Yellowstone National Park.

 

How I Got Here

I’ve hiked plenty and I’ve camped plenty, but until last year, I’d never backpacked. I decided in March 2017 that I would attempt the Pacific Crest Trail, because it’s too big and too wonderful for me to pass up. I first heard about the PCT from coworkers in Portland, and for five years I’ve wondered about it. Eventually one night in New York I realized I’d already subconsciously committed to the trail. I remember thinking, “It looks like this is the next adventure, it looks like it’s time to start trying.” It felt like a thru-hike was going to happen the easy way or the hard way.

The next day I joined a gym and started doing research. Then I took my first two classes through REI. One was an Appalachian Trail training hike at Bear Mountain State Park, which was my first chance to hike in snow. I also took a map and compass class in Central Park. And I started making plans to drag my butt back to Texas to try to save money. My first overnight backpacking trip was in August, during the move. I rented an SUV and loaded all my stuff into it, then drove to Newfound Gap, Tenn., and left the car there. I found someone who’d shuttle me to Fontana Dam, N.C., and I hiked northbound on a 41-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. I’d planned four days to get back to the car, but it only took three. I tested a few pieces of gear, tried cold soaking for the first time, and came across four bears.

View from Shuckstack fire observation tower, near mile 170 on the AT.

 

What I’m Doing Now

I’m nine weeks away from my permitted PCT start date. I’m in a few trail-related Facebook groups where people post photos of all their resupply boxes, and talk about their shakedown hikes, and track this year’s snowfall compared to all the others. There are people making DIY gear, and there are people dehydrating spaghetti sauce. I am doing none of those things, and that’s alright too. Here is where I’m at, and what I’m doing to prepare:

  • I am not as financially set as I’d hoped to be at this stage of the PCT prep. At this point however, I’m committed to the 2018 attempt and am not interested in postponing. So I’m working as much as possible, logging 30-60 hours a week, depending on the week. I’m not worried right now, although leaving the trail because I ran out of money would be pretty disappointing.
  • Working extra means not hiking as much as I’d like. It is what it is. I’m going to the gym three to four times a week, in the mornings before work. This has meant getting up at 4:30 and going to bed no later than 8:30, but honestly I’m kind of into it.
  • I’m only in Texas temporarily! I don’t want to lose sight of that part. So I’m sneaking away to Houston occasionally to see friends, and sometimes day hiking in the Hill Country. My mom has started hiking with me! And that’s been pretty cool.

Mom and I hiked to Gorman Falls in Colorado Bend State Park.

 

  • I’m collecting gear and fine-tuning my list. There is a spreadsheet in its third draft, and it’s color coded. I bought gear very slowly at first, because paychecks were pretty tight in New York. For months, my gear pursuits were limited to research only. My roommate Penny was a baker in Brooklyn, and she had a scale in the kitchen. She’d catch me running back and forth from my room to weigh gear we had around the house like toothpaste, or Bic lighters, or all my sports bras. I also relied heavily on my family, who bought me backpacking gear for my birthday and Christmas. I feel pretty comfortable with my gear choices, although I’m prepared for them to change some along the way. And I got my backpack this week.
  • I’m trying to read as much as possible. That being said, I’ve been reading Carrot Quinn’s Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart in tiny chunks since Christmas. I’ve got a small stack of paperbacks I’m really hoping to get through before April. We’ll see.
  • I have so much cooking to practice. I’ve never used a camp stove, and I didn’t quite love cold soaking the first time. I don’t really even cook at home. Food and remembering to eat sometimes fall pretty low on my priority list for some reason, and this is the area of PCT prep where I’m least prepared. Mom keeps reminding me to plan the resupply.
  • I need to test my gear. Most of the new stuff hasn’t been on trail yet. I’m hoping to find seven to ten days to spend on the Lone Star Trail in March. It will mean taking off work, but I’m hoping I can swing it. It feels important.

How I Feel

Honestly, I’m feeling all the feelings. The preparation can get a little daunting. I’m not a planner. I’m a little spontaneous, maybe occasionally impulsive. I’m organized-ish and I research things, but this continual planning for months on end is weird and new for me. I’ve never needed a spreadsheet for a trip before. I will have planned for 13 months prior to this six-month trip. I think once I get on the plane, all the feelings will change. I am very much looking forward to the simplicity of the trail and only having to worry about food and water and where to sleep (and the desert, snow, rain, and everything else). I’m also looking forward to the challenges of the trail, and the friends I’ll find, and to becoming a stinky filthy piece of hiker trash. Right now, I’m simultaneously feeling like I don’t have enough hours in a day, and that April can’t come fast enough. Let’s get started, already!

 

 

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Comments 5

  • Callie Brown : Jan 27th

    I love you and am so happy you’re doing this!! ✨??

    Reply
  • Chuck : Jan 28th

    Good luck Katie! I hope you plan to blog your trip! I’ve been following PCT hikers and boots for 5 years now! I also occasionally see and talk to hikers when I stop at the McDonalds near the I15 and Hwy 138! Also I’ve passed them on San Fransiscito cyn near the Antelope Valley on the way to my boat in Ventura! Sometimes I’m able to give water and stuff! Check out Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce! God bless you and be safe on your trip! Hope you blog it. Regards Chuck

    Reply
  • Landry : Jan 28th

    Your love and commitment to this next adventure is truly inspiring! Best of luck these next couple of months! Love and miss you!

    Reply
  • Mom : Feb 4th

    I love you so much and have always enjoyed your writing. I’m so glad you are doing this blog. We are excited about the adventures to come! <3

    Reply
  • Traci Bender : Feb 6th

    This is AWESOME! And of course you are going on a six month hike! You are amazing!! I can’t wait to show the kiddos at school another awesome Bender’s Bunch kiddo that is doing what she loves!! Carpe Diem the HECK out of that trail!! Lotsa hugs and love! So proud of you!!! -Traci

    Reply

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