Starting off behind the 8 ball

Hi sweet friends! Usually people start with an introduction and their “why”, but today I’d mostly like to talk about why I am completely unprepared to do the PCT or blog for The Trek. I know this initial post is a little lengthy, but I had a hard time deciding what not to write, and I figure hey how many people could possibly read this anyway? So…

Who am I?

My name is Natasha, if you didn’t already see it up at the top there, and I grew up mostly in South Carolina. I’ve been living in Mississippi for the last few years for my job as a Unit Leader with AmeriCorps NCCC.

Clearly a super hard day at work on official NCCC business

Somehow I think backpacking was always going to be in my future, and I’ve had gear for it for years, but it wasn’t until I met Julia, Sarah, and Jake in Vicksburg, MS that I went on my first backpacking trip in September 2021. I hope it will always hold the title as my worst backpacking trip ever. I had been hospitalized with chronic eosinophilic asthma/pneumonia a couple years prior, and was still working on shaving the extra 40lb I put on while depressed, unable to exercise, and on steroids to keep me alive, and replacing it with muscle. My backpack weighed a horrifying 45+lb, the trail was closed halfway through with no warning, and hundreds of chiggers called us dinner for hours until we eventually ended up at a Hampton Inn a safe and properly out of reach from the wilderness of Arkansas…

The classic Charlie’s Angels pose before my first backpacking trip with these strong ladies (pre-catastrophe)
The sign you don’t want to be surprised by halfway into your hike

I had never been so sore or itchy in my entire life, but for some bizarre reason, that didn’t deter me for long, and once my bug bites healed and my muscles rebuilt themselves, I started training and taking my – now shocking- 65 liter Deuter pack anywhere I could. I was lifting weights and going on regular 10 mile runs.

Pumping serious pumpkin

My return trip to the Ozarks was incredible and nearly effortless (aside from the chiggers, which after 3 trips to the area, I’ve determined are just part of the experience).

The delight of over 100 chigger bites

I soaked up all the ultralight information I could from an experienced thru-hiker friend I’ve known for over a decade, became very one-sided besties with Zach and Chaunce listening to backpacker radio, and watched hiking YouTube videos on every lunch break. I had officially gone insane and become embarrassingly obsessed with backpacking. Ordering gear was a new kind of extremely pricey addiction I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

A hiker-trash redemption photo: success in the ozarks

Why on earth am I out here doing something so insane?

4-year-old me

My honest answer is I don’t know. I’m still honestly not sure I want to lol. But here’s a fun story –

A couple years ago, after the backpacking obsession had set in, I stumbled upon a photo of 4-year-old me, grinning wide in a field of wildflowers, a perfect, purple bloom in hand and a camera around my neck. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier child, standing joyful and carefree in a secondhand, blue plaid jacket. In that moment, I was flooded with memories of my family rolling out our heavy cotton sleeping bags to stargaze peacefully in the Oregon high desert (my birthplace), tadpoles filling my sandals in waist-deep creek crossings, climbing the slippery, moss-covered waterfalls of South Carolina, and always begging to set up the family tent in the backyard. In that moment, it was solidified. This photo was the inspiration I needed to follow my heart and dive back into a world that actually fueled me instead of drained me. I narcissistically framed and hung that photo on my living room wall to remind myself daily of my roots that I promised to rekindle despite – or, more likely, in spite of – my standard American lifestyle of “9-5” (24/7) office job —> cook —> clean —> exercise —> repeat. Among the wild flowers is where I belong .

Hanging my gallery wall in 2022 with inspirational 4-year-old me highlighted by the blue heart

I think if I ever really tried to give the answer to why, it would be a gross oversimplification, and couldn’t possibly do justice to why I ended up here. I also can’t say when the exact moment was that I decided to do the PCT, and to be honest, I never really decide to do anything, things just kind of happen, but I remember feeling something strong and unexplainable when I found that photograph.

December of 2022, my thru-hiker friend and I hiked a 30 mile section of the AT through the Smokies.

Fooling around on Charlie’s Bunion when it did actually stop raining for 5 minutes

It was 25-40 degrees the whole trip, pouring rain almost nonstop, and my knee felt like it was going to snap, but I smiled the whole time and hiked my first and only 20 mile day. I’ll never forget when he told me that if I could get through that in good spirits, nothing would stop me from finishing the PCT. Here we are, at least starting! We’ll see if he was right.

What puts me behind the 8 ball already?

Well I’m glad you asked. Spoiler alert, but I think it gives good context to know that I’m currently finishing this blog post while sick on the 8th day of my hike from a hotel because I couldn’t manage to write my first post before now. In January, I was busy at work trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible before leaving on 1/26. That afternoon, I drove straight to my parent’s house in Florida to unpack and repack for my next adventure, which you would think would be the PCT, but I’m not that smart. Instead, I flew to India on 1/28 for a yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, and returned to the US on 3/6. Exactly one month before I left for my hike.

Back when my left hip still opened 😅

On the drive back from the Atlanta airport, my dad had to pull over at a rest stop so I could lay on the asphalt because I felt so sick. I remained sick for the next two weeks, and was unable to do much PCT prep. Which brings me to my permit situation…

Why don’t I have a long-distance permit?

Well, this story is too embarrassing to tell in first person, so let’s try this:

Once upon a time, there was a perfect, intelligent, organized future PCT hiker named Natasha, or Natrasha to her closest friends. She had waited months for the opportunity to finally submit her long-distance permit application to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Unfortunately, she wasn’t dealt the best hand in the lottery, and wound up getting one of the last slots in the day to attempt to secure her permit after hundreds of other, luckier hikers had carefully chosen their perfect dates. She was prepared to take anything. Hopeful and full of positivity, she sat on the cold marble floor in the bathroom of an impressively ostentatious budget Airbnb in Venice, Italy, as to not wake her resting mother after 100km on El Camino de Santiago. At 11:56:03 PM on November 14, she logged on and saw the number “35” repeated until eternity, indicating all permits had been taken. Disappointed, but undeterred, she and her friend periodically perused the permit portal for weeks until finally he saw an available date! Feeling her luck turning around, she quickly reserved a permit for March 14th, 2024. She figured this star date wasn’t possible, but was unconcerned and figured she would make it to Campo as soon as possible and that her permit would remain valid. No worries, lots of people do that. Right? WRONG! Things took a turn for the worse on March 15th, when she FINALLY felt well enough to get out of bed and log onto the PCTA Portal to print her permit and start to prepare for the journey ahead. She clicked on the “print permit” button, and that was the moment she knew that she had fucked up. After calling the PCTA, she learned that because she failed to print her permit before her start date, it was lost forever and might as well have never existed at all. As if she needed a cherry on top, the PCTA let her know that because the permit was issued, but not printed, she was unable to apply for any more long-distance permits in 2024. That’s right, she had missed her chance at a permit by a mere 13 hours.

*hour-long meltdown featuring self-deprecation, all 5 stages of grief, and deep belly laughter*

Unrelenting, she decides she WILL thru-hike the PCT this year, as planned, but the only way she knew possible – on all local permits. She and her spreadsheet-wiz father “quickly” formulated a plan, called some national forests, and bada-bing-bada boom!

And that is the story of how I didn’t have a PCT permit, and then did, and then didn’t, and now kind of do if you close one eye and squint.

Behind the 8 ball part 3+

So we’ve covered that I played around in India for 40 days right before my hike, that I was sick and unable to prepare logistically, and that I lost my long-distance permit. Unfortunately, I also wasn’t really able to prepare physically. This is because, as discussed, for the first 2 weeks, I was lying in bed trying to force-feed myself chicken broth, then, once I was finally starting to go on pack walks and work on cooking and dehydrating food, I got another injury, and then another…

Injuries and more injuries

One day, once I recovered from being sick, I went on a pack walk and pushed it a little too hard with a heavy pack, and ended up with bad hip pain. In contrast to my 11 hour/day yoga practice of February, I could now barely sit criss cross, and walking was more difficult than it should be for someone leaving to hike the PCT in a few weeks. But it didn’t stop there, nope, that would be too easy…

One afternoon, I was helping my dad shingle the roof to their shed when I smashed my left pointer finger with the hammer. I guess my year spent working in nonprofit construction with Rebuilding Together New Orleans didn’t teach me to pay attention. It stung, swelled quickly, and was bleeding from the cuticle of the nail, but it wasn’t bad and I figured I could keep going. My dad recommended I run in and hold it under cold water for a minute while it was still fresh, just in case. So, much to my chagrin, I descended the ladder and went into the house. As I passed my mom, who was inside tiling the bathroom, I started to feel a little woozy, so I told her to finish what she was doing, but to come look when she had a second. Luckily, her “mom alarm bells” went off immediately and she started putting things down. I got to the sink and turned on the faucet, ready for the relief that cold water promised, but it was hot. I turned the handle the other way in desperation, feeling increasingly light-headed, but to my dismay, only got more hot water. It’s as if my brain was banking on that cold water, because the moment I couldn’t get it, all I could do was yell “MOM!” before I lost consciousness. I was dreaming for what felt like a long time, and then finally could hear my mom yelling my name, but couldn’t see her. Eventually, my eyes (which apparently were open the whole time, spooky) started to refocus and I could hear her panicked voice ask if I was okay, but I couldn’t force my brain to produce any words to reassure her. My first sentence was probably nonsense, but I’m sure my mom was glad to hear it. She said I was convulsing on the floor when she ran in.

A very unattractive photo of me coming back to reality with dinner plate pupils and a busted lip

My pupils remained dilated for hours, my lip was bloody from being bitten, and my head was swollen and sore from hitting it on the counter on the way down. I drank some electrolytes, ate my first meal of the day, and tried not to lose consciousness again. Shoutout to my dad for recommending I go inside, and to my mom for basically being a doctor. For over a week afterward, my finger remained too swollen and too fragile to use, or even drop below my heart because it felt like all the blood in my body rushed to it, like my fingernail would come right off, or like someone was pressing a million tiny pieces of glass into it.

My swollen, black & blue finger featuring my PCT food prep station in the background

Despite the speed bumps, I continued cooking and dehydrating backpacking meals all day every day, updated my gear list (, and researched local permit info. If you’re interested in more information on how to hike on local permits, I’m happy to share that spreadsheet, just reach out!

The roadtrip to Campo came around all too quickly, as I had only dehydrated about 150 meals, my finger still hurt and hadn’t regained feeling or color, my hip hadn’t seemed to heal at all, and I had yet to even attempt my first blog post.

Why are you wasting time dehydrating your own food, you fool?

I’m sure you’re thinking, why not just resupply in town, you’ll be fine! Well, I mentioned earlier that I was on steroids to keep me alive, so let’s revisit that briefly. I’m super grateful to be off prednisone, however, the catch 22 is that I now take an injection every 8 weeks to keep me alive. It’s a much better deal, but I’ve noticed that the worse I eat, the less I sleep, the more allergens I’m exposed to, and the more caffeine and alcohol I consume, the faster my medicine wears off, and the more symptoms I feel – shortness of breath, flu-like body aches, extreme fatigue, brain fog, etc. I’ve learned that the healthier my lifestyle is, and the more I limit artificial foods, the better I feel. I can’t control that fact that I’ll be exposed to almost everything I’m allergic to on a daily basis (grass, trees, animals, etc.), but I can control how I’m fueling my body. So. I’ll splurge sometimes, but I made a huge attempt to cook and dehydrate as many plant-based, whole-food meals as I could to increase my odds of getting to Canada.

Also, I LOVED dehydrating my own food, so this is what some of that process looked like:

Fresh-cook red lentil chili
Dehydrated chili being weighed all today and then divided into individual, vacuum-sealed servings
Organizing all my meals into “breakfast”, “lunch”, and “dinner” options for my mom, who will be mailing my packages ❤️

Road-trip to Campo!

Staying in character behind the 8 ball, I was determined to relax and enjoy the trip of a lifetime with my dad. As I write this section of this post, I sit shotgun in the car (sweet sunnie the silver Subaru, we love sunnie), soaking in the rays of sunshine bathing Dixie National Forest outside Bryce Canyon National Park, just 2 days before my start date. My dad drives so that I can attempt to shorten my PCT Prep to-do list on our way to the Grand Canyon.

One vital thing I did manage to accomplish… shipping my first couple resupply boxes!

My list seems to have only gotten longer over the last couple months… but here I am rather leisurely en route to the southern terminus by way of 10+ national and state parks. What do I think this is, a game? Well, after stressing too much about preparing, I’ve decided that I do, in fact, think this is a game, and I intend to enjoy it.

Bryce Canyon NP

By the end of the trip, I hadn’t checked much off my to do list, but my dad and I had successfully visited sweet, wonderful friends in Vicksburg, picnicked with the bison in Caprock Canyons State Park while we watched the eclipse overhead, stood memorized at the snow capped mountains visible through each rock formation in Arches NP, thrown snowballs from Park Point in Mesa Verde NP, eaten Navajo tacos and burgers with an amazing cook named Theresa while we learned about her culture, watched the sun rise over the amphitheater in Bryce Canyon, seen the most beautiful, captivating landscapes we’ve ever seen, eaten the best vegan food of my life, and laughed a lot. Unprepared or not, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Shoutouts and gratitude

Special shoutout to:

  1. Jarrad and Jordan in Vicksburg, MS for letting us crash and making time for shot o’clock (herbal tea shot for me)!
  2. My awesome dad for helping design a local permit and resupply spreadsheet, and driving all the way from Florida to California with me to see me off on this exciting journey
  3. My mom for agreeing (so far) to pack and ship all my resupply boxes, and even cook new meals when mine run out, and for basically being a doctor
  4. Both my parents for always encouraging and supporting, and never doubting, no matter how stupid my idea is. You guys are the best ❤️

Alright, tune in again next time to find out if I made it through my first week on trail!

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