Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sample Resupply: Julian, CA

I have some ideas about getting food at town stops that may help some thru-hikers. We'll look at the tiny tourist town of Julian, CA as an example. There is a gas station with mostly junk food, two small groceries, and a nuts store.

Eat while in Julian: (ideally split into 2 meals)
- loaf of whole-wheat bread
- two sticks of butter
- head of lettuce
- several tomatoes
- an apple or two
- block of cheese OR cottage cheese
Yum! Lots of fat, complex carbs, and even some vegetables. I just bite into the head of lettuce as if it were an apple. All this can be found at the 2 groceries. A quicker, but decently healthy option is:
- box of generic whol-grain bran flakes
- half-gallon of whole milk
- a few bananas
- an orange

Don't miss the nut shop!! It has tons of high-calorie, high-fat goodies:
- nuts (sweetened and plain)
- banana chips
- awesome home-style granola
- dates
- all sorts of chocolatey, nutty stuff

At the groceries you can get:
- whole-wheat bread
- cream cheese
- cheese
- expensive, "crummy" calories like instant noodles, potato flakes, etc.

Eating out
There are a number of places to eat out. Ask for a local's recommendation before choosing a place to eat!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Foot Problems on the PCT, and Starting Slow

The bulk of 2009 thru-hikers seem to be several days into the PCT right now. Yesterday and today dozens have passed through Scissors Crossing at mile 78. Of these, most have foot problems, the most common of which is blisters. A couple blisters may be manageable, but some hikers have reached a critical mass where they can no longer walk.

Luckily, I hardly ever get blisters or even hot spots, but I don't know why. I have been hiking in thin nylon dress socks and Inov-8 shoes. But I got a foot cramp at the end of the first day that has lasted till the present. I thought it would go away during the day at Lake Morena, but it didn't. It seemed to be walking itself off on the fourth day, but on the fifth it was back, along with some slightly sore ligaments on the top of my foot due to overcompensating for the painful area on the bottom of my foot. On the walk to Scissors Crossing, I was almost limping to avoid pain.

In my opinion, many or most of the people I've met so far are trying to do too many miles too soon (including myself). Although the trail is easy and it's easy to put in 20+ miles a day from the very beginning, the body is not yet prepared to handle the strain on feet, joints, ligaments, and muscles. Last summer on the Colorado CDT we started slower and had no foot issues. Based on what I've been seeing here on the PCT, I would say the ideal schedule for most people would be:

1st week: 10-12 miles / day
2nd week: 12-15 miles / day
3rd week: 15-18 miles / day
4th week: 18-20 miles / day
5th week: etc.

(for some people, it may be 12-15, 15-20, 20-25, etc., depending on packweight and level of fitness)

What's happening is that people are putting in 20+ mile days from the very beginning. A scarcity of water sources encourages this mileage. But just three days of this right at the beginning of the hike is enough to put many thru-hikers out of commission. Some are trying to push through to Warner Springs (mile 110) where they will crash, enjoy the hot springs and nurse themselves back to health, while others are taking breaks at Julian (mile 78) to recuperate. In my opinion, it's best to catch problems right at the onset rather than "push through." That's why I'm relaxing now for 2 days rather than potentially losing many more days than that later on due to a chronic condition. On long distance hikes, chronic ailments need to be avoided at all cost.

See this great article on medical issues and prevention on the PCT at

To avoid blisters, you need to have footwear that fits well and feels naturally comfortable on your foot. You need to have socks that don't slide around on your foot, but allow sliding between the sock and the shoe. You need to change socks regularly and keep them as clean as possible, and address hot spots before they become blisters, by applying moleskin or athletic tape. Airing out your feet and shoes during frequent breaks (1 per hour) is important. Heat promotes blistering. Once a blister has formed, it may need to be popped if it gets in the way.

ADDED MAY 14: Yesterday I got my first two blisters out in the Deep Creak - Lake Silverwood area. Reason? Having to hurry to a meetingplace with relatives and not taking off my socks and shoes to air out my feet often enough. I ended up having to pop two blisters and put bandaids on them. I managed to arrest a hotspot before it turned into a blister by wrapping the two in medical tape. Worked great.

No need to rush!
If you started out at the border on April 23 and want to get to Kennedy Meadows on June 8. That's 45 days for 700 miles, or roughly 15.5 miles per day. You could average 12 miles for the first 23 days and 19 for the last 22 days and get there on schedule. Why would you want to get to Kennedy Meadows much earlier than that and have to sit around waiting for snow to melt?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Must-Have Items and Where to Get Them

Two items PCT hikers may not be able to live without:

1. Sunglasses

Even though I'll be carrying an umbrella to shield myself from the sun, snowblindness is a real risk in the High Sierra, as the sun reflects off the snow and reaches me from below. A similar reflection effect can happen in desert areas where there is uncovered, light-colored ground. Furthermore, there is a lot of dust on the PCT, and sunglasses may be just as needed for protection from dust as from sun.

I have a history of sunglasses cracking and breaking on me. Rather than spend $60 on another pair of Polaroids, I decided to get the cheapest I could find that fit well. I found a nice pair for $6 a the Dollar Store that covers my eyes well. 

2. Poison oak ointment

Poison oak is supposedly most prevalent on the PCT in southern California and from Sierra City to the Oregon border. Almost every hiker has to deal with it at some point. The consensus is that nothing works as well as Zanfel -- an expensive product that comes in small tubes and is rubbed on the skin to releave itching in under a minute. 

Here are the prices for Zanfel in central Michigan:

K-mart: $30
Walmart: $36
Rite-aid: $40

They say there is a generic equivalent for under $10 that works just as well, but I am not sure what it is or where to get it. I expect to hold off getting Zanfel till I am on the trail. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Update - 1 Week To Go

Here's a list of things I've been doing:

1. Food planning
I made a google document (an online document that multiple people can edit) for my parents and girlfriend, who will be sending me packages of food and maps along the way. The spreadsheet contains a section for requests for upcoming boxes, including relevant addresses, as well as an expense sheet so that I can reimburse them along the way from my bank account. The first food box -- for Warner Springs -- needs to go out this Friday. I also had my first shipment of MealPack bars sent to my parents' home. At roughly $1 per 100 grams and 400 calories, they're a good deal as far as nutritious energy bars go. 

Hopefully, this arrangement will give me the flexibility to adjust my eating habits along the way while still enjoying the advantages of maildrops. 

2. Itinerary
I have done a day-by-day breakdown of the route, as discussed in a previous post. I am not tied to this itinerary, but it is important as an estimate and a list of important information that has a bearing on my decisions along the way. I've sent the itinerary to those who are involved in my hike in some way. 

3. Maps
I'll finish printing out maps in a day or two (Halfmile's maps), as well as Jonathan Ley's Glacier Peaks reroute. I bought resealable freezer bags (hard to find in 11'' height) to store map sections in. I've decided to cut out pages of Yogi's trail guide and include those in each section. I can toss those as I need to along the way, but some pages will certainly come in handy -- enough so that I don't feel like rewriting the most important info on a special sheet. 

I'll mail off the maps, divided into sections, to my parents' house and have them include them in maildrops. 

Finally, the day before I leave I'll print out the water report for sections A-G. I was originally going to plan out water sources in advance, but it seems like too much work. I'll probably do this on a section by section basis just a day or two in advance. 

4. Packages
I just sent off a tube with my trekking poles, knife, and tent stakes to Scout and Frodo's home in San Diego. These are trail angels who typically take in PCT thru-hikers at the start of their hikes. I saved just $3 over the cost of checking this piece of luggage on my flight. 

I will prepare a package soon with my gear for the High Sierra to be sent to Kennedy Meadows in a couple weeks: ice axe, Kahtoola microspikes (crampon-like traction devices for snow), gaitors, larger backpack (Golite Pinnacle), plastic pack liner, and a fresh bottle of DEET. 

5. Body
I have one more session at the tanner's left, and 2 or 3 sessions at the gym, as well as some jogging and biking. The day before I head out, I'll cut my hair short and shave certain parts of my body to make things easier on myself later on.

I'm still looking for small bottles to store contact lens fluid in. 

6. Boxing up belongings
I've begun packing up my not-so-numerous belongings and listing the contents of each box on the top and side. Of particular importance is the box of backpacking gear. This box has a detailed list of its contents inside the box, so that anyone could find the piece I need on request and mail it to me in a maildrop.

7. Wrapping up business
I have lots of writing and web work to finish up...

8. Excitement
I'm excited to leave this boring, computer-based lifestyle behind me, free up my mind, and be out in the wilderness living a simple lifestyle. This excitement overrides any sadness at leaving my girlfriend behind, but we'll see how that plays out in the coming weeks. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

PCT Itinerary

I've decided that I need all basic information about my route and itinerary on one sheet. Here are the reasons:

  1. I will need to think about post office hours in advance when planning out my next few days of hiking. Some are open just a few yours each weekday. Same with public libraries and Internet
  2. With my budgeting strategy, I need to plan my movements so that I can get into towns early, do my business, fill up on food, and leave later that same day. 
  3. Major stream fords and high passes in the Sierra Nevada are most safely crossed at certain times of day, rather than whenever I happen to get to them. 
  4. I will be meeting some friends and relatives along the way and need to have a strategy for reaching our meetingplace.
  5. This sheet will help me track my progress and make sure I order food on time to be delivered to trailside towns. 

Here is the result. This is only tentative. Note that I've left some columns empty to record my actual itinerary (as opposed to planned). I plan to carry this sheet around with me in a sealed bag. 

Please write a comment if you have any questions about the itinerary. Feel free to adapt it for your own PCT thru-hike. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Physical Training for the PCT

I've been training steadily for the PCT for the past 2 months, with about 4 months of sporadic gym attendance before that. I had planned to go every day, but you know how it goes. I've exercised 3 or 4 days a week for two months. In addition, I ride my bike around our small town and walk a lot, too. 

I'm probably in nearly the best shape I've ever been in. Weight training two days a week can take as little as 10 minutes to do can be really effective. I've basically doubled my bench press since the fall. Cardiovascular improvement seems to take place more slowly; my pulse when running 3 miles in 30 minutes has only dropped a couple beats per minute (I use a heartrate monitor). 

I've read that it's a good idea to mix leg exercises when preparing for a long hike. I do a good mixture of cycling and jogging to work both the fronts and backs of my legs. 

Yesterday I went out for a run outside instead of using the smooth track at the gym. I decided spontaneously to try running on the rocky bed of the railroad track. I figured that was about the closest I could get to hills here in central Michigan. The next day, my calves and ankles can testify to the effectiveness. It seems to be a great exercise for building foot and ankle strength. So, maybe the best place to train is to find the worst possible place and try jogging there?:) Like a furrowed and lumpy field or a railroad track (be sure to take off the MP3 player, though). 

To be honest, I don't harbor any illusions about the effectiveness of my training. It's good for comfort value and to feel good about myself. But ultimately, after a couple weeks into the hike, we'll all pretty much be in our optimal cardiovascular shape, and my upper body muscle mass will have begun its inexorable decline. Woohoo!