Sunday, February 10, 2013

If I Could Do It Again . . .

 * * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *

This is one of the most frequently asked questions post-trail.  Right up there with, “How many pairs of shoes did you go through?”  Let me say right off that I do not have any regrets about my hike.  However, if I had known then what I know now, there are things I would have done differently.  For those of you headed for the trail and for my own reminder to my future self, here they are:

By the time we left Crater Lake,
we had finally ditched most of  our extra gear.  Nearly 2  lbs.

Overall, I was happy with my gear selections.  I might have gone with the Big Agnes Fly Creek instead of the TarpTent Contrail, considered more seriously the MSR Pocket Rocket over an alcohol stove, picked the iPhone over the Droid Razr Maxx, and definitely have found a better solar charger than the PowerMonkey.  But, mostly, with gear, I would have just ditched it sooner. 

Items I sent home included:  zip-off pants (traded for shorts), extra socks, extra sports bra, a mug, hot hands, 50% of my first aid kit, 3 extra stuff sacks, the lid to my pot, a small Nalgene, an emergency blanket, an extra USB charging cord, my camera case, an extra camera battery, the “Lid” I bought for my Granite Gear pack, a couple of folds of my Z-Lite, dental floss (which I added back), a pack towel, half of my spare cordage, half of my roll of duct tape (wrapped around my trekking poles instead), a small journal, the “data book,” the baskets for my trekking poles, ace wraps, extra inserts (should have used those), my Crocs (handy in the Sierra crossings—not after!) 

I started with a base pack weight of 18 lbs; I was down to 16 lbs by Washington.  In Washington, I also sent my TarpTent home and shared with my cousin (the Contrail can squeeze two in a pinch—I also shared this with my 6’1” mate when he hiked with us).  So, I dropped to just over 14 lbs, but added foot braces and athletic tape for my feet, rounding me out to a solid 15 lbs.  Given my size and weight, I should have been at 15 lbs from the get-go.  If I did it again, I would start with less.


If we had started earlier, we might have called it a night as soon as we hit this!
Gumby and I finished in 152 days.  Not bad considering our tortoise pace.  We hit the Sierras on June 15 and made it to Canada before it snowed or really even started to rain.  If I did it again, I would start the trail two weeks earlier, hitch down for Kickoff (ADZPCTKO), and then hitch back up afterwards.  We could have benefitted from starting slower and from having a 2-week head start.  Since we were not fast hikers, we took less zeros and more neros to keep pace and make it to Canada before October.  We never stopped anywhere for long and skipped a number of town stops.  It would have been more relaxing if we had given ourselves more time in the beginning.  AND, we would have had more trail magic!  In the back of the Herd, you miss some of it by mere days . . . 


I packed all of my food ahead of time and had it shipped to me in 25 resupply packages.  Overall, I would stick with the buy-and-pack-ahead-of-time method.  However, I would have done three things differently. 

Worth the extra weight to spend over 2 weeks straight in the Sierras.
1)  I would have made sure I LOVED every food that I packed and not tried to save myself money with food I felt “okay” about.  Any food I settled for back home, I hated midway through the trail.  I also portioned out five months worth of jerky ahead of time—bad idea, it rots and molds in three weeks.  My shipper (my mate) had to pitch all of it. 

2)  I would have resupplied on trail a couple of times.  A few of the stops had great resupply stores; although many did not, I wish I had planned to resupply on trail a couple of times to give myself new food selections.  Food is an obsession on the trail—something new to obsess about is a blessing.

3)  I would have stopped more often.  There are two ways to plan your resupply.  One is to stop as often as possible so that you carry as little as possible between stops.  The other is to resupply less and carry more so that you have to pull off trail and hitch to town less.  Overall, I was happy with the places I chose to pull off, but there were times I went for a longer haul when a stop would have been simple and made my pack a hell of a lot lighter. 

Oh, I guess there is one more thing:  I would have carried less food.  I planned for nearly 4000 calories a day.  It’s a good number.  It turned out to be a little too much for 5’ 3/4” me.  I pulled into town with extra food 23 times of the 25 times I arrived.  Extra food is extra weight.  1 lb of extra food is 1 lb added to your base weight.  I would not have shipped myself less, it is nice to have the option of more, but I would have ditched more in the hiker boxes.


I wish I had taken more of these traditional landmark photos!
I took 3,000 photos.  If I were to do it again, I would take more.  More photos of the mundane parts of the trip and more photos of my fellow hikers—once you are back at home, the mundane on trail feels special, and the people are just as important as the places.  I also would have asked others to take more photos of me—it can be a little weird to ask people to do this (which is why I didn’t that often), but once you are back, you wish you had more candid shots.  Get over yourself and be a little vainer, you’ll be glad you did.


I hiked the trail with my female cousin, Gumby.  I cannot tell you how many times I found myself glad to have another around to share beautiful sights, funny stories, and end-of-the-day chats with.  And how often I was relieved to have someone there when I was crazy with the monotony, irate about my malfunctioning electronics, so sick I wanted to cry, so in pain that I was crying, and so exhausted that I just did not want to take another step.  Both joy and misery love company, and the trail has an overabundance of both. 

152 days of cousins!
That said, if I were to hike the trail again, I would take a few more solos.  I loved the company.  I also could have benefitted from hiking on my own more.  If I did it again, I might still go with a companion; I would just plan for sections of solos.  Oregon is the perfect place for a little one-on-one with the trail.  Washington and the Sierras are better with friends.  As in all things, think balance is the key.

Things I Would NOT Do Differently

I would not plan less.
I would not plan more.
I would not research gear more.
I would not pack less food.
I would still carry a Smartphone and a camera.
I would still carry a SPOT.
I would still have printed and electronic versions of HalfMile’s maps.
I would still have gone 18 days straight in the Sierras, resupplying once at Muir Trail Ranch.
I would still treat all of my drinking water.
I would still go to Kickoff.
I would still hike 1000 miles with plantar fasciitis and finish the trail even if it meant that 4 months later I would still be hobbling and unable to hike more than five.

The trail is an unforgettable experience.  There is no place for regrets.  Only new plans for next time.


  1. Thank you Bacon Bit, I needed that. 'til later, Gandalf

  2. Good stuff! Did you use something else for a make shift lid as it helps the water boil faster this using less fuel? And I've been going back and forth on the pants/shorts issue. Currently I like the pants unzipped half way at the knee for air conditioning. It seems on the hot days that I'm actually cooler keeping my legs covered from direct sun and they protect so nicely from the brush that scrapes legs and keeps legs cleaner. What are your insights on that? Thanks! -GoalTech

    1. I made a foil lid to replace my pot lid--worked just fine. Replaced the foil once just before Sierra City. As for the pants, I also vented at the knee for awhile. What I found with pants overall is that my legs would sweat and then the pants would stick to my legs catching and making it extra work to walk. As for dirt, I found I got filthy matter what. I was happier overall in running shorts--although pants did help me keep warm in the Sierras. I shipped them home at the CA border. I wish I would have by Tahoe.

    2. I *did* get a pretty good sunburn when I first switched to shorts!

  3. Thanks so much for your insights! Will learn from your experience and wisdom and march on mid April this season. Happy hiking! Heather "Maps"

  4. Well said. And so much between the saying. Especially liked your "Things I Would Not Do Differently." We met just before Deep Creek. Team No Hurries - my two daughters and I. Eighteen days in the Sierras? When do you count them as ending? We went 21 days from Independence to Red's Meadow/Mammoth Lakes. Had the time of our lives.

    1. This didn't seem to pick up my gravatar. Maybe this will.

    2. How WAS the rest of your trip?! I remember you and your daughters well.

  5. Just saw this post again picked up by the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader! I do love it...well written and very informative! I can't wait to start this trail!!

    1. I cannot wait for all of you to start, either!

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