Friday, February 11, 2011

Trail Logistics: Food

One of the first questions I hear whenever I mention that I'll be hiking for 3 months straight this summer is "So what are you going to eat?" or "Where will you get your food?". Fortunately for me, there are a bunch of great options.

Food: I'll be hiking for approximately 10-12 hours each day, so the primary concern is the quantity of food that I'll need. Based on a couple rough approximations, I expect to consume about 6,000 calories a day. I'll adjust as I go, but it does mean I have to be very conscious about my food choices. Pretty much anything is fair game, and its amazing how your mindset changes when you go shopping. "Normal" people go into the store and look for low calorie foods, whereas I'll be looking for lightweight, high calorie foods. Bring on the Pringles, pop tarts  and snickers! My main staples will include instant potatoes, beef jerky, minute rice, Knorr sides, trail mix, and muesli (oats, nuts, raisins etc). I'll only be cooking dinners, so everything else is meant to be eaten with no preparation in order to get me back on the trail as fast as possible.

Resupply: 6,000 calories a day translates into something like 3 lbs of food. Obviously I won't be carrying food for the entire summer with me, as I'd need a team of pack horses to move it all. Instead, I've planned out a quick and easy resupply strategy to minimize the amount of food I carry, without causing too much disruption to my schedule. Every couple hundred miles (or less) the trail comes within a reasonable distance of a town, and I will use those opportunities to get new supplies for the upcoming section. My strategy revolves around the use of 'mail drops', essentially shipping packages to yourself for pickup at the post office. I'll pack up a dozen boxes of food before I leave, and have those shipped to various post offices along the way. There are several advantages to this method: I get exactly what I want in the box, I can buy in bulk, and I get everything quickly and easily in one place. Of course, I will supplement my diet with fresh foods at local grocery stores, along with the occasional luxury of a steak or burger in a restaurant while in town. The main disadvantage to this method is that I have to time my town arrivals around post office hours so I can actually pick up my package. As it stands now, I plan to do about 12 of these mail drops, along with a number of other small stops to pick up perishable foods along the way.

As it stands today, I have planned out my itinerary for the first 1,000 miles of my trip, and I'll be developing the last 1,600 miles over the next week. The nice part about all of this planning is that it gives me a pretty good familiarity with each section of the trail, so by the time I get out there I feel like I'll really know and understand what I'll be hiking through each day. 94 days to go!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Pacific Crest Trail

I've been blessed with a truly amazing opportunity this summer - three months free of school, work, or any commitments. How did this happen? I have a job offer to start next January following graduation from my Master's program, and I will graduate in December without needing any summer classes, or research. Therefore, I have a perfect opportunity, rather the perfect opportunity to take 3 months off and do whatever I wish - sort of an early graduation present if you will. Three months is an awfully long time, and there are countless options for what I could do with that break, something I've spent quite some time considering.

The first allure is Europe. I could take off and spend months going between hostels in Europe, relaxing, taking in the culture, and enjoying life. Many of my friends will be doing just that, and it sounds like a wonderful option. Another choice would be to go globe-hopping, visiting as many sights and attractions as I can before I run out of time or money. Yet the option that has been the most attractive has been the idea of setting out into the wilderness on the West Coast, along the Pacific Crest Trail.

A little background. The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada along the mountain crests of California, Oregon, and Washington. It traverses desert, forests and mountains, and runs within a stone's throw of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. It was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, and along with the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail, is part of the triple crown of American long distance hiking. Unlike the Appalachian Trail the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is meant for both pedestrian and equestrian use, so the path itself is relatively smooth and avoids the dreaded rock scrambles seen in other hiking trails. Every year several hundred individuals attempt to 'thru-hike' the trail, walking continuously from one end to the other, and this summer I plan to join their ranks.

The typical pace has people spending 5 months on the trail, covering approx. 18 miles each day. I have no such luxury due to the start of classes in August, so I have exactly 95 days to cover the full 2650 miles if I am to finish within the summer. This means I will be hiking an average 28 miles each day, including time to pick up more food every week or so. I've begun a training regimen with the goal of putting in 500 training miles before I step off the plane in San Diego (442 miles to go). I'm also taking a 5 day shakeout trip over spring break to practice with all of my gear and get a feeling for how my body reacts to repeated high mileage days.

I'll be adding more detail as the trip gets closer, but for now I'll close with a link to my favorite Pacific Crest Trail highlight video.

98 days until I hit the trail!