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!

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