This weekend marked the 5 year anniversary of my PCT thru-hike. Although I’ve been back there and have about half the PCT miles done as section hikes since then, nothing quite beats the trepidation, excitement, and the unknown of the first time. In honor of that day, I’m posting my gearlist from 2009. Surprisingly, I would change very few things. Since this gear is old, this would also make a fantastic discount ultralight gear list–many things on this list are older models, but still work great. Hope you enjoy this ArcBlast from the past!
I carried an ipod nano with a solar panel until Tahoe, but it didn't work well and destoryed my ipod. The lyra (a model which isn't sold anymore that runs on batteries) is a great thru-hiking mp3 player
Wore from Kennedy Meadows north. I was very happy to have something cover my legs in the Sierra, though if I were to it again, would probably choose something lighter. The spandex stretchiness was nice, though
For conservation policy geeks like me, a true highlight of the Outdoor Retailer show was the chance to see former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, speak at the Conservation Alliance breakfast. The Conservation Alliance is an organization funded by outdoor companies to protect the places where we recreate. For many years, CA had difficulty recruiting Babbitt, who served under the Clinton administration and is responsible for protecting areas such as Grand Staircase National Monument, creating the National Landscape Conservation System, and reintroducing the wolf into Yellowstone. Finally, today he spoke in front of 300 industry people to call for radical change from both the Obama administration and the Outdoor Industry.
Although not the most charismatic speaker, Babbitt’s speech gave the audience an insight into his sharp mind. Throughout his speech, he analyzed strategies the Outdoor Industry can take to make an otherwise ineffective Congress care about wild areas.
Babbitt called out Utah Governor Herbert and strongly criticized the Transfer of Public Lands Act, a bill that will “dismantle the BLM, scale back the Park Service, and remove 9 of every 10 acres from the Forest Service.” The bill, if passed, will move public lands from federal management to Utah state level management, including Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Grand Staircase.
The former Secretary also criticized academics who support the Transfer of Public Lands Act. Several researchers have used economic evidence to argue that there are benefits of moving land from federal control to private oil and gas companies.
Specifically, Babbitt condemned these studies for leaving out evidence that outdoor recreation provides an economic benefit. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation is a $646 billion industry. Yet Babbitt lamented that the Commerce Department, politicians, and the academics who wrote pro-Transfer Act reports, do not realize the size and power of the industry, and thus, have not been pushing to conserve land.
The speech ended with a call for the Outdoor Industry to have their voice be heard, and also for President Obama to take advantage of his lame duck period to conserve more land. In response to Obama’s most recent conservation moves—including the protection of the Montana Front Range (which benefits the CDT viewshed) and the San Gabriels and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (which benefits the PCT viewshed)—Babbitt replied, “We haven’t got that far. It’s not really that impressive.”
Of course, this is easy for the man behind the most expansive land protection record of any presidency to say. Yet, Babbitt believes that places that we recreate can and should be protected: “Public lands aren’t just the West. They’re national lands owned by all of us as Americans.”
Babbitt’s talk started and ended with a standing ovation. As hikers, we often don’t busy ourselves with the politics behind our trails and treasured landscapes. Yet, as an outdoors person, I was exceptionally honored to sit ten feet away from one of the powerhouses of conservation who makes my adventures possible.
From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.
This weekend, I was lucky enough to see Wild the Movie with three other thru-hikers, Pi (who I met on the PCT), Twinkle (who I met this year on the PCT), and Mr. Gorbachev (who has section-hiked Washington PCT). Here in Denver, Wild is only showing on one screen at a one arthouse theater, making us luck to score tickets, but the movie should be out in mainstream theaters soon. (Had we not been able to finagle tickets, our plan was to claim that as Real PCT Hikers, FoxSearchLight had commissioned us to be pre-show entertainment for opening weekend).
I liked Wild the Book, although my one complaint was that as a hiker, I wasn’t feeling the anxiety and suspense that most readers must have experienced. For the normal Oprah book club reader, there must be thrill in reading about crossing snowfields or climbing over boulders. As a hiker, my reaction while reading the book was “well, I know what she has to do to get out of this situation,” and “Yeah, that happens.”
However, in movie form, Cheryl’s outdoor troubles were pretty fun to watch. The other theater-goers must have found us hikers twisted when we laughed at some of her most harrowing hiking moments (note that we showed appropriate emotion towards her non-hiking troubles). One example of a time when we got some looks from the audience was when we chuckled at Cheryl’s pack bruises and scars on her shoulders and waist. What the others moviegoers could not have guessed was that we weren’t laughing at Cheryl, but we were laughing with her.
As hikers, our joy in Wild came as laughs of triumph. In watching Cheryl, we knew that we too had been in that position. We, too, had once been that scared and frustrated. What made Wild a joy to watch was that we now know exactly how to get out of that situation (and in fact, now that situation isn’t a big deal anymore).
Before I saw Wild, I had been warned by Barney “Scout” Mann, who saw a pre-screening at the Telluride Film Festival, that PCT hikers may find the inaccuracies of the landscapes in the filmdistracting. Specifically, the movie was shot on private land in Oregon and there were questions about whether the director could have done a better job making Ashland look like Southern California. After seeing the film, to the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the landscapes were more-or-less accurate to the trail (with the exception of Northern California—which, really, if they filmed in Ashland, they could have done a better job making it look like 11 miles south of where they filmed). I was specifically pleased to see how much the stretch from Highway 58 to Kennedy Meadows looked exactly like the trail—in fact, after watching the credits, I suspect they may have been able to film on the PCT or pretty close.
I was also satisfied by how accurately Wild portrayed hikertrash life. In a scene where Cheryl camps with other hikers, I was so impressed with the actors playing thru-hikers that I wondered if the casting agent just decided to find real thru-hikers instead of SAG cardholders. Furthermore, early viewers of the film had cautioned me that Cliff De Young doesn’t quite look like Meadow Ed, but I thought Hollywood did a great job of finding a guy who is pretty close, and making him look as he may have in the 1990s. Indeed, the casting on this film in general was phenomenal with even bit parts stealing the show.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was shocked by how Wild evoked my memories and emotions related to the PCT. As always, whenever I see a photo or video of the PCT, I’m always surprised by how well I can identify where it was filmed. Even though we as thru-hikers cover thousands of miles, somehow landscapes stick in our minds and bring out memories and emotions in a way contrary to how the brain normally stores information. What alarmed me though, was at the end of the film, Cheryl makes it to Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River. For a thru-hiker, BOG is a beautiful site—the end of a state, the lowest point on the trail, a place where food can be purchased at Cascade Locks. Yet, when I watched the movie, that landscape lost its beauty when separated from my own emotions (including hunger). Instead, BOG was a sad spot along the trail, because it meant the movie was going to end.
Every hiker has started a long trail with a story similar to Cheryl’s, or knows someone like her. While I enjoyed Wild the Book for Cheryl’s writing style and the parts not about hiking, I enjoyed Wild the Movie for the parts about hiking.
Unless you’ve been on trail for the last two years, you likely know that today, the movie version of Cheryl Strayed’s book WILD comes out (in select theaters, sorry Bend, OR). Cheryl’s story of her 1996 section-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is one of few major blockbuster films about long distance hiking. Not watching movies in theaters is one of the ways that I save money for thru-hiking every summer—but I think with WILD, I’ll make an exception.
There are a lot of WILD haters on the Internet and in the hiking community. Sure, Cheryl is not the best hiker in the world, but I can guarantee that whatever hiker is bemoaning her hiking skills can’t write anywhere close to as well as Cheryl. The way she uses words in the book is an art form such that even when I knew what would happen next in the story—in the hiking world, when a problem befalls someone, there are usually limited options, only one of which won’t end in the author dying—I still wanted to read on.
In movie form, I was worried that the poetic nature of Cheryl’s writing would disappear, but everything I hear from those who have seen it already is that the beauty remains. With the exception that that the landscape scenery is sometimes distracting to thru-hikers (who know that “hey, that background is clearly the Oregon High Desert, not the California High Desert”), the storytelling and acting in the movie is supposedly quite moving. The word being thrown around is “Oscar Bait.”
A big concern many hikers worry about is that if a million people watch WILD and even 0.1% of them decide to go hike the PCT as a result, that’s 1000 extra people hiking on the PCT. Skeptics of WILD claim that these people likely think that Cheryl is a backpacking expert. These people are going to crowd the trail, not practice Leave No Trace, and leave trash and toilet paper everywhere along our pristine wilderness.
I find the views of these haters to be too extreme.
First, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has been incredibly active about capturing the interest in WILD as a discussion started to practicing responsible hiking. With the PCTA as the starting point for all information about the PCT, prospective hikers will likely get the information they need to reduce their footprint on the trail.
Second, the Class on 2014 PCT thru-hikers certainly had their share of WILD aficionados, and for the most part, the ones I met were 30-60 year old women who were eager to learn about how to hike better, safer, and more responsibly. Those who are going to be least responsible (who am I kidding—it’s clearly men 18-24 I’m talking about here) are not really the target audience for WILD.
Lastly, I strongly believe that every person who does a long hike is going to come out better on the other side. Any person who is willing to enter a place and a lifestyle that lets them live authentically—without the distractions of electronics or pressures of money and status—is going to change their world perspective.
Despite the ecological pressures that increased hiking use may have on a narrow PCT corridor (especially the desert), I believe that every hiker who walks the PCT is going to have a changed environmental ethic. Walking a long hiking trail has the power to change how a person votes in elections. It has the power to change how a person spends dollars in the “real world.” It has the power to change what causes people put their energy behind supporting. And, as WILD shows, it has the power to heal.
Each person who hikes the PCT comes off the trail spreading an environmental message and a message of healing to dozens of family and friends who follows their journey. I’m not saying that a bunch of WILD-watching hikers are going to change the world overnight, but the potential impact WILD could have on our communities, our lifestyle, and our world as a whole is certainly not nil.
If WILD has the power to bring us closer to a world of healed, whole people who value natural places of beauty, (and tell a story that will entertain for 2 hours while eating popcorn), I think it’s certainly worth $10 to see it in the theater.
After an awesome week hiking in Moab with Lawton “Disco” Grinter (from the Trail Show, the Walkumentary), it seemed like the next best way to continue my Disco fix was to read his book I Hike (Grand Mesa Press, 192 pages, paperback and Kindle). I Hike immediately differentiated itself from other adventure tales on my bookshelf because Disco picks and chooses stories across many trails, sparing the reader the termini-to-termini focus. The result is a rich set of vignettes that document the wisdom and maturity that hiking can bring to a young person. Each chapter has a different locale, but the stories are tied together well with a theme of living a simple fulfilling life with friends (on a trail).
Based on Disco’s work on the Trail Show, I had assumed I Hike would be a funny book filled with triumphant tales of trail shenanigans. It certainly has plenty of that, but although the same joyous humor that Disco shares on his podcast comes through in I Hike, I was surprised by the depth and wisdom of many of the chapters. I Hike is thick with insight only gained from walking. In the least serious example of this, readers learn alongside Disco that eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting is a poor decision. In the most serious case, Disco reflects on the dangers of hiking and the fragility of the simple hiking life.
In writing I Hike, Disco doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of hiking, but reflects on them. Why is it that sometimes a long hike is hard and we feel like we want to quit? I Hike also explores what I find to be one of the most beautiful aspects of trail life: the seemingly miraculous transition from suffering to salvation. Yet Disco takes this idea further: it isn’t the transition itself that is incredible, but the irony of how quickly our fates change. This is because being on the trail, no matter how bad (with some exception), isn’t suffering (as the saying goes: “A bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work”). Instead, what is incredible about hiking is that we learn how whimsical our fate can be. Our desire and delight in walking is impacted by our perspective as much as by the weather.
I tried to ration the chapters—forcing myself to do some chores and money-making ventures in between each story—but found myself powerless and read the whole thing in a sitting. Disco’s way of writing is funny and engaging, and because he explains technical hiker terms so well, I Hike may be a better introduction to long distance hiking than A Walk in the Woods (for one thing, Disco has end-to-ended several trails and Bill Bryson couldn’t make it past Gatlinburg). I am eager to share this vivid slice of thru-hiking life with my non-hiking friends. Moreover, I wish I could have read this book before I started thru-hiking so that I could have had a better idea of what I was getting into—the fantastic, the hilarious, the heartbreaking—and could have learned about the trail in a non-guidebook style medium.
Throughout I Hike, I was repeatedly reminded of the kindness and generosity of the hiking community. In numerous stories, Disco and his then hiking partner/fiancé now wife, POD, go through extremes to help those in need, even when they have nothing to gain and much to lose by doing so. Reading I Hike on a lonely day was like a portkey into the magical hiking world that can seem so fantastical compared to humdrum cubicle life. I Hike is a reminder that no matter what life (or the trail) may present, the hiker family will provide redemption.
Disclaimer: I don’t usually read hiking books because I am worried my own trail experiences might get muddled up with someone else’s (or that reading about others’ trip may alter my expectations). This is one reason why I hadn’t read I Hike until now (it came out at the end of 2012). Disco graciously sent me this copy and forever changed the way I think about hiking books. Far from mixing with my own experiences or altering my expectations, I Hike helped me understand and digest my on-trail experiences better. I am very grateful that he was able to share his stories with me.
While I was busy failing to break the women’s speed record on the PCT this year, my boyfriend back in Denver attended a book signing at our favorite independent bookstore to see Gail D. Storey, who had just come out with I Promise Not to Suffer, her memoir of walking the PCT with her husband, Porter. When I came home from the PCT, tail between my legs, her book was taunting me on the shelf, yet another reminder of my Did Not Finish. As part of my healing, I picked up our signed copy and dug in, hoping, at least in book form, to continue on my journey.
As I read Gail’s story—a rare description of the thru-hiking experience from the perspective of an older woman—it was hard to imagine a narrator more different than me. Gail lists her reasons for hiking as being closer to her husband, whereas I hike solo, partially, as a feminist counter to myths of the outdoors as “male space.” Gail’s slight figure and abundant chest are impediments to her hiking, whereas hiking is the only place where I find my own body issues to be an asset. Although her life has not been easy, Storey depicts herself departing on the PCT almost as a princess girlie-girl—an idea reinforced by the lace-trimmed dress illustrating the book’s cover. Even Cheryl Strayed in her clueless wander of the PCT depicted in Wild seems to have more in common with my experience on the PCT—or at least of my first thru-hike. Yet Gail’s writing is so heartfelt that as a reader, I was eager to walk in her boots and to understand a hike I felt I knew so well through another’s eyes.
Enchanted by Gail’s PCT world, I retraced the steps I walked earlier this year. She and her husband save a dog, traverse steep snow on Fuller Ridge, and have a run-in with a mountain lion. When I reached the halfway point in the book, though, I couldn’t help but feel a pain as I watched her continue where I dropped off–a feeling that will resonate with other readers torn from the trail. Ever reflective and perceptive, Gail’s anecdotes reveal the lessons we as hikers are supposed to take away from a long walk with astuteness a hiker of my age and life inexperience does not have.
I Promise Not to Suffer gives the reader plenty of the hilarious quirky moments that have become a staple of trail writing. As Porter attempts to set himself up for a new career from the trail, he writes his job mission statement on a Tyvek ground sheet. In almost slapstick style, Porter manages to spill his alcohol stove multiple times. Through sleight of hand, Porter manages to tactfully help some hikers in need of cash.
Much like Wild, I Promise Not to Suffer intertwines trail stories with tales of the narrator’s relationship with her mother and death. These narratives further add depth beyond the usual hiker story. Porter’s career as a palliative and hospice care doctor complement themes of suffering and death throughout the book, while not being overbearing. Gail’s most poignant theme is the difference between pain and suffering, a notion explored in anecdotes that happen on and off trail.
Spoiler Alert: The Washington-like forest on the cover duped me into thinking Gail made it all the way to Canada. As she leaves the trail, I felt her pain at doing so with an intensity far greater than her few words. Yet Gail, in all her insight, owns up to her failure, “was in love with failure” (179) in a way that I, in the past 5 months, have yet again, failed to do.
A hiker mantra states that one hikes until one has learned what the trail has to teach. Thru-hikers love to give authors like Bill Bryson and Cheryl Strayed a hard time for writing best-sellers without even finishing a long hike. Reading I Promise Not to Suffer, it is clear Gail Storey hiked as far as she needed to go to gain the trail’s wisdom. In fact, she has imparted her wisdom to at least one hiker who has walked much farther, but has yet to learn the lesson.