Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

Gearing Up for the PCT

Angela would sit Indian style on the floor of my bedroom at my parent's house, with a backpacker's mess hall spread out in front of her. Energy bars, candy bars, cereal bars, instant potatoes, mac and cheese, cheesy crackers, dried fruits, dried peppers, dried spaghetti sauce, dried meals, freeze dried meals, long life meals, stuff that had been dried and then dried again, because it just wasn't dried enough. And then there was the bags of instant coffee, instant hot chocolate and milk, and Tang, lots and lots of delicious Tang. Over 100 days of delightfully dry camping meals all being carefully distributed into 16 re-supply boxes.

And after each box got its food rations it wasn't nearly complete. These were more piles to be picked through—40 AAA batteries and 36 AA ones, the bottle of 1000 ibuprofen tablets, and 1000 multivitamins, 36 rolls of film, a 24 pack of toilet paper, 14 rolls of athletic tape, 8 bottles of povidone-iodine solution and 6 bottles of iodine tablets.

While Angela filled boxes, I entered lists—lists of resupply points, lists of resupply contents, lists of equipment—each piece weighed on down to the 14 gauge needle in the first aid kit. These lists were subsequently to be downloaded on to our palm pilots—primarily for the purpose of reminding ourselves how good we are at making lists. Additionally there was all the other crap that needed to be taken care of before one heads off for nearly five months. Credit card and insurance bills, rent checks, health and dental check-ups, registration for fall classes, and on and on.

It was all vastly annoying. The whole idea of the trail was to get away from this sort of drudgery. I dreamed of majestic vistas and looking glass lakes and instead all there was to do was to talk to Jennifer at Comcast cable and explain to her why I wouldn't be watching much TV over the next 5 months.

Planning for a long-distance hike seemed to me to be as potentially fruitless as it was frustrating. After all, historically, only 5 percent or so of PCT thru-hikers actually made it all the way, and out of those who quit, many did so in the first couple weeks. In the past few years, success rates have started to approach 25 percent, but 1 out of 4 is still pretty poor, unless that is your lifetime batting average facing Randy Johnson.

The combination of the magnitude of the planning effort with the odds of success was disquieting. Taking care of the logistics would be immensely gratifying if the trip worked out, but if it didn't, then, well the reward wouldn't be a completed trip, but a planned one. The result of the uncertainty was a sensation not unlike that which one might feel if they began to plan a wedding with a caveat from the bride that there was only a one in four chance that she would go through with it.


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