The planned start date for my little amble is still more than 5 months away. It feels like an eternity, surely I have oodles of time to plan and prepare? Maybe, maybe not; if all these years on this spinning rock have taught me one thing, it is that the concept of time as a constant can never be trusted. Time is a slippery little sucker with a tendency to mutate, contract and slip through your fingers at the most inauspicious of moments. For this reason, and in an ongoing effort to tame my obsessive-compulsive nature, I find myself neck deep in lists, spreadsheets, lists of spreadsheets and spreadsheets of lists. Hell yeah … I am planning to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail!
Bizarrely, the process of planning to thru-hike the PCT seems to take longer than actually walking the thing. Although my propensity for procrastination has undoubtedly added a significant amount of unnecessary time to the process, in my defense, there is a heck of a lot of stuff to consider. Thankfully, I am not the first to struggle under the weight of gear and re-supply permutations. Those who have successfully gone before have bestowed a plethora of web sites, blogs, planning tools and apps upon us poor novices and newbies. These have become the swings and roundabouts of my dark playground; the time consuming pit of indecision, dilemma and quandary where I currently seem to dwell. When I reach the point of being able to confidently quote the weight of a square yard of cuben fibre, the flow rate of every water filter known to man, the R-Value of a sleep mat and the exact distance between water sources along the first 500 miles of the PCT, I finally accept that I may have a problem. I resolve to get out more. I decide to go for a long walk.
Walking can be astonishingly therapeutic, particularly if you are fortunate enough to have some amazing trails right on your doorstep, as I do. For me the benefits of walking are threefold; a) it helps me to get in shape for my big walk, b) it disconnects me from my dark playground and c) it provides me with some cognitive quiet time in which in can consolidate my thoughts and actually reach some much needed conclusions. Time out on the trail has become my meditation!
Over the last few weeks I have been walking in and around the beautiful geothermal region of Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand. The trails here weave through lush native ferns, along the shores of colorful volcanic lakes and beneath soaring forests of Redwood, Douglas Fir and Eucalyptus. Climbing up above the canopy, I am rewarded with panoramic views across Rotorua’s beautiful lakes and of the brooding, but thankfully now dormant, Mount Tarawera. Spending my scant free time in this truly spectacular setting, it is easy to understand why thru-hikers feel such a psychologically connection with the trail and why they often struggle to readjust once the hike is over and they have to return to the “real world”. As I walk I try to imagine how I will be transformed by almost 5 months of living in this alternate reality and what exactly I will do with my life once it is over. This is not something I am able to fathom and so my mind drifts back to more mundane matters such as blister prevention, pee-rags and re-supply strategies.
Training for a thru-hike is a tricky business. Somehow I need to acquaint my body (and mind) with carrying over 30lbs of stuff on my back and walking in excess of 20 miles, each and everyday. The main problem with this training malarky is time; I just don’t seem to have enough of it. Each week I have been walking two consecutive 20mile days with a 10lb pack. Each walk takes me roughly 7 hours (including breaks) and so this could easily be considered a full time job. Although my training routine is far from representative of what I can expect to face on the PCT, it does provide some invaluable experience and very practical feedback on my gear set up. I am learning what works and what does not, what feels comfortable and what does not. The big and probably not entirely unexpected news … my feet DO NOT feel comfortable! So far there are no blisters but my feet hurt, they hurt all over in an profound achy way that gives rise to a yearning, a deep yearning for a nice Thai lady to suddenly appear and give them a good rub. Maybe I need bigger shoes, different shoes, wider shoes, more supportive shoes, magic shoes, who friggin’ knows what shoes … Clearly I have “ish-shoes”!
I break for brunch at the 10mile mark and sit on a little lakeside jetty to rest, air my weary feet and wait for a Thai lady to appear. She doesn’t show. I practice eating peanut butter and raisins with my long handled titanium spoon and cutting fruit into small pieces with my micro Leatherman knife. I watch a pukeko idly foraging for food in the swampy shallows and suddenly I notice myself; utterly absorbed in my tasks, at one with my surroundings and totally present in moment. Almost miraculously the pain in my feet has completely vanished. I feel comfortable, complete and calm. The internal dialogue of procrastination has at last fallen into silence. All at once, my plans and projections for walking the Pacific Crest Trail seem superfluous and quite trivial. Just in that moment, instinctively I know that the trail will provide. I know that my feet will adapt, just as I will adapt. Just in that moment, instinctively I know that the only thing I really need to do is show up at Campo and start walking. As they say in Latin … Solvitur ambulando … It is solved by walking!
In a little over 5 months, walking will become my full time occupation and then surely all my “ish-shoes” will be solved. Until then, I guess I will just have to continue to fritter away my time on the swings and roundabouts in my dark playground of PCT planning and procrastination.
The Swings and Roundabouts of My Dark Playground
Craig’s PCT Planner – A fantastic interactive web site that allows you to plan just about every mile of your thru-hike. It provides info for every resupply location, allows you to determine how many days of food are needed between resupply points, projecting arrival dates at each resupply location and will even adjusting your hiking time based on terrain. Expect to lose at least a week of your life to this planner!
Postholer PCT Planner – Another great planning tool. Essentially does the same thing as Craig’s but I think its better if you just want to get a quick, rough idea of things.
Halfmile’s PCT Maps – A PCT powerhouse of useful information, maps and other time consuming stuff.
Lighterpack – Great gear listing resource that allows you to analyse all of your gear and see exactly how much everything weighs. The cold winter evenings will simply fly by!