Visa & Tent, Check!

It’s been a long productive day for PCT prep today starting with my US visa interview at the consulate this morning. I quickly learned that even though you book a specific interview time (8:30am) it all operates on a first come first serve basis. I felt like I was walking into a maximum security prison with only four people at a time let into the holding room where they verify your identity, barcode you, then send you to the next identity check where they scan your barcode, check your passport for the second time then release you into the larger holding area where you wait for your number to be called.

US Department of State

Because they only allow you to take in your application papers and wallets, no one had the pleasure of their iPhone to distract them. This resulted in everyone fixating on the television screen playing a video called ‘America Is’. In the time I was there I was able to view the segments ‘America is Education, America is National Parks (my favourite), America is Diversity (or something similar), and America is Culture.

After 1.5 hours, two quick interviews, and a set of fingerprints the man told me “your visa is approved”. It was only then my heart stopped racing at a million miles an hour. I could tell I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

On the way home on the train I missed my station and decided to make a long detour to pick up my tent from the post office. The detour was slightly longer than expected and 6.2km later walking in the hot sun in black leggings and a heavy shoulder bag I made it home. Naturally as soon as I opened the tent it had to be assembled.

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With the help of my nephew Cooper we managed to set up the tent in about 10 minutes. The instructions say it will take less than a minute with practise! It’s extremely lightweight which means it’s also very fragile. With the small breeze in the backyard I felt like it was going to lift off the ground with both Cooper and I sitting in it. I think there may be a few extra set up steps I may have missed the first time around so I’m going to watch the online video for instruction. At this point the best part of the tent is that it fits back in it’s bag with ease – yes I am very easily pleased!

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My Moment Tarp Tent with optional crossing pole.

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Interpreting the ‘basic’ setup instructions.

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Step 1

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Step 2

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Step 2, continued…

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Cooper drumming with the stakes.

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Still unsure.

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First stake.

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Almost there.

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Finally found the door.

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Cooper inspects the interior.

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Just big enough for one three year old!

Daarn

I hit an all time equipment low today after letting my old friend from the backpacking store talk me into purchasing a 47L pack for the PCT. The only thing more ludicrous than this is the fact I actually thought it would work. There are two major things wrong with this pack: 1. I couldn’t even fit my gear for the weekend in it, let alone food for 7 days, a bear canister, stove, tent etc etc. The second thing wrong are the front pockets. No only do they look absurd, they actually push against my chest which I could barely stand after walking with it for 5 minutes.

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The 47L Aarn pack in question.

The only thing worse than buying the wrong pack, is not getting refunded for the pack. Oh sure I’ll get $370 worth of store credits. Just add them to the $150 store credits I have at Kathmandu. I’m going to start my own store selling credits to these places. I may just need to spend the week outside the store, offering to purchase people’s gear for them at a slightly discounted rate. It’s honestly ridiculous. So much for buying cheaper gear in the US. I’m now locked into purchasing substandard gear that’s made in China for about 5 times the price. Alas, anyone in the market for a 47L backpack?

Top of the Range

There’s been so much happening this week that I haven’t yet shared my latest training adventures from Mt Macedon on the weekend. This was a milestone for Katie and Amy as it was the longest hike they’d ever attempted in one day.

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Amy and Katie after 1.5 hours walking to the top of Mt Macedon.

The hike starts from Old Scout Campsite and heads straight up the mountain for around 3km. I was thankful of my new Black Diamond hiking poles which gave me a little extra push on the uphill. One of the many random thoughts that entered my mind during the climb was regarding coffee, and when I should start weening myself off caffine. I figure it will take a week for the withdrawal headaches to subside, and gladly reconciled with myself that the weening would not have to take place until I land in Vancouver.

With my head on the subject of coffee, I was drawn to the Top of the Range Café when we reached the end of the climb. I had the intention of stocking up on a few more carbs, but instead treated myself to a skinny cap which seemed like an absurd thing to be doing in the middle of the hike. Nevertheless it was divine and I would do it again gladly!

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Coffee comfortably in hand!

I knew the trail pretty well having completed the hike at least three times previously during my Kilimanjaro training. In some ways it’s good to know where you’re going, in another way you know all the steep parts coming up and all the sections you’re not looking forward to.

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Great views but the start of a VERY steep descent.

The weather was perfect, sunny but cool, and despite the usual stops for water, toilet breaks, lunch, general nature observations and the like, we made very good time. We even stopped to chat to a couple of ladies who were training for Everest Base Camp. I had my Runkeeper tracking our distance and timing and at the end of the trail determined we’d walked approximately 20kms in 8 hours including all of our breaks. Not too shabby at all!

Pack your bags! Your trip is booked.

Expedia

These very exciting words flashed up on screen after confirming purchase of my flight to Vancouver! The first leg of my journey is booked and I can’t help but feel sickly nervous and excited. I know it’s cliche but it really is starting to feel ‘real’! I’m actually still at work so I’m internalising my excitement but I’m itching to celebrate this milestone. I depart on April 1 at 8am from Melbourne and arrive in Vancouver at 7:30am the same day, with only one quick stop in Sydney. No complicated layover in the US… phew.

Speaking of the US I also have my visa interview booked on Tuesday having completed the online form and paying the $160 fee. I’m debating what evidence I should take to the interview to prove my trip. Perhaps Yogi’s handbook and a few printed pages from this blog will hopefully surfice. After the interview I’ll look at flights to San Diego. I’m debating driving down to Bellingham, WA to post my re-supply boxes and then fly to San Diego from there. Still much to plan and do!

First steps to enter the US

When Ben at the hiking store asked me if I’d had my visa interview yet, I answered ‘no’ whilst thinking, ‘do I need an interview to get my visa?’

This sparked some well deserved panic and led me to delve into the black hole of information regarding US visa applications. I seemed to stumble across the correct links without too much trouble and quickly learned I needed to pay the fee, fill in an online form, upload a photo, and book an interview at the consulate in Melbourne.

Here are the links:

How to apply: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/au/au-niv-typeb1b2.asp

Visa wait times: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4788.html?post=Melbourne&x=69&y=15

Paying for the visa: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/au/au-niv-paymentinfo.asp

Photo specs: http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/visaphotoreq/digitalimagereq/digitalimagereq_5327.html

The photo tool was my favourite exercise and I was extremely impressed they had such a tool to line up your self taken iPhone photograph and crop it to the exact size.

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Photo specs: Colour (24 bits per pixel) in RGB color space – 2″ x 2″, jpeg less than or equal to 240 kB (kilobytes).

I’m pretty sure you can’t pay the fee without filling in the form (just reverse steps 1 and 2 in the instructions), so I started the process of filling in the online form when I was suddenly stumped on the third page by the question ‘Address whilst in the US’. I tried to skip the page but it wouldn’t allow me to. What am I meant to write here? Address: Pacific Crest Trail, various locations between Mexico and Canada’?

My mum’s already on the case of contacting some friends of friends who live in San Diego (probably since I told her you need to get to the border early in the morning to avoid bumping into any illegal immigrants at the start of the trail), so perhaps I can enter their address to help me move the process along. Then I just need to hope the representative at the consulate agrees that hiking the PCT is a good enough reason for staying in the US for 5-6 months!

Second purchase in the bag

I went camping store crazy today spending around two hours talking to Ben from Backpacking Light on Somerset Place in Melbourne. I was super keen arriving just after the store opened at 9am. We chatted gear and hiking stories over breakfast and coffee before going through my long shopping list. I’m going to ponder for another week on most of the items I saw but decided I couldn’t leave empty handed and purchased the lightest trekking poles I’ve ever seen. At around $170 you’d expect them to be good, and compared to the $30 ones I took up Kilimanjaro these feel light as a feather! I’ve got another shopping date at the store next Saturday where I might buy my pack, wind jacket, sleeping mat and a few other items pictured below that I looked at today…

Aarn pack back

First time I’ve ever seen this kind of pack. It counter balances weight on the front and back of you with all the weight carried on your hips.

Aarn pack front

Front pockets of the pack. It feels pretty good but looks downright bizarre. I’m not sold on this just yet.

NeoAir

This air mattress was pretty damn comfortable, even though the PCT bible says you WILL get a puncture. It folds up incredibly thin like a piece of paper. Quite impressed!

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Incredibly thick NeoAir mattress made by Thermarest.

Thermo Pouch

This crazy little pouch holds your ziplock bags of dehydrated food or oats etc, add water, close the bag, and it stews inside ready to eat straight from the bag… no more dirty pots.

Trekking poles

These poles fold in a ‘Z’ shape and are honestly so light you barely feel like you’re holding anything.

Wind jacket

Montane wind-proof jacket. Super thin and lightweight, water resistant. Pricey but probably worth it.