I had to laugh when I got home last night and Donna told me she considered buying me a stun gun for the Mexican border. Not only was she concerned for my safety, but also her own. Luckily when she spoke with a member of the PCTA they were able to assure her that there have been no incidents with hikers and illegal immigrants at the border. Phew! The most interesting stat he passed on was that 1000 people will be hiking the trail this year! Huge! Wikipedia may have to boost their 300 a year average.
Today was the first of a two-day Wilderness First Aid Course taught by the NOLS institute at the REI store in Encinitas. We were told at the beginning that we were going to get ‘up close and personal’ with our class mates and were quickly shown the difference between ‘appropriate’ touching and ‘creepy’ touching. I was put in a group with Dave and Phil, two awesome dudes who were up for a good laugh every time we had to practise a new scenario on one another.
There was a lot to digest but I have to say I learned a great deal and feel a lot more confident heading out into the wilderness on my own. We learned a lot about spinal and head injuries, shock, bleeding and the basic data that needs to be collected by a first responder such as recording vital signs and assessing the Mechanism of Incident (MOI). They also threw in some fake blood and stage makeup to spice up the different scenarios we were thrown into.
When I mentioned I was hiking the PCT there was a murmur of acknowledgement from the entire group, and a lot of people came up to me afterwards to ask questions. The more I hear about it from people who have experienced the trail first hand, the more real it becomes. Dave and Phil have promised to follow me on the journey via my blog. I also bumped into Sherria, the girl who served me at AT&T yesterday, first at Starbucks this morning and then at Walmart after the course. She was still laughing and shaking her head at the whole endeavour and said she can’t wait to hear how it goes.
I had originally planned to spend Saturday evening experiencing the nightlife of downtown San Diego, instead I went on a mission to find HEET for my camping stove. Unfortunately the first Walmart I visited was out of the yellow antifreeze bottle. After making it halfway into San Diego I decided I couldn’t rest until I’d secured this flammable liquid and was lucky enough to find it 11 miles away down the M805. I was also lucky that Walmart stays open until 11pm on Saturdays!
I wanted to treat myself to some kind of celebratory meal following the successful Walmart expedition. I had grand plans of burger restaurants or steak houses but ended up at a quiet little roadside Subway. Still, this rates as luxury compared to what’s stashed away in my food sack for Monday!
Once I had the keys to my car I was set! A beautiful little Silver Chevrolet, automatic, whatever the name, mini beast! With the latest pop tunes pumping I was onto the motorway heading towards my first mission of the day, a US SIM card!
This mission proved more painful than I anticipated. Verizon apparently only issues SIM cards to ‘Verizon specific iPhones’, whatever they are. They suggested AT&T who presented their own hurdles for non US citizens wanting data connection. To cut an hour long experience short, with the kindest salespeople of all time I should add, I had to pay a $500 deposit, which I’ll get back in 12 months in the form of a cheque to a US only address. This was just the beginning. Following that the cheapest plans were only offered to Android, again, what the? So for me, a non US citizen iPhone user who wants some kind of data plan, I got stung with an $85 per month (before tax) plan plus an additional $36 connection fee. I was dumbfounded but left with little options if I hope to somehow continue this blog and maintain some contact with the outside world. Most of the sales reps overheard the chatter and were fascinated and horrified about what I was planning to do. Nevertheless they plan to follow the blog intently!
The next stop was REI where I was ready for a lie down to test out the various sleeping mats on offer. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad was a clear winner with it’s unique Z fold design and egg-carton pattern. I also purchased an Arcteryx synthetic jacket for the cold and a belt (plus the membership fee of $20).
After a horrifically expensive afternoon I welcomed a walk along the beach and some quick site seeing. I tried to find HEET fuel for my stove and started to think Yogi was making the stuff up as no one knew what the hell I was talking about. Then after talking to Donna I realised that HEET is an antifreeze liquid for cars, and in San Diego cars don’t freeze! So no wonder I received so many blank looks at gas stations!
Today I said goodbye to civilian clothing and discovered the comfort of my hiking gear for the first of 150 days. BJ picked up my suitcases which I’ll see when I make it back to Vancouver. Now all that is left is my backpack and 14 neatly packed food boxes.
Yesterday was packed full of Skype calls, last minute gear purchases and my final appointment with Igor. He once again expressed concern regarding my solo travel and asked quite seriously if I was planning on taking a gun. I laughed while he shook his head and muttered “your poor parents”.
Last night in a ceremonial kitchen christening I was given my trail name by Sarah. As a past PCT thru-hiker she took the honour of choosing a name that will represent me on the trail. This name is to be Mukmuk.
As Sarah’s note tells the story, Mukmuk was a sidekick to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic mascots. The Olympics brought me to Vancouver and introduced me to Sarah. This was the beginning. On our travels throughout British Columbia, planning out the route for the torch relay, Sarah would tell me stories of her experience on the PCT. I honestly wasn’t even able to comprehend it back then, and I honestly thought she was crazy. But as crazy as it sounded, she had planted the seed.
Tomorrow morning we set off early for Bellingham, WA with my life on my back and food ready for posting. It’s not everyday people cross the border with the food they plan to eat for the next few months packaged into boxes so hopefully we won’t come across any trouble. Once we’re done at the post office it’s off to the airport and on to San Diego, CA! We’re almost there!
Holy crap I don’t even know what just happened. One minute my food is spread all over the floor with a stack of boxes as high as the roof sitting in the kitchen, the next minute Sarah comes downstairs and everything’s packed up and boxed.
In the chaos I’ve totally lost track of which boxes have extra toothpaste and cleaning wipes, some have vitamins, others have extra mash potato. It’s nice to know there’ll be an element of surprise to it all!
I’ve also just come to the realisation I have no food to eat anymore. After 6 days of hiker meals I was drooling at lunch for something fresh, I haven’t even eaten bread. The focaccia I ate tasted like heaven! Boy town stops are going to be gargantuan!
I’ve packaged my first 14 boxes up to Sierra City plus one extra for Cascade Locks, as Sarah is heading there in June and will drop it off for me. All of my extra food is in a big box heading to Echo Lake, which I’ll take to South Lake Tahoe and prep up to Shelter Cove Resort. Then in Ashland I’ll prep for the rest of the hike.
I’m a bit brain dead after only a Clif Bar for dinner and feel a bit lost with all my food suddenly gone. I now need to create sending labels with addresses for each box and prepare the giant butterfly identifier stickers with my ETA for each box.
Now the final focus is on gear. I think I’ll send a second pair of shoes to Kennedy Meadows and leave the third pair with Sarah. The most important item I’m still missing is my water filter, but the guy at MEC talked me out of getting the one I wanted today. In fact he almost talked me out of hiking altogether. I have officially reached my limit of gear talk. I think I would have lost my mind if I went to the kick off. Note to other hikers: please don’t talk to me about gear of any shape or size. Food talk should also be limited. 🙂
I took two cold and flu tablets my friend Jill gave me last night and struggled to drag myself out of bed at 10am this morning. I was up until 1am playing with my new SPOT device (you can read more on my Location page), and Sarah came down to help with my prep. I was planning around an hour or more to rip up my books and sort maps into bundles, but in the blink of an eye Sarah had torn up the data and Yogi’s book and all I needed to do was seperate Halfmile’s maps.
I was up just in time to cook some oatmeal on the stove and catch a ride to Superstore with Sarah’s partner Steve and the kids. I was a pro this time, whizzing up and down the aisles to stock my fast depleting pantry!
This afternoon has been non stop food prep. I’ve been putting off dinner meals long enough and needed to test out my mac and cheese dish. This little delicacy has macaroni, powdered orange cheese, soy protein, bacon bits, salt and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
I filled the pot slightly too high and burned the bottom on the pot (again), but the result was actually very tasty!
I’m now in the process of making as many bags as I can of this, making sure to separate the parmesan in glad wrap to add at the end!
I’ve been told I’m obsessive compulsive when it comes to packing, which is why on a Friday afternoon I’m zipping up my suitcase for a Monday morning flight. My OCD did not alert me to the fact I can only check in one 23kg bag on the flight until just recently, which of course threw my idea of what I was taking into slight disarray.
The contents of my pack so far… still missing a significant amount!
I’ve decided to put my pack and all of the contents pictured above in a suitcase to keep it protected and to hopefully squeeze more items inside. I’ll then take a smaller bag as carry on with all of my non-hiking clothes – the ones I won’t set fire to at the end of the trip.
Suitcase with pack and hiking gear…
Suitcase with everything else shoved on top!
I expect to be in pretty good shape by the end of today and will start going over my TO DO list again tomorrow. Being Easter weekend most people are off for a few days so I’ll have some time to get into the groove of being on my own for five months. Am strongly considering putting my e-reader back on the list of things to take!
At least the cat’s around to help me pack!
I finally cooked a real outdoor hiking meal today in the backyard using my stove. The wind was pretty fierce, blowing my measuring cup and plastic bag across the garden. Good training. I used a recipe I thought of walking to the train station yesterday, nothing fancy, just oats, coconut, cinnamon and LSA. I would also add powdered soy milk and some kind of sweetener (coconut sugar?) for the real gig.
Highly technical ingredients.
I mixed up one cup of oats, 1/4 cup coconut, a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon and some LSA. Then I took all the elements into the garden for the test run.
I’ve nailed lighting the stove at least.
Waiting for the 1 1/2 cups water to boil.
I’m still trying to get through it all. One cup is WAAAAY too much and considering I’ll have to carry out any uneaten leftovers I’ll be going with 1/2 cup moving forward. The other very helpful lesson I learned was when I sealed my container to shake up the water and contents, boiling water and oat juice came seeping out the sides spraying all over me. Won’t be repeating that.
My leaky container after a good shake.
The final product.
Conclusions? Very easy to prepare and package but I feel pretty disgusting after eating it. Sugar or sweetener needed and keep up the variety, I can see this getting old very quickly.
It’s been quiet on the blog front this week as my To Do list slowly depletes and I become more and more anxious to get out there and put this planning into action. I’ve been churning through the mundane doctor, dentist checkups and focussing on strengthening and resting my back. This weekend was the first since January that I didn’t get out and hike, partly to rest my back and to focus on the important people I’ll be leaving behind.
One more week to go. My list of things to do while I’m still in Australia is minimal, but the items left have been sitting there for weeks:
– PLAN FOOD
– advise bank I’m travelling OS
– suspend health insurance
– look up best mobile phone network in the US
– put music on iPhone
– print docs including travel insurance, flight itineraries etc
– review and action hiking notes from Sydney
– figure out what the current snow levels are and what they mean for the trip
– get fat
I’m currently enjoying the last point on the list while reminding myself to eat GOOD fats, so I’m not sure the burgers, chips and ice creams I’m consuming apply.
All part of the training regime.
I am getting nervous, but more so impatient. I need to get out there now, unemployment and too much time to focus on the trip is driving me a little stir crazy. The pressure will be on in Vancouver to get my food purchased, dehydrated, sorted, packaged and boxed along with my maps and trail notes in the 10 days I’m there. This truly is the quiet before the storm.
With exactly one month to go until I step foot on the PCT and only two weeks until I depart Australia, things are starting to fall into place. Today I received two essential items for the trip, my permit to hike and camp along the PCT and, my thought to be missing Caldera Cone stove.
PCT Long Distance Permit
The fourth in a line of permissions and permits (Entry into Canada via the PCT, California Campfire Permit & US tourist visa) the PCT Long Distance Permit allows me overnight access anywhere along the trail and permission to travel on alternative trailheads to reach resupply towns.
The permit came with a letter from the Pacific Crest Trail Association, outlining some of the fire regulations and their backcountry best practise, whilst congratulating me on my decision to hike the trail. The letter was inspiring, ending with a line I thought really summed it up: “the Pacific Crest Trail exists because people like you have translated their passion into action.”
Trail Designs Caldera Cone stove set.
The stove has arrived just in time to start practising some basic cooking in conjunction with developing some kind of meal plan. It’s extremely light weight, due to the fact the pot is small enough to fit in a dolls house and the rest of the pieces fit inside a plastic caddy which doubles as a cup and bowl. I had read on many blogs that you can make your own similar stove at home using an aluminium baking pan as a windshield and a soda can to burn fuel in. I didn’t expect Trail Designs would ACTUALLY make the burner system out of soda can!
My weeny non stick cooking pot (pictured right).
Trail Design’s alcohol stove made from a Diet Ginger Ale can.
Aside from downloading topographic maps on my iPhone, mending holes in my tent mesh, purchasing random bits of gear on mum and dad’s credit card, creating complex resupply spreadsheets, practising my daily back and glute exercises from the Osteo and planning my first ever solo overnight hike, my time in Sydney has been quite relaxed.
My new French Foreign Legion style hat for the desert.
I am suppressing some pretty major one month to go anxieties which vary between ‘I’m almost there’ to ‘holly crap there’s still so much to read, plan and do’. In the last week I’ve settled on a start date for the trail (Thursday April 18), secured a lift to the Mexico/US border (thanks to Don and Donna in San Diego), finally purchased travel insurance from World Nomads (who did confirm they would insure me for the trail), booked a car in San Diego, secured pick up from Vancouver airport (thanks BJ), educated myself about bear safety, and hiked with my ULA pack for the first time.
On Friday mum and I walked from their apartment in Manly to the Spit Bridge (approx 7.5km) along the Manly Scenic Walkway. I carried my pack with about 4L of water, tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and clothing, weighing close to 8kg.
My lower back was still giving me grief so the walk there was quite painful, requiring two Nurofens to keep me going. The scenery was beautiful though and we past at least a dozen lizards along the way. It took us 2.5 hours to get to a little cafe near the Spit Bridge where dad brought us a homemade wrap for lunch (won’t be getting this kind of service on the trail) and we enjoyed a COFFEE (still not sure how I’m going to live without it).
Dad drove mum home and I tackled the return journey solo. I used hiking poles going back which made an incredible difference to my speed and the pressure on my back, getting me home in 1.5 hours. Tomorrow I’m going to set off on a two-day, 34km hike starting from Thornleigh to Cowan.
Stunning views looking back towards Manly.
The ULA pack and solar panel in action.
Mum and I ready for some serious hiking alongside shirtless joggers and mums with strollers.