Today is Day 122 of me hiking the PCT! Can you believe it? I’ve been out here hiking the PCT for the last four months!!
Life on trail has become my new “normal.” Life on the PCT is far from what most might consider normal and far from routine because there’s nothing really routine about being out here. Everyday is different. I hiketo different places. I see different things. I meet new people. I have drastically different experiences from one day to the next.
One day I’m swimming in a river. The next day, I’m climbing a mountain. The day after that, I’m dancing my way over a ridge line. It’s hard to imagine what “off trail” life was like before I started hiking the PCT back in April because it feels like a long time ago.
Even though everyday is very different out here, there is sort of a routine you start to follow out on trail, even on town day. Town days are the days you hike into town to clean up with a shower and a load of laundry and prepare for hiking the next section by resupplying on food and any gear you might need.
For those of you who are curious, here’s a glimpse of a day in the life of this PCT thru-hiker:
I’m in the habit of setting my alarm for 6am. I tend to wake up 15 to 20 minutes before my alarm goes off in the morning for two reasons – I have to pee and I don’t want my alarm to wake up everyone else around me.
Getting up at 6am on trail is considered pretty late amongst most hikers. I guess I’m more on the lazy side. I’ve tried setting my alarm for earlier in the morning, but always hit the Snooze button. Whenever I’ve tried to get up before six in the morning, I’ve found it to be dark and cold out and I’m usually still pretty dang tired. That’s what happens when I hike all day and then stay up until 11 at night journaling about my day. It’s a vicious, exhausting cycle. Yes, I journal about my day on trail every single night before I go to bed.
There have only been a handful of times I’ve been able to get out of my sleeping bag before 6am. Usually it’s either a town day or one of those crazy times in the desert when someone in my trail family wanted to start hiking before sunrise and it got hot out. I think we tried doing this twice.
I decided early on in my hike I’d rather get an extra hour of shut eye in the morning than get up super early. Grit loves getting up early (we’re talking 4 or 5am!) and being on trail before the sun comes up. Since he hikes at a slower pace than I do and is the only person left in my trail family, I can sleep in until six in the morning and am able to catch up to him around lunch time or right before we stop to camp for the evening. It’s a win-win for the both of us.
Breaking Down Camp
Grit always says the saddest sound is the air coming out of my inflatable sleeping pad. Once I’ve decided to start my day, the first thing I do is deflate my sleeping pad. Then I deflate my inflatable pillow. Afterwards, I get out of my sleeping bag liner and roll it up, while still sitting in my warm sleeping bag. After the liner is rolled up and stuffed in its bag, I get out of my warm sleeping bag and put on a pair of socks. I then roll up my sleeping bag and stuff it in it’s waterproof stuff sack. Then I roll up my inflatable sleeping pad and stuff it in it’s sack. Here comes the hardest part of my morning – unzipping my tent, putting my shoes on, going to the bathroom and then packing up everything back into my pack. Even on the warmest days, the first time out of the tent in the morning is always very cold.
When I first got on trail, I thought I couldn’t function without having a warm, hearty breakfast first. Hah! That lasted for maybe a week.
Honestly, the last thing I want to do in the morning is get out my stove, boil water, wait for food to cook, eat, clean dishes and then finish packing up. Once I get out of the tent, I want to put on my pack and go so I can warm my body up.
These days, breakfast is really simple. In the desert, it was two Rice Krispies Treats. In the Sierra, it was a package of Strawberry Pop Tarts. Now, it’s been a couple of buttery croissants, a couple dinner rolls or a cinnamon roll. In Trout Lake, it was half of a small mixed berry homemade pie and some fruit I picked up in town or from the hiker box. What I snack on for breakfast depends on the resupply options I had in the previous town.
If I’m in town having breakfast, I splurge because breakfast is truly my favorite meal of the day. I’ll go for my favorites – two eggs cooked medium, bacon, hash browns, wheat toast and either biscuits and gravy and/or a slice of French toast or a pancake.
Hiking On Trail/Taking Breaks
As a day hiker, I was never much of a break taker. My objective was always to get to the top of whatever I was hiking up or to the lake I was hiking to as fast as possible. Then I’d enjoy a leisurely hour break at the top or at the lake and then turnaround and head back to the car.
Thru-hiking is a much different experience. Instead of turning around and going back the way you came from, you continue heading forward, on down the trail. There’s no car waiting for you at the end of the day to take you home. The trail and your tent are your home. All you do during the day, everyday, is hike and hike and hike. You take breaks when you need to and then you hike some more.
The hardest adjustment I had to make on the PCT was giving myself permission to take breaks. At first, I didn’t want to take any. I felt guilty. I’d rather push through and get to my end destination for the day as quick as I could. Once I met up with my trail family who loved to take breaks (KitKat, I’m looking at you!) and started taking breaks with them, I learned to appreciate the breaks. Breaks are a time to relax, regroup, share stories with those you’re hiking with and bond with one another over the experiences you’re having on trail. It’s also a great time to meet other hikers on the trail too.
Where I take breaks on trail always depends on where we’re hiking, the type of terrain we’re hiking in and what we have coming up.
If the terrain is especially challenging, the weather is extremely hot or my pack is feeling more heavy than normal, usually the first two days out of town, I’ll stop and take a break whenever my body needs it. Sometimes when I’m really struggling, I find all I need is a little 15 minute or half hour break and then I’m good to go.
If there’s a big climb out in the morning, I’ll plan to take a break at the top. Depending on how long and steep the climb is, this can be a quick morning snack break, a second breakfast or lunch.
For a late second breakfast or lunch, I always try to stop at a lake, river or the top of a pass. If nothing scenic is coming up, I’ll plan to stop at a water source. This way I can take a break and fill up/filter water at the same time.
If there’s a climb at the end of the day, I’ll have my dinner break at a water source before the climb. This is where I’ll cook and fill up on water because the last thing I want to do after a big climb, especially at the end of the day, is cook AND set up camp. Then when I get to the top of the climb, I leave myself the option to “dry” camp on top of whatever it is I climbed up. Dry camping means setting up for camp that night without having a water source nearby. It also means having to plan accordingly, based on your own water needs, whatever they might be.
The only thing that would throw any of these planned stops off course is Trail Magic. I could have a tentsite or specific place in mind to take a break, but if there’s Trail Magic, I’ll always stop and re-evaluate my plans later. Let me repeat: I ALWAYS stop for Trail Magic.
On town days, I usually try to breeze through the trail as fast as possible. The number of breaks I take, if any, all depend on how many miles I have to hike and if there’s a hitch required for getting into town. It’s amazing how fast I can hike when I know there’s a shower, laundry and an ice cold root beer waiting for me.
Setting Up Camp/End of the Day
My favorite part of the day is getting to the tentsite and setting up camp. There’s such a satisfying feeling knowing I’ve put in a significant amount of miles for the day, seen some amazing views, met a few cool people along the way and now get to set up camp for the night and reflect back on the day from my sleeping bag.
The first thing I do is make sure the tentsite is an already established tentsite and that there’s enough room for both Grit and I to set up our tents without disrupting the nearby, natural landscape. If we’ve met anyone cool along the way, I’ll make sure the tentsite is big enough for them to camp with us too.
Secondly, I’ll set up my tent. This means figuring out if there’s a downhill slant so I can decide which way to lay my head in my tent.
Once the tent is up, I set up my sleeping system. I consider myself a “sleeping princess” when it comes to my sleeping system. It’s probably a bit more extravagant than most.
For my sleeping system, I start with laying down my Therma-Rest Z-Lite pad. Then I blow up my Therma-Rest NeoAir inflatable pad. Afterwards, I throw my sleeping bag on top of the inflatable pad along with my silk sleeping bag liner and inflatable Cocoon Travel Pillow. There’s lots of steps with setting up and breaking down my sleeping system, but it’s totally worth the time and weight in my pack. My thought is if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I won’t be able to hike well the next day. I’ve always been able to sleep like a baby in my tent out here on trail, unless the zipper on my tent stops working and it’s an especially cold evening, but that’s a different story for another day.
After my sleeping system is all set up, I take my electronics bag out of my pack and put it next to my sleeping bag so I can charge my electronics before going to bed. I then arrange my pack inside my tent so I have easy access to it and the contents inside when I wake up in the morning.
At this point, I’ll eat dinner if I haven’t already or have a snack. I’ll take pictures of my tentsite if it’s especially epic that evening. Then I take off my shoes, give my feet a baby wipe bath if I’m not near a water source to soak them in, put on my sleeping socks, plug my electronics into my battery pack for charging, get into my sleeping bag liner and sleeping bag, journal about the details of my day, look at the photos and videos I took that day and eventually fall asleep.
On the rare occasion I have cell service at my tentsite, I’ll text family and friends, log into my social accounts, post a photo on Instagram and maybe write a blog post and post it.
Most of the time, once I get into my sleeping bag for the evening, I have just enough energy to jot down the highlights of my day in my journal and then it’s lights out.
This is about the closest to a routine I’ve come to out here on trail and even then, everyday is completely different out here. That’s probably one of my most favorite parts about hiking the PCT – no day is ever the same, we rarely camp in the same place and we’re always traveling to some place new.