Since there are a lot of questions out there about the trail, I thought I’d try to answer some of the more common ones in one convenient place. You’re welcome. I’ll try to answer any questions, so send them my way (via comment here, personal message, singing telegram, jetpack-mounted zeppelin-based patratrooper—whatever pleases you).
When Are You Starting?
May 19th. This was a day later than my original plan, but grading and other business pushed it back. It gives me a bit more time to prep myself and the family for the journey.
Aren’t You Starting Kind of Late, Professor?
Indeed! This is why my itinerary is a bit off normal. Most hikers try to leave from the border by the end of April or the very beginning of May. In a drought year (meaning low snow in the Sierras), some leave even earlier—this year, several folks began in March! However, by leaving from my home on the start date, I’ll not only have a delightfully symbolic journey, but I will jump in about 300 miles from the border and head north. Once I reach Canada, I will make my way back south to the starting line and then finish with that last leg back home.
What Are You Going to Eat?
Carrying five months worth of food usually proves inconveniently bulky. There are two general strategies for resupply on the trail: sending resupply boxes ahead to town stops, or buying food as you go. (Most people actually use some combination of these two, in fact.) I had initially intended to plan out all the resupply, with something between 25 and 30 boxes to mail, but some extensive reading and discussion with past hikers convinced me that buying along the way would provide more flexibility and adventure. As a fellow who really likes planning ahead, it is also an act of faith and self-reliance. I will be shipping out boxes to a handful of places where resupply from trail towns isn’t practical.
Can I Send You Something Wonderful Along the Way to Make Your Journey More Awesome?
Thanks for asking! The answer is yes. Care packages and wee notes of support would always be more than welcome. On the Care Packages page, you will find a list of my intended stops, mailing instructions, and addresses for your convenience. You can take a look at the itinerary to see approximately where I’ll be at various points; I will be updating that as I go with more accurate information.
Will You Actually Be Reading the Comments Here?
Oh, absolutely. The tales from the blogs of previous hikers suggest very strongly that words of encouragement from friends, family, and followers prove of enormous value in the rough times on the trail—of which there will doubtless be a few.
What Will Be on Your Feet to Carry You Such a Distance? How Many Pairs of Shoes Will You Go Through?
It’s been a long series of experiments to get to this point in my footwear journey, and there’s every likelihood that it will continue to evolve on the trail as I find what works best, what stands the test of the terrain, and what new needs my clodhoppers will have as they change during the length of the trail.
At this point, I’m starting out with Altra Instinct zero-drop trail runners. Generally, seasoned thru-hikers recommend trail runners rather than hiking boots due to the lightness of the build (which means you have less weight to carry on your five million or so steps), breathability and porousness (useful for letting the feet breathe and drying out after water crossings). The “zero-drop” of these shoes means there is no change in height between the toe and the heel (unlike most running shoes), which fits in with my new minimalist approach. I’ve really liked them so far.
For socks, I’ve settled on Darn Tough hiker socks. I like the Injinji toe socks, but they are not holding up well. The Darn Toughs are light and seem to have the right amount of support, and they’re guaranteed for life, which is phenomenal. I will probably be carrying two pairs to switch between during the day, plus one pair of wool socks for sleeping and town stops.
If my hike holds true to historic trends, I may go through four to six pairs of shoes over the course of the journey; there may be some changes close to the start if the original pair needs adjustment, or if they don’t last as long as I’d like.
I am not taking any “camp shoes” because I am cheap and lazy. If it seems useful, I will most likely pick up the lightest, cheapest pair of flip-flops I can find.
Why Are You Resupplying in _____ City Rather Than _____ Town?
A lot of my choices about my resupply points on my itinerary are based on reading blogs and books about the trail. Since I haven’t been to most of these places, I’m making guesses. A lot of these come from responses by hikers in Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook, wherein about a score of hikers were asked about nearly every aspect of the trail and what worked for them and what they would do differently given the chance. I tended to pick the resupply points that seemed most popular among them (though there are always dissenting opinions).
The actual stops in some areas (where there are choices—Kennedy Meadows and Stehekin, for instance, don’t really have any alternates to choose) may change, depending on what I hear from others along the way or if I end up hiking with folks with a strong preference for one place over another.
To answer my first question down in the comments (Yay! Thanks, Frank!), I had heard that things were generally a bit nicer over in Mojave. My family is meeting me at Highway 58, so getting a ride was not an issue—I get to choose where I want to go, happily. It’s the same with my resupply in Bishop: most folks who stop to resupply at that point end up in Lone Pine or Independence, since getting a lift from the trailhead to the much-more-distant-but-more-bountiful Bishop and back is a chore, but since the family is meeting me, I shall force them to convey me with all haste to the more choice destination.
If This Is a “Pilgrimage,” Where Will You Be Formally Worshipping?
Ideally, this will be a continuous endeavor throughout the journey; I’m hoping the whole trek will be a worship experience in various tones and intensities. If I happen to be in a town over a Sunday, I may well see if there is a local service to attend, but most of my reflections and connections will be private ones for this sojourn.