Preparation, preparation, preparation (or lack of)
Putting one’s life on effectual hold whilst also getting ready for the hike has entailed an awful lot of admin. I have checklists upon checklists.
In Massive Summary:
1. US Visas
As Brits we need an extended stay travel visa (a DS-160) which allows a 6-month stay. $160 plus a lovely trip to the US Embassy for an ‘interrogation’ and we were all set!
2. Flights to the US
It never ceases to annoy me how much flight prices have increased in the last few years! That aside, we booked tickets with Virgin Atlantic to San Francisco to arrive 3 weeks before our start date. We will be staying with relatives in California so we can train and buy the bulk of our gear/ food supplies. This we be no 3-week holiday!
3. Secure permits – PCT & Canada
Both simple to do online. The Pacific Crest Trail Association limits the number of people on the trail and staggers start dates from the southern terminus in order to maintain the wilderness. Any thru-hikes or section hikes of more than 500 miles require a permit. This is free, but a donation to the PCTA which maintains the trail is encouraged.
For entry to Canada in the backcountry you will need to carry written permission from the Canadian Boarder Agency. The permit is free, and requires completion of just one form.
[We would have also required a Californian campfire permit if crossing through the state]
4. Decide route
Our PCT hike forms part of a longer US trip. We have the summer, so wanted to choose a section of the trail that fitted into our timescale. To decide I firstly consulted Half Miles’ PCT maps which are free to download. I knew that we would be too late in starting to realistically cross the desert sections. It would be too hot and have less reliable water sources. We like the idea of splitting the hike into 2 sections that we could later return and complete. Reading fellow hiker blogs convinced me that Oregon-Washington offered spectacular scenery and were a good bet for our situation.
5. Research & buy gear
Gear reviews!!! I have become slightly OBSESSED with reading gear reviews in a desperate attempt to carry the lightest pack possible. It’s a little over-whelming though. The reviews don’t all agree, and the choice kit costs some serious whack! How much of an ‘investment’ in this stuff do we need/ or should we really make? And do we really want to be ‘those 2 British Muppets with all the gear and no idea’?! Other thru-hiker blogs proved very useful here (see below).
Most of our gear was purchased through REI, the US-based outdoor cooperative who offer a 10% dividend on all purchases to members. They are also renowned for their ‘no quibbles’ return policy. Other sites we used were Campsaver, who run a lot of promotions, and Back Country, who have a very fast delivery.
6. US SIM card
Unlike in the UK there doesn’t appear to be a concept of no contract (PAYG) SIM cards in the US. We set on a monthly GoPhone package for $40 + tax from AT&T. It provides 3GB of data, free texts and domestic calls. This was based on requiring some data whilst on the trail, and online information which indicated AT&T will have the best area coverage.
7. Travel insurance
Boring but essential, especially in the absence of a US public health service. Companies really hike up the prices on any trips lasting over 30 consecutive days. They also take issue with hiking with ice axes. Luckily we hope to not require these – wishful thinking maybe?
8. Resupply strategy
9. Acquire some useful skills
Full disclosure: We have no upfront knowledge of camping or useful outdoorsy skills to rely on. This seemed amateur. I do not underestimate how vulnerable we will be in the middle of nowhere! Watching YouTube videos became an evening staple (sad I know). The stuff that people post on there can be priceless. Other niche sites such as Clever Hiker have great information, though I did feel a renewed sense of fear when watching the videos about bears and other hazards! I would recommend taking a first aid course. Many companies offer specific ‘wilderness’ training. REI stores also run a program of local training courses on various helpful subjects – just a shame we were not in the US for any of their dates!
My favourite PCT bloggers who go out of their way to give awesome advice are:
Kat Davis: Following The Arrows
Brad McCartney: Bike Hike Safari
Anna & Chris: Wandering The Wild