Discover more from Gib’s 2023 Pacific Crest Trail backpack trip updates
A Day in the Life
We're enjoying a Zero day in Palm Springs after 12 days and 151 miles on the trail (from Campo to the Paradise Valley Cafe). I'll bring you up to date and describe a typical day on the trail.
We hiked 55 miles over the last four days. Our plan was to take it easy with three 15-mile days plus a final six-mile day timed to get us to the Paradise Valley Cafe to meet Greg and Cathy Long for lunch. But we extended one day to twenty-one miles to get to water, otherwise we’d need to “dry camp,” which means lots of nuts and ProBars for dinner instead of a hot, freeze-dried meal.
To give you a sense of our experience, here’s our typical day:
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6 am: Wake. Change from night-time clothes (long underwear top and bottom) to day-time pants, shirt, down jacket, and GoreTex shell. (Temperatures have ranged from 28 to 60 degrees.) Roll up air mattress, stuff sleeping bag, deflate air pillow and once the tent is empty, fold up the tent. I pack the tent while Kristen cooks.
6:30 am: Filter water. I use two 3-liter gravity filters to purify enough water so that when we finish breakfast, we have 1 extra liter for Kristen (2.2 pounds) and 2 liters for me (4.4 pounds).
6:45am: Breakfast prep. Kristen boils water for coffee then adds hot water to our homemade, homemade whole grain hot cereal with powdered whole milk, dried fruit and nuts, and toasted coconuts. (About 400 calories each.)
8:00am: Pack up and start hiking. With 6 days of food, plus water, my backpack weighs close to 35 pounds. Kristen carries her gear plus tent, kitchen equipment, and a one-pound medical kit. Her backpack consistently weighs around 28 pounds. If there’s only a few days of food left, she gives me her water along with her chair. The goal is for me to carry about 20% more weight, as I’m 20% heavier. With only a day to two of food, my pack weighs less than thirty pounds.
10am: First snack. We keep a variety of snacks in our backpack waistband: dried mangoes, cheddar cheese Goldfish, honey sesame crackers, hazelnuts, pistachios, etc. The goal is to eat about 400-600 calories via snacks each day.
12:30pm: Lunch. Typically, two packets of almond butter spread over Kristen’s homemade German seeded rye bread (400-600 calories). Filter more water, as needed. Within thirty minutes, begin to hike again.
What hiking is like. Sometimes we talk with each other, or chat with others we meet on the trail. I just finished my first Audible book (“American Dirt”). Hiking is meditative, the views are stunning, and the hours fly by faster than you imagine. Navigation is super easy as the PCT is very well-marked.
5:00pm: Set up camp. We hike about 15-20 miles/day and, depending on terrain, we average more than two miles/hour. Kristen sets up the tent, and I filter water. We each set up our sleeping pads and inflatable mattress pads/pillows. We set up our chairs and change into nighttime gear. We eat more snacks, then daydream about beer, chips and salsa.
6:00pm: Dinner. A freeze-dried meal (about 400 calories each). We often augment the meal with mashed potatoes (200 calories each). For dessert, Jello pudding! Kristen adds water to a pre-mixed Jello/powdered milk combination and sprinkles shaved almonds and coconuts over the top. (400 calories each.)
Pee and poop. It’s straightforward to step to the side of the trail to pee. Kristen has a “pee cloth”— a Kula cloth she got from Jenny Sherman which is specially treated, so it doesn’t smell. For poop (early morning) you dig a 6-8 inch “cathole” with a tiny lightweight aluminum shovel, use a baby wipe, then store the used wipe in a Ziploc bag which we empty when we arrive in trail towns.
Total calories/day. Around 3,500 which we’ll augment as my six-pack abs slowly emerge. (I’m half joking— I lost 3-5 pounds so far.)
8:00 pm: In the tent. Listen to Audible. Fall asleep by 9 pm. Curse Audible for not having an “Are you awake?” feature when I wake at 1 am to discover my book is still playing. Wake up on and off until 6 am to begin the day again.
Kristen and I are in transition from traditional backpacking to thru hiking. With traditional backpacking, you take the time to enjoy the scenery, choose the very best campsite, and meander off the beaten path. With thru-hiking, you work to get from point A to B as efficiently as possible.
Every thru hiker makes calculated decisions about how much/little to carry. An ultralight hiker wears all their clothes on their body (no extra clothing in their pack), cold soaks their food (no stove), and uses their hiking poles and tarp to form a very lightweight “tarp tent.” Their fully loaded backpack, including food and water, can weigh as little as twenty pounds. The maxim: “Light is fast,” allows thru-hikers to cover more miles with less punishment on their body. While Kristen and I “dawdle” for two hours in the morning, ultralight backpackers leave camp within thirty minutes of waking up and try to achieve “ten by ten”— ten miles by ten o’clock in the morning. That’s not how we roll - yet? We’re trying to relish the experience.
Kristen and I are more on the luxury continuum. (We’re sixty, dammit!) We each carry a one pound chair, have insulated coffee mugs, a kitchen kit that includes both a whisk and serrated bread knife, a “real” three pound tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur 2) and extra clothes for when it gets really cold. And I mentioned the inflatable pillow, right? But every week or two we re-unite with our “bounce box” which shadows us from one post office box to the next, all along the PCT.
Today, we each dropped our extra headlamps into the bounce box, and I threw in my down pants, a neck gaiter, my gaiters, my long underwear top, and forty feet of lightweight rope. It’s easier to throw stuff in the bounce box — “I could always change my mind”— but I know I’ll never pull these things out again. Like sorting through piles in my closet in Bend, I occasionally ask myself, in classic Marie Conde voice, “Does it give me joy?” In many cases the ounces outweigh the value.
This past week we met a nice French-Canadian couple from Quebec. They’re a little younger than us, a little faster, and their backpacks are clearly smaller. We camped near them one night and, the next morning, they suggested a camp site 16 miles down the trail. We agreed to meet them there. We started together but at the first stream crossing they charged through the knee-deep water while we stopped to change into our water shoes (we’re sixty dammit!). We never saw them on the trail that day, but when we rolled into the proposed camp site at four in the afternoon, there was a note taped to a branch:
Pudding and KarMMa. No water here. We’re going 5 miles further to the next stream. Join us. (3:30 pm. Monday, 4/3.)
Lucy and Luke.
Kristen and I decided to press on. It was cold, we had very little water, and dry camping sucks.
Over the next hour and a half we flew down the trail. I know we approached three miles/hour. At that pace I fall into a ridiculous half-run, half-walk gait. (My stride is mysteriously short compared to Kristen’s.) When we reached mile 21, Luke and Lucy’s packs were on the ground, still unpacked. It was obvious they hadn’t been there long. When they saw us, they paid us a surprisingly nice backhanded compliment:
“You guys are fast with those big packs!”
Over time, we’ll slowly embrace the “light is fast” mentality but we’re clearly a work in process.
Tomorrow, Friday the 7th of April, Greg Long will drive us north from Palm Springs to Agua Dulce where we hope to hike two hundred miles north to Walker’s Pass — the gateway to the High Sierras. In two weeks, our nephew, Bryden Pearson, will pick us up and shuttle us south to the San Bernadino mountains.
Tonight I’m doing a sun dance— by the light of the full moon— with hopes that warm weather will melt some of the record-breaking snowfall. Our strategy is simple: Search for dirt, then hike it. With high temperatures forecasted in the next few days, we hope more dirt will slowly present itself.
I’ll close with a juicy quote from a writer from Walden Pond in my hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. (It was posted on a placard at Mary’s Camp, six miles north of Paradise Valley Cafe.)
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau
Pudding and KarMMa
(Gib & Kristen)
P.S. For more photos, you can also follow us here:
Click here for our updated itinerary.
PPS. Past PCT essays:
March 25, 2023: “Day One: Introducing our PCT hike”
March 26, 2023: “The Fears We Carry”
April 1, 2023: “Our First 100 Miles!”
April 7, 2023: “A Day In the Life”
April 15, 2023: “Deserts & Bears & Wind (Oh My!)”
April 22, 2023: “Luxury Light Thru Hiking”
May 4, 2023: “Demystifying the PCT”
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