Musings

While hiking 130 days and over 2600 miles, we’ve come up with some interesting questions that we pondered on the trail. Since getting back into civilization, we’ve had some time to compile the data and look up answers on the internet to share with you.

Looking at the numbers:

We talked about our mileage on the trail more than any other topic, since we were always racing the clock to get to the next resupply point before our food ran out. After taking our time in the Sierras, we began to hike pretty consistantly, taking only one rest day in between Yosemite and Canada. If we plot out our mileage over the entire trail, I’m incredibly impressed at how linear our path was.

milages

Perhaps the most common question we’ve been asked since coming off the trail is how far we hiked each day, which obviously varied a ton throughout the trail. Here is a graph showing the distances we covered over the 130 days, including the 7 rest days and 30 days in which we hiked longer than a marathon (26.2 miles).

We can also break down our mileage by state to compare how we progressed along the trail.

California:
Miles: 1698.9
Days: 90
Rest days: 6
Average (total):18.9 miles/day
Average miles/day (not including rest days): 20.2

Oregon:
Miles:457
Days: 19
Rest days: 1
Average (total): 22.9 miles/day
Average miles/day (not including rest days): 24

Washington:
Miles:513
Days: 20
Rest days: 0
Average miles/day (total): 25.6
Average miles/day (not including rest days): 25.6

 

Most homeless we felt on the trail

Never in my life have I felt more homeless than the end of our stint with Henry and Jackson. After a 20 mile day from Dorothy Lake past the 1000 mile marker, we reached the pass at about 8 pm. We wanted to hitch down to Bridgeport but the odds of getting a ride were depleting faster than the stitching on my hiking boots. After a few unsuccessful hours of trying to flag down the occasional minivan of foreign tourists, we thought that we should start cooking in case we were stuck there overnight. We boiled water for instant rice and beans with dried veggies (all we had left after 6 days in the backcountry), spiced it up with a bit of mesquite seasoning, not a flavor combo I would recommend, and began to demolish the calories by the spoonful. We scraped the last of our dinner off the pavement and hoped that someone would eventually stop even though the sun had long since set behind the mountains.

After nearly three hours of unsuccessful hitching, we thought we would cut our losses and pitch a tent next to the highway, the odds would probably be better in the daylight anyways. As soon as we had set up the tent, Jackson yells down that a man would give us a ride to town for $40 each. We looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh at he thought of that much money. We told the man we only had $10 each and evidently he thought that was good enough to let us squeeze in the backseat.

We get down to Bridgeport around 11 pm and needed to find a place to crash quick, for it was hours past our bedtime and getting cold quickly. Perhaps the exhaustion (or mesquite flavored dinner) led our minds to the worst possible campsite: a cow pasture just past the edge of town near the highway. We hopped a fence and stealthily inflated our mattresses, lied down among the cow pies, and said goodnight to the stars. Waking up, we quickly realized everything we owned was now frozen to the ground from condensation, and that we had been sleeping mere feet from fresh feces. Yummy! We made our way to the bakery, loaded up on doughnuts and creme-filled goodies, drank copious amounts of coffee, and forgot about our vagabond experience for the moment.

What did we read along the trail?

Both Nick and I brought Kindle’s on the trail to read in our spare time, which was plentiful in California, but an incredibly rare treat through Oregon and Washington as we picked up our pace. These e-books were much lighter than regular books, and had a battery life of several weeks so we didn’t have to worry about charging them very often.

I read:

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played With Fire – Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson
Freakonomics – Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Bossypants – Tina Fey
Cutting For Stone – Abraham Verghese
Written In Stone – Brian Switek
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
The Help = Kathryn Stockett
The Strength in What Remains – Tracy Kidder
My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands – Chelsea Handler
Bad Science – Ben Goldacre
I also listened to the following books on tape:
The Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
20,000 Leagues Under the Seas – Jules Verne
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Around the World in 80 Days – H.G. Wells
How to Think Like a Freak –  Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper

How much have we sweat total?
I spent four years of high school on the varsity wrestling team, constantly trying to lose weight so I could wrestle in a lower weight class (not that it helped my win-loss record, but that’s another story). Everyone on the team was constantly obsessed with weight: how much they were eating, the amount of water they would allow themselves to drink, and how many pounds of sweat you could lose over the course of an exhausting practice.  On average I would lose 6-8 lbs of sweat during our 2 hour practices, while larger teammates could lose between 10 and 12. This was mostly due to the room being heated to 90 degrees, plus we were wearing sweatshirts and sweatpants the whole time.

More days on the PCT than I would care to remember were above 90 degrees, while some of them (like Seiad Valley and the Mojave Desert) were well above 100 degrees. Thankfully, we were not hiking in sweatsuits, but the rain-gear in Washington made us sweat similarly.

As a complete approximation, let’s say we hiked an average of 10 hours/day (many days were upwards of 13+) for 115 days (so we don’t include rest days and near-0’s). We were also not sweating nearly as hard during the hike as I did during a wrestling practice, so let’s average 2 lbs/hour of sweat. This makes sense since we were drinking about a liter of water per hour to rehydrate.

Doing the math, we sweat out a total of 115*2*11 = 2,530 lbs of sweat. That’s over a ton of liquid sweat. Imagine the smell of all that in a swimming pool somewhere, gross! Over the course of the trip, we sweat out our entire body weight over 17 times! How disgusting.

What if we walked 2600 miles in other directions?

Over the 130 days, we walked a distance of 2668 miles on the PCT, not to mention the side trips to Cirque Peak, Mt. Whitney, Clouds Rest, Cathedral Peak, as well as numerous restaurants and bathrooms. We started thinking about the distance we had covered, and what would have happened if we went other directions. For example, we could have drilled 2/3 of the way to the center of the earth (which has a radius of 3963 miles), or flown 1% of the way to the moon (a distance of 238,900 miles).

Had we started in Campo, CA and decided to walk east instead of north, we would have found ourselves in very sunny Miami:

maimiHad we instead tried to walk south, we would have found ourselves on a beach in Honduras:

hondOr, if we had practiced and practiced our swimming, we could have ended up snorkeling near a beach in Maui, Hawaii:

hawaii

 

What’s the best way to bathe along the trail?

There are many different ways to clean oneself along the PCT as the amount of running water changes. In southern California we opted for the creek dunking method:

Or, if you prefer, the bottle washing method:

 

Southern California

Southern California

Things became much more civilized in the High Sierras, when we could slide down snow banks and swim in partially frozen lakes at lunchtime:

Yosemite

Yosemite

Sierra Nevadas

Sierra Nevadas

We took a much more leisurely approach in northern California, preferring to let the river carry us downstream while we relaxed in the warm sunshine:

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

Northern California

In Washington, we had many beautiful lakes and creeks to swim in, but the weather didn’t always allow us to swim without freezing our butts off afterwards:

Southern Washington

Southern Washington

Northern Washington

Northern Washington

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