Hey, future PCT thru-hikers! My name is Picnic. I hiked the PCT in 2017 before breaking my foot, and here are some random thoughts and tips, in no particular order, to help you out for the first 700 miles of the PCT. I hope they are helpful.
⁃ If you are going into Cabazon for In-n-Out, get an Uber or Lyft. The hitch is notoriously difficult and there are plenty of Uber/Lyft drivers heading towards L.A., especially in the evenings. It costs around 12$ each way for a 4 seater, so 6$ total both ways per person if you fill the car.
⁃ Make sure to have some kind of flavoring to add to water for when there’s a particularly bad-tasting source.
⁃ A good rule of thumb for water is 1 liter for every 5 miles, plus an extra liter for dry camping.
⁃ Make a plan on how long you want to stay in each town before you go in. A zero day is a day where you don’t hike, usually in a town getting lodging for two nights. A nero is when you hike, go into a town, spend the night, and get back on-trail the next day. However, just because you’re taking one zero, does not mean a zero only takes one day off of your hiking. With the time it takes to get in and out of a town, a nero is actually more like one full day off-trail, while a zero is actually two full days. This is because even on days when you’re getting off/on trail and so still making miles, it’s cutting into your hiking day 3-4 hours by the time you escape the vortex- and you probably won’t find a ride to trail early enough to start at your normal time.
⁃ The campsite in Idyllwild is awesome. 3$ PCT rate and 1$ showers, private bathrooms and showers (not just stalls, luxury, I know). Mount Laguna Campground has a 3$ PCT rate as well.
⁃ The PCT community is not as perfect as people have made it out to be. There are plenty of assholes out there unfortunately, so don’t get too attached to your romanticized idea of the trail and trail families. If you find yourself in a bad bubble of people hike ahead or take a shorter day according to your relative paces. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t tons of wonderful people out there or that you will have a bad experience!
⁃ Take more short days/long breaks on-trail rather than spending extra time in towns. Trust me, it will be more memorable, luxurious, and enjoyable.
⁃ One of the reasons for the previous point is this: Zero days do not equal rest. You will still have to walk several miles in town doing chores and getting to restaurants and mentally it can be pretty exhausting.
⁃ Unless you have specific plans to stay in Big Bear City, send any mail to the Big Bear Lake post office. It’s right by the Big Bear Hostel and the center of town (Big Bear Lake is the bigger of the two). You don’t want to get stuck having to find a hitch to get your packages.
⁃ If you’re planning to stay at the Big Bear Hostel (or really any lodging in town) and are going to get there later in the day, call ahead and reserve a bed/room. The Big Bear Hostel fills up quickly during Nobo season.
⁃ A lot of hotels hike up their rates on the weekends. If you have a weekend start date you might find yourself hitting a lot of the towns on weekends, depending on your pace.
⁃ A lot of the post offices along the trail are not only closed on Sundays, but I was surprised that many of them are only open for pick-up or for only an hour or so on Saturdays. Make sure to check post office hours ahead of time as you’re going into a town!
⁃ Don’t worry about getting a trail name! It will come. Additionally, if you get offered a trail name that you don’t like, you don’t have to take it. I turned down almost a dozen before I got one that felt right.
⁃ People will be freaking out about a 40 mile dry stretch after Tehachapi. There’s actually a spring, but because many people rely on Guthooks to calculate the next source, and the spring is a mile or two off trail down a dirt road, it doesn’t show up in the app’s water source list (but it’s still on the app’s digital map). It’s on the water report and it’s a beautiful faucet.
⁃ Don’t start with too much food! This was something that a huge amount of people did starting from the border. The first major resupply for most people is Warner Springs at mile 109, where they will send a box. However, you probably won’t be super hungry (some people will though), and there are 3 places to do a smaller resupply, so you don’t need to worry about running out of food: the deli at Lake Morena at mile 20 (small store with well-stocked snacks and a cafe), the general store in Mt. Laguna at mile 40 which also sells backpacking food and meals, and several small stores in Julian at mile 77.
⁃ If you are on the lookout for Thai food on the trail, there are two restaurants that I know of in the first 700 miles. The one in Big Bear Lake was pretty disappointing in quality per my personal experience and the consensus of other hikers, but the one in Tehachapi (called Thai-hechapi, bonus points for the pun, amirite?) is really, really good.
⁃ Food is expensive. Why.
⁃ Just because you are hungry does not mean that bad food does not still taste bad.
⁃ Don’t burn your polenta.
⁃ Idahoan instant potatoes are infinitely better than Betty Crocker ones.
– People will tell you that rattlesnakes will always rattle and tell you where they are before you get close to them. Lies. Most of the rattlesnakes I saw didn’t rattle, and I almost stepped on many of them because they wear camouflage and so are invisible. Rattlesnakes are lazy and taking naps, and warning you is not their job and they are being paid minimum wage, you entitled hiker…
⁃ It can be easy to get touch-starved when you’re hiking, especially when you’re solo. I could count and remember every hug that I got on-trail. Hug your fellow hikers, hug trail angels! Hug dogs (with permission)! Trail angels, hug hikers! They feel really good. Human contact is a psychological need.
⁃ LNT, LNT, LNT!! Read up, especially if you are new to backpacking or come from a country or culture that doesn’t evoke LNT in the outdoors in the same holy, reverent way as we in the United States. Carry out thy toilet paper! Don’t ever use soap in the backcountry! Don’t wash dishes/clothes in or otherwise contaminate water sources!
⁃ If you have female anatomy down there, experiment with peeing standing up to help save your knees! Pee rags are awesome, don’t be afraid to try them.
⁃ The Mountain Hardware in Wrightwood sells Tyvek and gives out PCT pins to hikers. There is also a cafe there that I heard gives out PCT patches?
⁃ If your footwear is not working for you, maybe causing blisters or unreasonable achy feet, DO NOT BE HESITANT TO SWITCH THEM OUT. Even if your shoes are new and expensive. There are always shoes in hiker boxes and you might find a pair there. Altra Lone Peaks are popular for a reason and worth a shot- if the zero-drop isn’t your thing, you can get inserts.
⁃ The shuttle between Agua Dulce’s grocery store and Hiker Heaven runs on the hour. The grocery store there is extremely marked-up price-wise; consider resupplying 10 miles earlier in Acton, or Hiker Heaven runs shuttles to REI for 20$/person and there is a good grocery store right next to it. It’s probably worth it to send a resupply box there.
⁃ Day hikers can be pretty weird, opinionated and patronizing sometimes. Most of them are awesome though and they smell like laundry detergent??
⁃ If your are grumpy, feeling tired, slow, or generally bonking out, stop and eat something. Even if there are flies or mosquitos and you don’t want to stop. You will feel better.
⁃ Enjoy yourself. If you are reading this before starting your hike, and you are feeling anxious and stressed, it going to be okay. It is not going to be as hard in the ways you think it will be, but harder in other ways. The human mind is pretty good at forgetting physical pain. You will get into the swing of things pretty quickly, and you will be surrounded by plenty of other hikers who are all learning and experiencing this new thing with you. You are all just endogenous morphine addicts walking north together. Try to experience every day as much as you can, because you never know when your hike will end. Getting to Canada depends as much on luck as physical, financial, and mental struggles. You may break your foot tomorrow, or your ankle. It happens. Be as positive and kind a person to other hikers as you can be.
⁃ And remember: never set up camp on a red ant nest. You will have to pick them off of your groundsheet. No excuse.
PCT class of 2018, I hope to see you out there. :)