(INTRO) --- I posted a thread in the trainhopping forum last week and mentioned my experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail introducing me to this community of vagabonds, travelers, wanderers, and free spirits. Several hours later I got a response from a fellow member recommending me to explain my experience thru hiking to the STP community. I did a little digging and found there isn't really much on the pct/at/cdt in this community however I found a couple threads with questions about these trails and figured I'd give it a shot since my experience definitely defined me into who I am today, challenged me beyond what I thought possible, and amazed me beyond my wildest dreams. I'd love to share my story with the community so I hope you enjoy....

First of all, to explain the entirety of my 162 day hike in one thread would be far too ambitious and I'd be writing this post until December, so I'll do my best to tell the highlights and sum up the hike the best I can in a kind of stream of consciousness manor, and open this up for discussion if people have questions or comments; I'd love to chat....

I had heard of the Pacific Crest Trail through some friends in early college, and remembered reading a book on the Appalachian Trail when I was younger; I had always loved getting way out there in the outdoors growing up, earned my Eagle Scout after years and years of backpacking/camping/cycling/etc. and wanted to open myself up to a bit more of a challenge. I've always been drawn to the west so I ended up hiking a section of the PCT for 3 weeks with my girlfriend at the time, and fuck man... I fell in love. With the community. With the mountains. With the forests. It was like a dream. I knew after my first steps on the trail I had to do the whole thing. One year later and after countless months of research and preparation during my junior year in college I was ready. I set off on my trip April 28, 2018, and since then was forever changed.

Day one, I flew to San Diego, CA and arranged to stay with two of the most generous people I've ever met - 'Scout' and 'Frodo' own a house in the hills of SD and drove to the airport to pick me up, hosted me at their house along with TWENTY SIX other hikers from around the world who would be starting their adventure, fed us three square meals, housed us in their backyard, and drove us over 30 miles to the Southern Terminus in Campo, CA. Keep in mind these people do this EVERY DAY, the entire summer, for over 15 years now. They do not accept donations or charity of any kind, and do it because they love the community and love being around hikers. This was the first taste of the endless generosity and humility I would see from the hundreds and hundreds of people I would meet. I ended up hiking with several of the people I had stayed at Scout and Frodo's with the night before, and would end up hiking the entire trail (more or less) with them. We still talk every day to this day, and visit each other from time to time since we all live in different parts of the world. Friends for life.

The desert is hot. Fucking. Brutal. First thing you should know about the PCT is it's a constant geographical change. You'll go from low desert, to high snowy peaks, to dense old growth forests and must adapt to the new environment every time. There's also like three trees in southern California which fucking sucks BUT what ends up happening is these locations with trees/rivers, which are so scarce in the desert, become almost like little hiker oasis's where we would group up, take a siesta/nap and wait out the heat of the day. Smoke a joint, eat some tortillas and peanut butter, and hike on into the evening. What I found helped during the desert was hiking during the evening and night, and the early hours of the morning before the sun comes up and sleeping when you can during the day. Although the desert was unbelievably beautiful (something I did not expect) and we'd be missing a lot of the scenery in the dark, it beat the hell out of trucking through that blazing sun all day. When it was time to get off trail and get to our first town for resupply, I experienced my first time hitchhiking. Me and a buddy flagged down a pickup truck who let us sit in the back, and even drove us back to trail a few hours later.

THE PAIN: So what ends up happening after about 3-5 days in, your body starts breaking down.. in phases. It starts with the blisters. You get blisters on your heels, ankles, and between your toes after hiking 15-20 miles a day, every day. These eventually turn into unbearable oozing sores the size of quarters, so bad you consider walking barefoot. I ended up taping my flip flops to my feet so I didn't have to walk in my shoes. Next comes the joint pain, which starts in the arch of your foot (god I thought my foot was gonna split in half), then after a couple days works its way up to your ankles, then the shins, then your fucking hips, back, then shoulders. You get rashes on your shoulders from the backpack straps. Not to mention whatever random cuts and scrapes from the cactuses/brush. Not to worry, you're not dying, we all go through it. Everyone suffers during the first 150 miles. I remember the day I got my "hiker legs". I hiked out of Idyllwild, CA (one of my favorite towns by the way, their mayor is a dog. Yes a golden retriever. Yes the town voted for him. His name is Max, look him up), all the way up Mt. San Jacinto and I could walk 25 miles and felt great! Wasn't tired or in pain, I could just FLY down that trail. That was the day the real journey started. Around this time was when I got my "trail name" too. (Hikers give each other trail names which relate to something unique about you. Mine is Pickles. I got it because I kept packing out those giant pickles in a bag because I liked the salt and they give me energy. Ended up being a running joke and everyone would give me the pickles that came with their burgers and shit at restaurants. One guy even gave me a Pickle Rick pipe).

Coming down from San Jacinto and the rest of the low desert was dope, came across a pretty feisty wasp nest which would follow hikers down the trail for a while (someone told me they were followed by one wasp for over a mile). Saw a bunch of rattlesnakes (like, a lot), and came across two of the most venomous insects in the world: the Tarantula Hawk Wasp (which is basically like a sick neon flying nightmare the size of your fucking cell phone, and the velvet ant which will knock you on your ass like you wouldn't believe if you're bit. Luckily, I never got bit by any of these, but did touch a prickly pear cactus (they look fuzzy so I pet it) and got thousands of little needles stuck in my fingers - wasn't gonna pull them out with my hands so tried to bite them off with my teeth and ended up getting hundreds of needles stuck in my gums and lips... great.

Hiking the forests and hills around the LA area was dope too. Lots of sequoia trees and a lot more frequent town stops. Stayed at my first ever hostel in Big Bear, CA. Me and my friend fixed the guitar they had at the hostel and replaced the strings so we could play and they let me and him stay for free. Even gave us some weed as a thank you. However, I do remember this being the time where towns started to get a little sketchier. You know, like closer to freeways, more vagrants around, etc. Coming through Cajon Pass I was held at knife point by a dude who wanted money for cigarettes. Like fuck man, fine I don't want any trouble. I'm 20 years old from a small midwest town I've never been in a situation like this before. I gave him like 25 bucks or whatever cash I had on me (hikers don't really carry a lot of cash, not sure why the fuck he did that to me). It was like 3am and I was walking back to trail from a McDonalds (the first one on trail) and I had hiked 36 miles straight for over 20 hours to get there and I was exhausted and just wanted to go to sleep. Dude left me alone after that. Definitely camped FAR away from that McDonalds that night.

Around the end of the desert, there's two famous host families who host hikers in their home/yard, do laundry cook food and give you an awesome place to stay. (Actually right before this I stayed at a dude's weed farm, he lets hikers crash at his farm and gives you free weed, it's awesome). But first one is called Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, CA. They did my laundry for me and had a crazy backyard with a ton of animals. One chicken was really fucking obnoxious though and never shut up and would peck you or your tent. Bitch. In between this and the next host house, there's a challenge hikers like to do called the 24/24/24 challenge. This means you drink 24 beers in under 24 hours while walking the 24 miles to the next host, called Casa De Luna. Yeah, my dumbass did this challenge. I did it with another buddy and started drinking at like 5am. Fortunately, the dry heat of the desert keeps you kind of sober, the alcohol burns off faster than you think however it leaves you physically drained like you wouldn't believe. I drank like 12 beers before lunchtime and (somehow) managed to polish off the rest before 7pm when we rolled into town. This next spot, Casa De Luna, was magic. This wonderful woman lets dozens of hikers sleep in the manzanita forest behind her house, where culture dictates you paint rocks and place them around the yard and in the trees. It was like I was tripping. Thousands and thousands of colorful painted rocks from years of hikers were scattered around. SO much more magic happened at this place, but I won't tell any other stories as I firmly believe this is a place you have to experience for yourself. Absolute, pure magic.

Now you're getting close to the end of the desert and have to do the infamous LA aqueduct walk. This is like 30 something miles of that flat desert basin north of LA where you walk along the pipeline until you reach the hills on the other side. This is one of the most infamous sections of trail in the country. Me and a buddy ended up doing it during the late afternoon and night, and finished most of it by like 4am.

FINALLY, after 700 miles of grueling heat and pain, you reach Kennedy Meadows, CA (which you might be familiar with if you've read Wild by Cheryl Strayed). This is another one of those awesome towns that's like a last remnant of the wild west. Seriously the local bar had bullet holes in the bar from a gunfight that took place 2 months prior. I stayed in Kennedy Meadows for a couple days to wait for my trail family who were a few days behind. On my last day in KM, I met a couple people close to my age sitting at the bar and ended up chatting with them over breakfast. Instant homies. We spent the whole day hanging out and at one point, this dude called Box offered us acid and we knew what we were gonna do ;) (something I learned right away was if you're offered something on trail, as long as its not dangerous, ALWAYS say yes). Me and these 3 other people I had just met like 8 hours earlier dropped acid on some Altoids, walked out into the desert a little bit and tripped. Amazing experience, the coyotes were howling all around us, the trees were incredible, not to mention the sky - there was a meteor shower (at least I'm pretty sure there was), and we tripped until like 5am. Seriously, if you've never tripped in the desert I would highly recommend It's like another universe.

THE SIERRA NEVADAS: The next day was the most extreme geography change I've ever seen. Within like an hour of climbing uphill, we saw FUCKING GRASS FOR THE FIRST TIME. Seriously, 742 miles in and you see grass for the first time on trail. Huge gushing rivers, wild onions, tall grass, and big trees are everywhere. I seriously cannot sum up the beauty of the Sierra Nevada range in this post. It's something I highly encourage you go check out yourself. Peaks like you wouldn't believe. Granted, you start getting up there in elevation and you're constantly going up and down incredibly steep peaks and over huge passes over 12,000'. This is when you start slowing down in miles. We were doing like 27-35+ mile days in the desert regularly, but in the Sierras you would walk and walk and walk all day and look at your maps and you'd only gone like, fifteen. Beautiful, but brutal in a whole new way. This is also the section where you have an option of climbing Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505', which is an 8.4-mile spur off trail. (That last 0.4 miles is fucking hell). One of the hardest things I've ever climbed. I left a lot of my gear I didn't need in a bear box at the bottom, and planned to summit for sunset, camp, and watch the sunrise. You're not supposed to be up there at night, so I planned to be stealth. The beauty of the climb is unforgettable. Around 13,000' you cant walk up like 15 feet without stopping and catching your breath. I took it one switchback at a time and summited around 6pm. I was the only one up there. Seriously, I was the quite literally the highest person in America that night. I brought a beer up that I shotgunned with my ice axe to celebrate, and the alcohol hit my head 1000000x harder at that altitude. Set up my tent, and nearly froze to death lol... By far my coldest night. Used my stove to keep my hands warm. Got up for the sunrise which was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Met back up with my friends and continued. After a while you start getting desensitized to the absolute beauty of the mountains. You come into gorgeous valley after gorgeous valley and you're like, "ah great, another fucking beautiful valley". The hiker boxes in this section are absolutely nuts though since you get crowds of JMT section hikers in this section. I should explain, HIKER BOXES: these are like crates or boxes full of supplies that hikers exchange what they need and don't need. These are usually found in trail towns or certain locations on or off trail. Lets say you resupply and don't need all that tuna you thought you might or your trekking poles. You just put whatever you don't need in the box and someone that comes behind you might want it and take it. Lots of times you can find really cool equipment and stuff in there, and it always shows up when you need it most. I found used trekking poles immediately after one of mine broke, and great earbuds immediately after I dropped mine in a river. Anyways, this is another form of what we call "trail magic", which I'll explain at the end of this post.

YOSEMITE: I arrived in Tuolumne Meadows on the 4th of July, and BOY was that a terrific time. Me and a couple of friends from my trail family bought a huge box of wine at the little general store/post office and sat at a picnic table all day getting absolutely plastered. Tourists would keep coming up to us and offering us food, like really good food, touristy stuff like hot dogs and pb&j's and cookies. My buddy had a small travel guitar (called a guitalele) that we played all day. We all say to this day it was the best 4th of July of our lives. No fireworks, but we had a campfire and sat around eating pot brownies. The next day I hitched down into Yosemite Valley where I planned to meet the brother of a buddy of mine who was living and climbing down in the Valley. We met up and he let me squat next to his little hut (the employees sleep in these little hut communities), and he took me to the Alcove Swing, climbing up some walls (did my first couple multi-pitch routes here too). He introduced me to the community down there (I highly advise getting to know the employees/climbers/and people who live there as these people are fucking magical human beans. They took me to some of the age-old spots that even the Park Rangers didn't know about. Down into some hidden caves where there were years of artifacts left from people squatting there over the last hundred years. It was like a time capsule. Seriously cool spot. I ended up spending a week in Yosemite Valley, my longest hiatus from the trail, but it was 100% worth it and I wouldn't have done anything differently.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: At this point, I wanted to meet back up with my trail family who were like 150 miles ahead. Kind of formed a new trail family with some other hikers closer to my age. Ate some mushrooms together at Tuolumne Falls, and hiked a lot of this section together. The trail kind of starts to level out a little more here. You're still up there in elevation, and the beauty is unmatched, but you're not going up huge snowy peaks anymore. This is also where the wildfires start. OH GOD THE WILDFIRES. If you remember the wildfire crisis in California in 2018 you know what I'm talking about. I was hiking near damn near every one of them. The smoke was seriously so thick you couldn't see more than a mile. This really sucked since the scenery we were missing is so beautiful. We were also told the smoke we were breathing was incredibly toxic, and were advised to wear wet bandanas/balaclavas over our mouths to try to filter at least some of it out. Probably have 6 types of cancer from hiking that section but oh well.

I was walking down a hill in Lassen National Park when I started hearing like a deep thumping sound in the distance. I got closer and realized it was a beat, coming from really loud music. I hiked down into this little town called Belden and there was a full ass music festival going on. One of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Immediately I was offered acid, mushrooms, ketamine, molly, you name it. I've been to some EDM shows and festivals but this was fucking bizarre. Pretty sure I saw some real witchcraft go on, and definitely a lot of really sketch people around, but hey, when the fuck does this ever happen. I stayed the night for the festival. I took a half tab of acid to try to remain at least somewhat coherent, and wandered around the festival looking at art and stuff and people watching. All in all, it was very strange but a unique experience.

After coming out of Belden the smoke got even worse. Me and a couple friends I was hiking with decided we couldn't hike anymore. It was too dangerous to breathe all that smoke in. (A lot of other shit happened in this section but I seriously don't have enough time to write about all that, maybe some other time). At Dunsmuir, CA we made a decision to try to hitch up to Oregon. (note: I am now very familiar with Dunsmuir after participating in this community a bit, it's a really neat train town and I hope to hop a train through it someday. Dunsmuir also has a really cool hostel called Crossroads you should definitely check out if you're passing through. Seriously. There's even a hot tub and a free community weed box). Anyways, we started trying to get a ride all the way up to Oregon.

OREGON: After about an hour of trying to get a ride, this RV pulled over and offered to take us up to Bend, OR. It was the cutest family, with like 3 little kids on a vacation up the coast of California/Oregon. They bought us lunch, took us to a sweet park and we got to kind of vacation with them for a bit. They let us nap in their RV and drove us like 200 miles north to where we needed to go. We arrived in Bend and this girl I was hiking with told me her parents planned to host us in Bend. We met her parents and they took us to an REI, took us to dinner, and put us up in a hotel. Getting back on trail after Bend was beautiful. The air was FINALLY clear again! We headed right into the Three Sisters Wilderness and the mountains were nuts. Oregon is beautiful in a totally different way. The trees are greener, the lakes are bluer, and yeah the mountains and volcanic landscape was fucking nuts. There's a section there where you walk through this huge lava field that tears the shit out of your shoes. It's like 30 miles of walking through crusty ass uneven volcanic rock. It's dry as hell too. There were also a lot of waterfalls here, including Obsidian Falls which was insane. It's a big waterfall that falls over a field of obsidian and it's beautiful. Oregon actually flew by. Before you know it you're coming up to Mt. Rainier which is a whole new beast. Rainier is seriously gorgeous, I highly recommend doing the loop trail that goes about 24 miles around it. Around Rainier there's also a cool spot called Timberline Lodge which Stanley Kubrick used to film the Shining. It's seriously the lodge from the horror movie. There's this buffet they do there which you cannot miss. It's all you can eat and it's the most amazing food ever. Fluffy pancakes and waffles and bacon and endless eggs and muffins and whatever your heart desires. Coming out of Timberline, I wanted to make it to the OR/WA border in time for this festival called Trail Days. It's thrown at the end of summer every year right around the time when the majority of hikers are passing through. They hold it in this town called Cascade Locks, right on the Hood River at the border. Thousands of people show up for this, and the whole town caters to the hikers. Outdoor gear companies and vendors show up to show new products, there's free food everywhere, and it's really amazing being around like 1000 other thru hikers all at once. I hiked across the famous Bridge Of The Gods, which is your passage into Washington. It's extremely famous from the movie Wild, where Cheryl Strayed ended her famous walk.

Washington was drastically different. Right away, you start heading into DENSE old growth forests. Moss and vines and shit hanging everywhere, trees that look like they've been there since 2000BC. It's nuts. Also a little spooky sometimes but nothing like hiking around the deep south in the Appalachians (that's actually terrifying). I made it to this stupid little town called Trout Lake where my parents had planned to meet me and take me on a hiatus for my 21st birthday. I also reunited with this girl I had hiked with in a prior section. My parents flew into Portland and drove out with a little camper to pick me up. It was the greatest feeling seeing them after 4 months in the wilderness. They even took my friend I reunited with with us, and we drove up the Oregon Coast for a couple days checking out the beaches and like the big rocks in the water and stuff. One of my favorite memories was my 21st birthday with them. We drove all the way back down to Cascade Locks where I had planned to link up with my trail family who would be arriving there the next day. Spent the night at Thunder Island Brewery (where they give hikers free beer) and had a great time with my family and friend...

The next day I reunited with my original trail family, who I hadn't seen since leaving in Yosemite.

WASHINGTON: We hiked all of Washington together. Washington was unbelievable. This is also the point in your hike where its a mad fucking rush to the Canadian border. You do NOT want to be stuck in the middle of Washington when it inevitably turns to winter. And when it's winter in WA, it's fucking WINTER. (I'll explain later). Washington had some of the cleanest air I've ever seen. It's seriously like noticeably cleaner and clearer. You can see incredibly far and everything is so crisp. There's a chill in the air around 1/3 through the state. It's like mid fall now and things are starting to get a little colder... and rainier. The rain was absolutely awful. There was a stretch where it would rain every single day, nonstop for like 2 weeks straight. And it's cold rain too. Literally everything you have gets wet or damp, sleeping was incredibly hard since all my clothes were either soaking wet or damp, and even my sleeping bag was cold and damp. I shipped a second down jacket out so I could wrap myself with those inside my sleeping bag to try to stay warm. Rain at altitude also sucks because at a certain point it turns to snow. It'll be raining hard and you'll walk up like 100 feet higher and all of a sudden it's snowing wet, thick snow. We were ready to be done. This was the section that tested me physically and mentally the most. I wanted to quit every single goddamn day. I wanted to quit so bad man, I was near tears. At one point we camped near these hunters who were up in the northern Cascades hunting deer. They had a campfire and some whiskey and let us hang out with them that night, and even gave us a weather report. It was about to snow overnight. Hard. Remember when I said when it's winter in washington it's WINTER. Yeah, it snowed over 2 feet that night. We got dumped on but something magic happened. This storm cleared the sky, and we got our first sunny day in 2 weeks. We basked in the sunlight, layed out all of our wet gear that hadn't been dry in 2 weeks. I was so goddamn happy, I could cry. I took acid while I was waiting for all my gear to dry, then hiked into some of the most beautiful landscape I've ever seen. The Northern Cascade range is heaven, some people call it the American Alps, the peaks are black and craggy, and valleys are dense. This was a challenging section though because the snow melted throughout the day and washed out huge sections of trail. We had to slide down mud, navigate through steep sections with no trail and fallen trees all over the place. But overall might've been my favorite day on trail.

Reaching the border... the last 100 miles were melancholy. You know it's almost over, you don't know what you're gonna feel when you reach that Northern Terminus. It was our last day, and me and some friends hiked the last 20 miles to the border together. When I saw that post, it was the greatest feeling of my life. I had accomplished something more challenging than I had ever experienced. I cannot sum up the mix of emotions I felt that day. Me and my friends brought little bottles of champagne that we had been carrying for like 500 miles and had a little champagne spray party at that monument. Ah. What a feeling. What an experience. What a life.

Fin --- I still had about 100 miles left to do in California, which I skipped because of the wildfires. This was a breeze. Took an Amtrak back down to Dunsmuir (would've just train hopped from Seattle if I had known what I know now). But wrapped up that last little section as quickly as possible, and took an Amtrak across the country all the way back home to Michigan. Truly an experience that changed my life and molded who I am now.

I apologize for writing a fucking book here, but there's so much that goes into a thru hike. Again, I could go on and on and make this post 498439872 feet long, but instead I'll just end it here and open it up for questions. If you're at all curious about this kind of experience don't hesitate to reach out, look into it, and try it. It's a great way of living super cheaply and getting to travel around for months at a time. My hike took just over 6 months and I only spent $2,500 the entire time. I hope you enjoyed the read, I'd love to chat with you about this stuff if you're curious. Be safe out there everyone and never stop exploring.

"Life moves by pretty fast, if you don't stop to look around you might miss it."

xo ~ pickles

Below, I will explain some things people often have questions about, or just cool little things about the culture.

TRAIL MAGIC: Any kind of generous act benefitting hikers. Oftentimes, locals or random people will leave water caches around dry stretches of trail, leave cases of beer and soda and food right on trail for you to take, or just simple random acts of kindness. The absolute pinnacle of trail magic is when someone drives out to trail and sets up big canopies and sets up grills and stuff and cook for you. There was a guy called Coppertone I ran into 5 different times that would bring his RV out to trail and make you ice cream floats and fresh fruit. I probably came across this type of magic 20ish times. People will host you in your house, give you free shit, drive you around, and do whatever they can to help you out and make your life great. This really restored my faith in people. I was pretty cynical heading into this and just, the constant selfless generosity I experienced reinvigorated my faith in people. There's some really fantastic human beings out there, it's a shame there's so many shitty ones too.

THE GEAR & THE FOOD: I know there's gonna be questions about this. Food is really easy, whatever is super light and packs a lot of calories. Shit like pringles, peanut butter, bagels, tortillas, summer sausage, is super popular. Rule of thumb, you can put absolutely anything on a tortilla. ANYTHING. You usually eat a snack in the morning, throw some shit on a bagel or tortilla for lunch (I liked cream cheese and pepperoni, idk), and usually dinner is where you eat the most. I had a lot of kraft mac and cheese and ramen since they're light and the noodles expand and are pretty filling. Mountain House and those freeze dried meals are too goddamn expensive.

Gear on the other hand, is pretty similar to what most vagabonds are used to; sleeping bag/pad, good shoes, backpack, tent, etc. Only difference is you wanna be as lightweight as possible. Remember you're hauling all the shit you need for 2600 miles you're not gonna wanna be carrying anything you don't need. Every ounce counts. There's a neat "Ultralight (UL)" community you can look into if you're curious about specifics. It's not hard to find, the only thing is your gear tends to be more expensive.

TIPS/INFO: (I'll add onto this later maybe). Take more pictures of people and less of the landscapes, as dumb as that sounds. Say yes to everything. Don't ever give up hitchhiking until you hit 5 hours, someone will almost always come along. Always carry 1 liter of water more than you think you need. In dry stretches, "camel up" whenever you find water (drink as much as you can without exploding). Never carry more food than you think you need. It's heavy and worst case someone will come along and will give you some of theirs if you need. Elevation sickness is no joke; take your time when you start going over 10,000' - give your body time to adjust. HYOH: hike your own hike; we're all out here for different reasons and don't listen to people who try to alter your plans, figure your own way through the trail and do what makes you happy. Don't harsh the mellow. You refer to your fellow hikers as "hiker trash". Pack your toilet paper out; seriously man, that takes forever to decompose and you're going to come across someone's old TP at some point and it sucks - I used an old nesquick bottle as it has a cap, is light, and doesn't smell. You WILL sit in poop at some point. Do NOT poop/urinate upstream or near rivers. ALWAYS filter your water (with the exception of the rivers in the Sierras) no matter how clean it looks. Please pack out your trash, this really isn't an issue with thru hikers but some people need to be reminded. Don't be an elitist; you know who I'm talking about, the "I'm better than you because my gear is $1000 and is 0.2 ounces lighter than yours. Adapt, overcome, survive. Lastly, you can't plan anything in advance, it's a day by day experience and you have to adapt to whatever the trail throws at you.

I hope this has been helpful, If you have questions don't hesitate to reach out. Much love to you all!


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thanks so much for writing about your adventure and congratulations its amazing what you have accomplished


Oct 16, 2015
@sgtpickles so you seem like a good dude, and maybe you wont mind if i ask some questions - this desire for more info is because it is something I am seriously looking to do one year

1 Why start so late to suffer thru the desert heat? is there some serious high elevation area down there where there will be snow? i imagine getting into the 20s at night and... i dunno... 80s in the day in dry weather is less brutal than what one faces in Sept & Oct in the Northern Cascades, the mad rush as stated, as well as the insane rain and slush and so on....

My imagination, which in this case includes some ignorance that I am hoping you can reduce for me, tells me perhaps it´d be ¨nicer¨to start in early April, although I have been in the Cascades in June in Central Oregon and I recall walking across glaciers and whatnot, ref. South Sister....and no doubt, this whole experience is not for the weakhearted, and there is only so much dose of undesirable conditions one can avoid.

2 So you nailed this in 5 months, but this ride from Dunsmuir to Bend certainly cut out a lot of time, am I reading correctly?

3 About how many Zero Mile Days did you do on this trip?

4 Sharing a gear list would be beyond amazing, even if you cannot recall every detail, what water filter do you use, etc etc.

Aside from these, amazing writeup, xongrats on yr success, should you have any photos im sure the forum would love them, especially for me the mt whitney climb


Jul 29, 2019
Grand Rapids, MI
Absolutely man,

1. I started in late April because of school. I go to college and my semester wasn't over until April 27th which is why i chose the 28th as my start date. The "bubble" which is the peak of when most people start is mid April. If I didn't have the time constraints I definitely would've started more towards early/mid April. However, you don't want to start too early because the snow pack in the Sierras will be too high when you get there. And you don't want to start too late since you'll be getting to the Cascades when it turns to winter. To be honest though there's no way to avoid the desert heat, it's just a part of it. And some of your coldest nights will indeed be in the desert. It actually snowed on me on day 3 lol. The only elevation in the desert you should be aware of is Mt San Jacinto which is a 10,000'er. There was still snow up there when I passed through.

And yeah, there's definitely going to be conditions that will test your limits. I knew a ton of people who made it all the way to mile 2500 and bailed due to weather.

2. Yeah when I was in Dunsmuir I was behind the main bubble and skipping ahead definitely cut out some time but I went back down and finished that section after reaching the canadian border. Skipping sections to redo later is totally fine and you shouldn't feel bad about doing that. In fact, MOST people will skip a section. There are some things that are completely unavoidable, and the Forest Service will even shut down sections due to fires/avalanche danger/etc. This is totally normal and you should expect to have to skip around at some point. It just happens. But when I went back and did that section it only took me about 2 weeks since I was so eager to be done.

3. I did a LOT of zero days, I believe it was about 25-30ish. The week I spent in Yosemite was definitely the most days I spent off, but usually when you get to some of the cooler towns like Bishop, CA and Portland you'll want to take an extra day or two off to explore and rest up. Most people will do about 20 zero days during the whole time. You can also do "nero" days where you only hike like 3 or 4 miles to save energy.

4. I'll do my best to list and explain what I personally carried.
BACKPACK: 40 L Osprey Exos (this is one of the most common packs used with thru hikers. But you should check out UL packs like Pa'lante Packs or Hyperlite or ZPacks.) (And get a rain cover too)

TENT: North Face Stormbreak 1P (really any tent under 3 pounds will be fine).

SLEEPING BAG: REI 25 degree down bag. (You'll want a down bag rated around 20-25 degree, and you'll want to buy a compression sack too to save room in your pack)

SLEEPING PAD: Thermarest Z-Lite (these are SUPER useful because you can use them to sit or lay on the ground when you're resting. It's like having a chair and a pad combined).

STOVE/POT: MSR Pocket Rocket (super common but i would've gotten a jetboil if i had done it different). I used a small GSI pot as well. Super light and tiny but gets the job done. Also a MSR fuel canister.

WATER FILTER: Sawyer Squeeze. (GET THE BIG ONE NOT THE MINI. 99% of thru hikers carry one of these. You'll also come across the "SmartWater Trick"; you can attach sawyer filters on smartwater bottles and you won't even need to carry water bags. Plus smartwater bottles are incredibly durable and mine lasted forever, I only replaced them once. Also you'll need to carry extra water in the desert, I carried at the most 5-6 Liters. The rest of the trail you can get away with carrying like 2 liters. You will occasionally meet people who have some other brands or iodine tablets but you can't go wrong with the sawyer, can't recommend it enough).

BEAR CANNISTER: Bear Vault BV500 (You are required to carry a bear canister through Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite, AKA the majority of the Sierras. You can buy one in Kennedy Meadows or mail one to yourself). The rest of the hike I just used like a regular camping food sack to carry my food.

POOP KIT: Heavy duty ziplock bag with a lightweight trowel, toilet paper (i would unroll however much I would need, don't carry a whole roll), and hand sanitizer. And make sure you pack out your toilet paper, use an old (non-see-through) bottle.

HEADLAMP: Black Diamond Storm rechargeable headlamp (you'll want a rechargeable headlamp for when you hike at night and, yeah, similar obvious reasons. Don't get one with batteries you don't wanna have to haul those around).

-Patagonia Down Puffy Jacket (make sure you have a puffy, these are vital, it's all about layering). -REI outer shell/rain jacket (you'll want a light, hopefully waterproof shell for wind and rain. And you don't need to spend a lot Frogg Toggs work great but you'll most likely have to replace them at some point they're not that durable).

-Shirt: I wore two shirts the whole time: one synthetic t-shirt and a long sleeve hiking shirt. You'll want something with long sleeves for that sun in the desert.

Shorts: Patagonia Baggies. (I love these, they lasted the whole time and never ripped. Highly recommend).

Pants: Lightweight running pants. (Any sort of long johns or running pants will do for those cold conditions).

Socks: DARN TOUGH, 3 pairs. (Everyone will tell you to get Darn Toughs. A) theyre comfortable and durable. B) Any outdoor retailer will exchange them for new ones for free when they rip or tear. Good for life policy. C) You'll only need 2 or 3 pairs (the third was for sleeping). You just wash them when they're dirty and hang them on the outside of your pack to dry when you're wearing the others. Just cycle them out every day.

Underwear: 2 pair travel underwear (you can get good UW at REI)

Hat: I just used a Patagonia trucker hat because I don't really sunburn easily, but I'd recommend some sort of sun hat with a 360 degree brim to protect your head/neck from the sun.

Balaclava: I used one to protect my neck

Running gloves: just to keep my hands warm

Some people bring "Town Clothes" but I didn't feel like I wanted to carry more. Often times your host or hostel will provide "loaner clothes" you can wear around then return when you leave.

SHOES: Last but certainly not least. Probably your most important piece of gear. You'll want trail runners and NOT boots. Your feet dry out faster, they're more comfortable, lighter, and on and on. Just trust me. Altra Lone Peaks are the most common shoe. I wore Altra Lone Peak 3.0s and used 4 different pairs the whole time. You'll also want to get SuperFeet or SOL inserts, since you're going to wear through the shoe and you want that extra support. Take care of your feet!

-Mophie Battery Pack. (You'll want a good battery pack you can get at least 3 or 4 full phone charges out of. I didn't really use my phone much (nobody does) so I didn't need a super bulky one.

-Telescoping Trekking Poles (lots of people carry these but lots don't, you can decide if you want them or not. You might want them for some sections but not others. They do really help on those climbs in the sierras, and I found they propelled my walking speed faster, but it's like 50/50. They're easy to find in towns too if yours break or you think you want them.

-Sport tape (tape is super important for injuries/rolled joints/BLISTERS/etc. And also just patching stuff together. I had a mountain lion get into my pack when I was sleeping and had to tape one of the shoulder straps back together).

-Tenacious Tape (this is for gear repair, it's SUPER heavy duty tape that will patch any gear you have)

-Earbuds (you're gonna get bored and wanna listen to music/podcasts. Just keep one ear open for rattlesnakes and other dangers).

-Small travel towel (for drying random shit)

-Tick key (ticks are no joke)

-Mosquito head net (Holy fuck the mosquitos are BRUTAL in the sierras. You can't stop for 2 seconds without being swarmed. Carry some sort of mosquito net to protect your face.

-Ziplock bags. Just trust me you'll want ziplock bags for loads of different things.

-Earplugs. Sometimes nature gets noisy at night, if you're a light sleeper you should bring some.

-Ibuprofen. VITAMIN-I !!! Everyone carries it and worst case you can bum some off someone else but sometimes you gotta dull the pain.

-2 lighters


-A little pouch where I kept money/credit cards/trinkets/tickets/etc.

-miscellaneous charging cords/cables. I just kept all my misc. things in a little mesh bag.

When you get out there, meet up with other hikers and do whats called a "Lay Out". Take out all your gear and compare it with others, it's the best way to learn about gear ,what people need/don't need, what you can live without, etc. People love to talk about their gear oh my god.

I'll probably do another post later with some photos in it if people are interested. I have like 10,000 lol. But I put one of the sunrise on Whitney for ya at the end of this post.

Get out there and do it man, best way is to just jump in. Definitely research, but just go for it. Have fun out there. Hope this helped!

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 1.42.21 PM (2).png

(highly recommend a sunrise summit of whitney ;)
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Oct 16, 2015
incredible feedback and inspiring photos thanks man

what about your take on mailing food packages ahead to xy post office?


Jul 29, 2019
Grand Rapids, MI
incredible feedback and inspiring photos thanks man

what about your take on mailing food packages ahead to xy post office?

Actually you don’t need to mail yourself many resupply packages. I only shipped myself like 5 or 6 and only in towns that A) don’t have a store or a lot of options, B) the town is known to be insanely expensive, or C) I was shipping specific gear I needed for an upcoming section - like my bear canister, I had to mail myself that to Kennedy Meadows.

I recommend you check out the Guthook App - it’s essentially a GPS map of the entire trail with every single factor (towns/water sources/camp spots/etc) marked, it makes it incredibly easy to plan your hike. Costs like $20 for the whole thing but it’s definitely worth it, everyone uses it


Jul 21, 2015
Portland, Oregon
My good buddy Taylor(trail name Goose cause of his laugh) just did the PCT this last year(2019) so it was great to see similar experiences to what he relayed to me-especially the trail magic and hosts.

I am not as much a nomad or a thru-hiker as my buddy(i've done the 40miles around Mt Hood over 10 days) so I doubt I'll do the giant trecks for thousands of miles.

Thru-hiking is a bit odd to me in some ways....like I would much rather live in say Yosemite like you dd for a SEASON, rather than brutalie myself with all that mileage. Stealh camping, BLM land etc....seems more my flow.

With all this rona BS going on, I've got some pangs to go up to Mt.Hood for an extended period, but think i might get loney/bored without much company....tho im sure folks will be popping through over the summer as they do....When I did the 40miles I found the most epic spot on the east side, right off the trail.

Matt Derrick

Semi-retired traveler
Staff member
Aug 4, 2006
Austin, TX
@sgtpickles thank you for the insanely entertaining and informative story and the follow up questions afterwards. super inspiring and you've really motivated me to add this to my bucket list.

I've also added your story to our Best of StP page! Sorry I didn't see it until now, but it definitely deserves to be there, thank you for sharing!


Sep 15, 2020
My good buddy Taylor(trail name Goose cause of his laugh) just did the PCT this last year(2019) so it was great to see similar experiences to what he relayed to me-especially the trail magic and hosts.

I met your buddy on the PCT last year (I think crammed into the back of a van hitching down Onion Valley Rd in the Sierras but it all blurs together).

The entire community around the PCT is so nice and it's incredible how much people support the hikers. Though apparently last year was kinda tough and some hikers came off as entitled and wore on the trail angels. Hoping the next generation are good stewards and the trail angels stick around
Jan 17, 2016
some info you may not know:
the first thru hike is hard, after youve done one, they all become pretty easy. i hiked the AT when i was 19, have done a lot of similar things lately. you seem like a pretty cool guy, itd be cool if our paths crossed someday

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