My public service announcement to the PCT class of 2014

To everyone who’s hiking the trail this year: I know you guys are really busy right now, and you’re really excited. You’ve got homemade bars to vacuum pack and gear spreadsheets to make. You haven’t yet found the perfect windshirt (what is a windshirt, anyway?) and your permits have yet to come in the mail. You can hardly sleep at night for all the exciting logistical planning. But hear me out: below are some important bits of info that weren’t in any of the guidebooks and that I wish someone would’ve shared with me (and the rest of the class of 2013) before our hike.

-You don’t have to make it all the way to Lake Morena on the first day. It’s ok to give up and camp at Hauser Creek. That first 20 mile waterless stretch is not some sort of test of will that determines whether or not you make it to Canada. In fact it’s the opposite- this is your first test of whether you’re able to put your ego aside and listen to your body, which DEFINITELY determines whether or not you’ll make it to Canada. So camp at Hauser Creek if you want. You’ll just have to pack more water, as Hauser Creek is most often a dry creekbed choked with poison oak.

-In the desert you’ll come upon these charming cement troughs of cool water, sometimes stocked with cans of cheap soda. A little water trickles from a pipe into these troughs, keeping them fresh. DO NOT WASH YOUR CLOTHES IN THESE TROUGHS. Or your underwear. Or your body. EVER. Although there may be water running from the pipe into the trough now, there most likely won’t be in a few days/weeks, and the hikers behind you will have to filter DIRECTLY FROM THE TROUGH. So DO NOT. DO IT. Not your socks, not your snot hanky, NOTHING. I will be starting after most of you, on May 1st, when the pipes may be dry. If you wash your underwear in these troughs, where I collect my water, I will PERSONALLY poop in your sleeping bag.

-Don’t put soap in the streams. Even biodegradable soap. Soap changes the pH of the water. All the creatures in the water are adapted to a very specific pH. Change the pH, harm the creatures. NO SOAP IN THE WATER.

-Carry hand sanitizer, and sanitize your hands after pooping. I know that you’re a double triple-crowner and invincible in the face of giardia, but guess what- your newbie friends probably aren’t. You love your friends, and that one time they let you put your hand in their bag of fritos. They regret this now. SANITIZE YOUR HANDS, POOP-HANDS.

-Don’t complain. EVER. Unless you really, really need to. Like maybe you can complain FOUR TIMES on the ENTIRE TRAIL. Complaining uses up the energy of your hiking companions. Your hiking companions care about you and will gladly give you their energy, but they only have so much of it and they need it for themselves, too. Remember: EVERYONE IS HIKING THE SAME TRAIL. Everyone knows that it’s hot right now, and not in a fun way. Everyone is trying to grit their teeth and bear it until the next water source. Remember, you chose to be out here, so complaining all the time about how much you’re suffering makes you look like a damn fool. The opposite of complaining: cracking jokes. Isn’t it sort of funny and absurd that we’re out here in the desert without water, huddled under this joshua tree, for, like, no reason? With only melted gummy bears to eat? Things that happen on the trail are really, really funny, and making jokes helps lighten everyone’s emotional load. If you can, hike with people who are funny, and the more absurdly funny the better. Laugh at their jokes- that will make them feel good, and they will tell more jokes. Everybody wins.

-Ladies- don’t let a creepy douchebag give you your trail name. This happened to a couple of my friends on the first part of our hike. In fact, don’t let anybody else name you. Pick the goddam name for yourself. You can have any goddam name you want.

-Hey guess what? It’s ok to have sex in one’s life, just in general. Even if, GASP! You’re a woman. It’s even ok to have sex at some point while on a thru-hike. And it’s ok to include sex in a book. Do you agree with me on these things? Yes? THEN STOP SAYING THAT CHERYL STRAYED IS A WHORE. You haven’t read the book. I know this because if you had, you’d actually ENJOY it and quit talking shit, as it is a memoir of exceptional quality with way more depth than you are apparently capable of having. You’ve heard that Cheryl “fucks her way up the PCT” (an actual quote) but guess what? SHE ONLY GETS LAID ONCE. IN ASHLAND. And anyway, since when is it wrong to put sex in a book? What do you read, mostly? Parade Magazine? Have you ever, like, read a book? In your life? Obviously not. So shut the fuck up, you misogynist fuck.

-On that note: Trail romance. Be wary of trail romance. Trail romance is fun. Really, really fun. Like Kate-Winslet-and-Leonardo-Dicaprio-in-Titanic fun. Like if Lord of the Rings had star-crossed lovers fun. TOO fun. The reason it feels so good and proper and right (how can it be wrong when it feels so right!) is because on the trail we all get to be special thru-hiker versions of ourselves, and our thru-hiker identities subsume the identities we have off trail, and our off-trail values and belief systems are replaced with a set of values and belief systems that we all share. This makes it REALLY easy to bond with other hikers. And anyway, what is more romantic than making out in a bed of moss and then sharing a tiny tarptent during a thunderstorm? NOTHING. THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION IS NOTHING. But be careful. As soon as the trail is over you’ll be thrust back into your regular identities, complete with your pre-trail beliefs and value systems, and you may no longer be compatible with the person that you felt wildly romantic about just a few weeks ago. One minute you’re falling in love amongst the old growth and the next minute the babel fish is gone and you have nothing to talk about at all; you might even actively disdain each other, based on your now-conflicting ideas about, I don’t know, EVERYTHING.

-Bear canisters. You are required to have a bear canister in the Sierras. Unless you subsist entirely on olive oil, your food will not all fit in the bear canister. Even the big one. So put your full canister outside somewhere away from your tent, and then sleep with your extra food. Use it as a pillow, put it under your legs, shove it into the end of your tent by your feet. This is what virtually all thru-hikers do. No bear in the Sierras that’s aggressive enough to break into a tent where a hiker is sleeping has lived long enough to reproduce in…. a really long time. This has driven natural selection in a way that no bear in the Sierras will break into your tent, while you’re in it, to get your food. They are, however, super stealth ninjas, capable of scaling the tiniest limb and extracting the food from your bear bag like honey from a hive. DO NOT HANG YOUR FOOD IN THE SIERRAS. EVER. I once camped a stone’s throw from a couple who hung their food, about eleven miles out of Tuolumne. All of their hung food got eaten in the night by a bear. I slept with my food, and wasn’t bothered at all. The best way to deal with bears is to KNOW THE BEHAVIOR OF THE BEARS WHERE YOU ARE. Bear behavior varies in different places, depending on the history of humans in the area and the amount of traffic the place gets. In some places, like in parts of Alaska, a bear will break into your tent and KILL YOU in order to get your food, but that same bear is not smart enough to get a really good bear-hang. In the Sierras the bears are like magic circus bears, but they know better than to attack you. So sleep with your extra food. I call this the “over my dead body” method of food storage.

-Carry treats for southbounders. Mini snickers, cliff bars, things like that. You’ll start to see southbounders in August. They are special and rare, and deserve congratulations. Give them high fives. Or better yet, make out with them. Southbounders are lonely.

-Leave yourself some money for after the trail. I know it’s really, really hard to rustle up the three to five thousand dollars you need to thru-hike but guess what, you’re going to need EVEN MORE money for when the trail is over. Contrary to how it may feel while you’re hiking, the trail does not end at a magical portal through which you transcend arbitrary existence and become one with the great wide everything. Instead it ends at about where you started, except now you can’t stop crying and you’re too broke to pay the rent. Lucky you.

-Depression after the trail. The way I felt AFTER the trail was harder than anything I experienced on the trail. Ok, maybe it wasn’t harder than the time I had to bushwhack with tonsillitis, or the week after that when I hiked 50 miles on 1500 calories. But hard in a different way. This blogger does a really good job of writing about post-trail depression, and even recommends a brilliant holistic treatment plan. Remember her page when the trail is over and your life is a colorless, joyless pit of emptiness and there’s lead running through your veins instead of blood. That shit is physiological. It has to do with endorphin receptors and shit. You can totally heal.

To recap: Listen to your body, don’t put your nasty clothes in the water troughs or soap in the streams, sanitize your hands, don’t complain, pick your own trail name, Cheryl Strayed is a nice person, trail romance is fun but it doesn’t last, sleep with your food, leave yourself money for after the trail, and you’re gonna feel sad.

That’s all I got. Is there anything I missed?

37 thoughts on “My public service announcement to the PCT class of 2014

  1. “… and that one time they let you put your hand in their bag of fritos. They regret this now.”

    Food bag-arhea – The illness one gets from sharing a food bad with poopy hands. One usually learns this lesson the first time it happens.

  2. Stop covering your poo with rocks! It doesn’t work, animals dig it up and spread the TP everywhere, it’s friggin gross.

  3. ‘the trail does not end at a magical portal through which you transcend arbitrary existence and become one with the great wide everything. Instead it ends at about where you started, except now you can’t stop crying and you’re too broke to pay the rent. Lucky you.’

    F’ing brilliant!

  4. Great advice. Water is too precious to contaminate for us or the animals who are always living there. Love the trail name comment. Backfire ( Thanks a lot, son. )

  5. Carrot, this was awesome. I really really enjoyed reading it! Thank you!! 🙂 Weirdly I dreamt about a memory of you the last time I saw you at the trail angels in the desert, just before the windmills. I can’t believe I am spacing the name of that place. But we ate ice cream, I made a dream catcher, and we all escaped the insane wind. Good times! Keep writing!

  6. Good advice, except sometimes trail romances do last (celebrating 11yr anniversary soon). Definitely give sobos treats (we will be soboing this year)! Have a great time!

  7. Thank you for sticking up for Cheryl Strayed. Your blog inspired me to read her book. After I was done I was like wait, where was the irresponsible whore everyone talked about? She got laid once and nearly got raped once. Yet nobody was calling male PCT hikers a bunch of rapists, go figure. Oh right, DOUBLE STANDARD! Love you, Carrot.

  8. I,too, thank you for your comments about Cheryl Strayed. Whore? Seriously? I enjoyed her book and hated for it to end, but I have to say, I love your writing much, much more!!! You are talented, intelligent, humorous and immensely entertaining. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. I hiked with Cheryl Strayed in ’95, she could have fucked her way up the trail, she was 26, blond, pretty, funny, and a lot of the men we ran into did want to get into her pants, but she definitely exercised discretion. She also cracked jokes, washed her hands (most of the time), and didn’t complain out loud much. I didn’t realize how bad her feet were until she showed me her purple and blue toes at Burney Falls, I was amazed she made it to Castella with her feet in that condition, and then her only complaint was she had lost her cool Bob Marley t shirt. I’d like to see the Cheryl Strayed haters hike section O in duct tape sandals with a 50 lb. pack.
    Carrot I love your writing, and I found the best cure for post hike depression is to start planning another hike.

  10. Thank you so much, Carrot! I hope I can use these tips even if I’m not hiking until 2015. Should we mention hiking out your toilet paper in desert and high alpine environments? Is it OK to bury the TP in heavily forested places?

  11. Even though you may not transcend arbitrary existence at least you have realized some valid life lessons. More than I learned last year…

    As far as TP goes I generally gather it up with a stick or a stone into the cathole, then burn it off with a bic and bury the remains, only takes a few seconds.

  12. This is terrific! I read this like a pep talk. And right on for the Cheryl stuff! Thank you!

  13. Thank you everyone!!! Sorry, but I’m not even going to touch the toilet paper debate. 🙂

    Otherworld/Trekkinlady- it was at hikertown! That strange surreal place! I remember we drew water together from that concrete cistern on a hill the day before- there was a family in giant pickup trucks off-roading in the dirt below and they kept shouting things up at us. Hope you’re well!

    CJ- Your comment is amazing. Thank you for that.

  14. Carrot, Hikertown yes! 🙂 I remember the day before well also. You shared your dried peas with me, too. Thanks! I am well and find solace in your blogs about the trail. So have you decided if you’re going to hike this year? I plan to hike it again 2015.

  15. My intention is to hike it again this year, yes. Haven’t QUITE gotten the logistics ironed out, but working on it! And then the CDT in 2015! Thru-hiking forever! I mean there are worse addictions to have, right?! Are you going to do any other long trails any time soon?

  16. One of the years I hiked the PCT (2008 or 9) a girl woke up to a bear in her face. Sleeping with her food didn’t work and she was a NOLS instructor too. She got into a bit of trouble and I think the bear was killed. Also, in 2008 part of the trail was closed due to someone burning their TP. Please do not burn your TP.

  17. Thanks for the advice Carrot. Much more entertaining and informative compared to most blogs about vacuum packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the benefits of mylar underware. I’m expecting to fail about 1000 times during this hike, and am okay with that.

  18. Carrot, you rock. I like the wry humour in your writing, and that you are a person of significant integrity. Since November I have read 5 entire blogs from the Class of 2013 and yours was like reading a good book – I had End Of Blog Grief when I finished and needed time to process before reading something else. This year it’ll be sort of live, yay! I’m an Australian and have begun planning for next year; I have long service leave and am spending it – and then some – on the PCT. I’m glad you’re doing it again. Kind regards, Jenni

  19. Hey carrot,
    AT 56, I’m southbounding the JMT starting at the end of June. Visited with Spark after he got back and picked his brain for the upcoming journey. If lucky, maybe we’ll meet. Loved the bit about the hanging bear bags. Remember the telling of it from last summer. Found an agent yet?

  20. Making out with south bounders, good tip! Thank you 🙂 Looking forward to that already. You’ve got a great style of writing, very very funny, and very educational too. Great tip on picking your own trail name.
    Cheers! Windmill.

  21. HI Carrot. You are right on the money. This time you will be able to see more people with that deer in the headlights look. Very funny, Should be tons of fun. Best wishes. Fred

  22. Pingback: DO NOT. SEND YOURSELVES. OATMEAL. | The New Nomads

  23. Thanks for all this fantastic advice! Just found your blog and am working my way through it. Your writing is compelling, and hilarious. I want to do the PCT next year, so maybe I’ll see you there 🙂

    Most interesting to me was the psychological let down/depression at the end. I hadn’t considered it before or even heard of it…Something to think about and plan for, if you can plan for things like that?

    P.S. I LOVED Wild. Cheryl Strayed is an inspiration to me. Plus, I know if she can do it, having never been backpacking before, surly I can make it!

  24. Carrot! I loved reading your blog. I shared in so many of your emotions as I tore through every post, chasing you north even if a year late.

    Reconsider sleeping with your food though, it definitely violates the law. I do t care about the law, as a law, but it’s spirit as a conservation measure. Also, while the bear may not harm you, your food harms it. Most bears that get people food end up shot 😦

  25. Pingback: Savage Gulf Overnight | Phase Three

  26. This is maybe the finest blog entry I have ever read. You are a national treasure. Now, back to reading the 2014 blog – or do I start the 2013 and do that first? Decisions, decisions. I hope to meet you some day.

    I don’t know what you do for a living, but I hope it is writing.

Comments are closed.