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PCT Update 1: It's Hot and I'm Hungry All the Time

PCT Update 1: It's Hot and I'm Hungry All the Time

AnthonyFoti Jun 16th, 2021
Hot Sauce's 2021 PCT Thru-Hike

Hello Friends and Family,

Thanks for tuning in to my first PCT update. Sorry for the delay, things have been way busier than I imagined and I find myself without an abundance of charge for my phone very often. My first two weeks on trail have already been such an experience. I've probably met over 70 different people and have gotten to experience some of the best hiking I've ever done. Every single day out here is a totally new challenge, experience, and landscape. Landscapes, like the climate zones change so much hour to hour, I have been in and out of the desert maybe 5 different times now. Since I'm slowly increasing daily miles, I'm learning a lot of lessons and really tailoring my hiking style and skills. The info I included below is a complication of some things I've learned that I think you might find interesting. It's pretty random but so is this adventure, and this gives you a taste of all the different nuances and challenges I've been facing. Let me know if there's anything else you'd like me to include in my next update. Images are also attached for some visuals.

Before we begin, here's the hiker's word of the day: Siesta Planning a break in your daily miles from anytime around 11-4 in order to avoid the relentless sun at its peak hours. Very important to plan locations well, think; a shady spot with a place to lie down and nap, eat food and chat with other hikers. Hiking during this time in the desert terrain is a one way trip to hating the trail.

Guthooks and water resupply challenges By far the hardest challenge I wasn't expecting is the amount of planning you have to do around resupplying your water. On day 1, I met some trail angels near the terminus that gave us a harsh reality check about water. They were super nice, but it went like this: how much water are you carrying? Do you know where the next reliable water source is? Are you okay carrying the amount that you are carrying? For me, I was carrying 5 liters with only 4 miles to the next water source. A bit much, and doesn't totally make sense. You have to realize that water is the heaviest thing you carry, 2.2 pounds per liter actually. That's a lot when you tailor your base weight to less than 13 pounds. Basically as they summed it up, the people that carry too much water are wayyyy more likely to be leaving the trail due to an overuse injury or terrible blisters. This is something you HAVE to get good at to stay out here. If you aren't tuned into the amount of water you need and check it regularly, you'll either end up dehydrated or ruin your body with too much weight. When you're in the desert, the first thing every hiker is checking in on is water and where it's coming from next. We've become like ants scouring the land, hikers talk to each other and help each other out and it's an amazing support system. Thankfully there's also an app called guthooks to show us where all the water sources are and people can comment if it's still available so you aren't just guessing if it's good. This is also how you know trail miles, find campsites, and basically navigate. We haven't had to go more than two days off of one source, but that was a long carry and there's some long dry stretches coming up. I'm getting tuned in to how much my body needs so I can be ready for the tougher sections.

The social scene and bubbles Something that a lot of people have been talking about on trail are the bubbles. Your average PCT hiker will do hours researching about the people that hike, so there's an understanding that you should be starting with about 30-40 people on your assigned start date. remember, there's only 50 permits for each day so it's 30-40/50 (some hikers don't show up for whatever reasons). Our issue with this info of 30-40 hikers: we have only seen maybe 15 people from our start date(5/5), and everyone else has disappeared. There's so much talk about a large bubble of people in front of us but we never really catch any stragglers or are getting caught much by faster hikers behind us. All we have been thinking about for those first 5 days was, where the heck is everyone? The social scene on trail is really fun and meeting hikers is awesome, so we are a little bummed that things seem a little stagnant this year. Still a great time, but seems like a different experience from what we have heard. I will have to update as I learn more, but our best guess is that a lot of people stayed home due to covid logistics, especially international hikers who may have gotten a permit hoping travel restrictions would open before their start date.

My legs In the back of my head I have this tantalizing fear that I'm going to get an overuse injury in my legs. It has felt close at times. Just before Julian I started to get what I was told was runner's knee, which is some pain in my kneecap usually from strenuous descents where I'm lowering my weight a lot. Luckily there's a tiny hiker shop that sold knee braces specifically for that. A few days later with it on and it's feeling way better and I'm so much more certain with it. Other than that, the rest of my pains are pretty common, usually related to the bottoms of my feet after 10 miles. I'm getting used to that aching feeling at the end of each day, and what I didn't expect was just how much your body can recover overnight. A calf strain on a really tough climb day can be normal soreness within 24 hours and a day where you can't bend over because your hip is too tight can be easily loosened with a good stretch and a mile or two under the belt for the day. I'm finding my limits and they are in surprising places. I would say I'm more confident in my body than I've ever been and I suppose myself every day with the pace I can hike at.

First day and trail magic My first day on trail was a little bit of a wild one. I flew into San Diego on the 4th, staying in a hotel downtown. I did a bit of exploring, some eating of pizza, and my final and important showers. The next morning I had to walk to the trolley stop, take the orange line back to the transportation center, and then wait for one of the three times the bus goes to campo. From there, basically you're getting on a city bus but taking it through rocky and hilly desert countryside into the middle of nowhere. We got dropped off next to a general store 1.5 miles from the start. Took some pics at the terminus, and started to hike down the trail. That was until I met my FIRST and most important trail angels. Legend and Survivor. They grilled me about water(see above), making me totally get in the desert mindset, and also taught me something about "trail magic." Basically the gist is this: the trail gives you magic and you catch it, it's with you and it's your job to carry it with you and spread it to others along the way. I'm two weeks in and I can't understate how much I still think about this with every amazing thing that has happened. It's a community and its own world and everyone has been incredible and supportive in every sense. An unexpected lesson: a majority of the people in this world are so amazing and supportive even when they don't need to be. I have a new faith in strangers and life in general providing amazing, unexpected things.

Trail Resupplies My resupplies have gone well so far. The first in Mt Laguna was really nice for being a small general store. We actually planned it perfectly so we had a 5 mile morning hike into town, and got there just at 9 for opening and morning breakfast. What made it even better, my first time pooping since on trail. Pooping is important and talked about a lot with hikers. When you all live in the woods those barriers are the first to go. For me that first poop was a sign that my body was ready to stop fighting the new lifestyle. A few days later was a descent into a small highway for a 12 mile hitch hike into julian. The first hitch, kinda a big deal but we did it as a group and had two cars for us back to back after only 5 minutes of sticking out the thumb. It's really amazing how nice and willing people are to help, they gave us a rundown of the town on the way and gave us the whole history as well. This is that trail magic I mentioned. Julian was also a great place to meet other hikers because it's where people start taking zeros and groups get mixed, but also making it impossible to remember anyone's names. Next was Warner Springs for my first resupply box I sent myself. Way too much food... I ended up keeping all of the dinners but a lot of the extra snacks that take up too much space had to go into the hiker box. This is a box at the post office where you can throw extras for other hikers. This is also where I realized how much I just want candy bars, pop tarts, and MiO. That's all I wanted. By far my favorite day was this warner springs day. It was blistering hot, so we took a long siesta and chatted in a gas station parking lot and did no caring about miles. Also hikers often refer to themselves as "hiker trash" and in this scenario we were actually hanging around some dumpsters so it felt a little like home. Idyllwild was an amazing mountain town with a lot of fun places to hang out and talk with hikers. And last was Big Bear which is more of a city and we felt the most out of place at. Amazing places that should be visited even without hiking to them.

My routine and things I've learned I'm starting to get a really good sense of my daily routine: I wake up at 4-5(sunrise), i get most of my miles done in the morning(10-15 miles), eat lunch or siesta, and then gradually get the rest of the miles before finishing at a solid camp spot before the sun goes down around 7:30. A few things I've learned already:

  • I have to keep SEVERAL breakfasts on the outside of my pack since I get hungry at least every hour once I start hiking.
  • Check water regularly to make sure I'm safe. This means before bed for the next day, as I'm hiking and consuming, and when talking with other hikers on the trail.
  • Don't forget the Vaseline in-between the toes before I put my shoes on, or else the blisters will become a problem (though I am getting athletes foot from not taking my shoes off enough. Separate issue that's getting resolved soon)
  • I'm eating lunch wayy too late and ending up very tired at 12-1pm. This is the biggest halt to my pace since I'm actually running on empty. I now eat at 11:30 instead of 2.
  • If I can find a pacer to get stuck behind, I get far less tired by the end of the day. Pacing myself, not my strong suit so I try and have someone do it for me.

Trail Dad + an embarrassing moment A very proud moment for me was getting to name a fellow hiker "trail dad." He was with me from day one and explained so many interesting things I didn't know about the state of California, climate change and the environment, recycling and more from his years of experience. He also would love to talk about his kids. Kids + fatherly information = trail dad. He also just happened to be sticking with two younger guys for a few days who couldn't help but tease him about his fatherly demeanor. He was only section hiking but he's already an amazing person I got to meet because of this trail. Also, to add on: my most embarrassing moment on trail has to be accidentally squatting on a cactus and having a thorn stuck in my ass for an hour at one of our campsites. Thankfully I didn't end up with the trail name "cactus butt." At least not yet...

Food and the cravings I do have to add a note about hiker hunger. It's no joke. I eat at least two breakfasts, and a lunch and then a full rice packet dinner with a protein, and my stomach is growling in-between each one of those. It doesn't matter how much you eat, within hours you're hungry. The weirdest part is what you're hungry for. For me: love peanut butter normally, haven't wanted it once on trail. Same for chocolate, except for snickers bars which handle the heat the best of all the candy bars. What I crave the most: coca cola, any sweet sugary drink really, pizza, cheeseburgers, anything that you can dunk in ketchup, and definitely NOT anything fishy. The food thing has been a weird ride, especially since I know I'm not getting enough calories. Hunger comes and goes like the temperature and it's hard to judge what you really want and how to get it. It's hard to get the calories when you only have so much space in your bag, time in your day and energy to cook and get food out. I still have a lot of tampering to do with food and what I'm buying. I can definitely say that I think about town food for at least two hours every day and that's not going away soon.

Idyllwild and the most interesting camping spot I have stayed in yet A later visit I've had is to the mountain town of idyllwild. It's just below the beautiful mountain of San jacinto. The hike up the mountain and to the cutoff trail has been my favorite section of hiking so far. We had an awkward push of miles to find a campsite at the top of a ridge with easily 60 mph gusts of wind. Even though I felt like my tent was going to rip in half, from my spot I could catch both an amazing sunrise AND sunset. The next days' hike would be along an exposed ridge with some exposed hiking, but there was something incredible about clouds pouring over peaks and being able to hike where you could see for miles in any direction. Once we did get to our cutoff and into idyllwild it felt reliving in a way. Like we earned our night in a real bed (and the three or four meals out at local restaurants eating junk food). Getting to towns is an amazing feeling, like checking off legs in a race. Finding the campsites along the way: more difficult than I imagined. Mistakes have been made, but there's been some amazing spots I'll never forget in my lifetime.

Final notes For those tracking along on a map, I've just left the Big Bear area and am now a mile 298. That's right almost 300 miles down! I have so many other things to talk about that I've learned and experienced but it's all happening so fast it's tough for me to even keep up. Please feel free to reach out for some more things I should share or that you're curious about. This is already an awesome experience and I'm really happy I stepped out of my comfort zone to do this. I hope more people are inspired to do it too. Thanks for all the support and hope to chat soon! Thanks

Anthony :)

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