Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why and how do you plan to walk 2600+ miles?

Proverbs 16:9

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.(ESV)

For the last week and a half I have been putting together my plan to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. I started by using Craigs PCT Planner and Yogi's Pacific Trail Handbook to create a first draft plan of my resupply points.

This is where my experience on my two-day sixty two mile marathon comes into usefulness. In order to plan you have to know roughly how fast you are going to hike. Since I had never hiked thirty miles in a single day before, not to mention days back to back, I didn't have a context as to what I would be capable of. Now I know what it's like and what it will feel like.

Using my pace as a starting point I began to consider the key elements of the hike. There are a couple of important drivers for the this project. (I noticed my project management experience kicking in). They are:
  1. The best time to get a ride from the Onion Vally Trailhead into Independence is on a weekend. This doesn't happen until seven hundred and eighty nine miles into the hike.
  2. You don't want to leave Kennedy Meadows any earlier than mid-June as there will be too much snow. Meaning the passes are harder to cross and the melt in the streams make the crossings harder. Also there may not be anyone in Red's Meadow. 
  3. I want to attend the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off (ADZPCTKO) that happens typically on the last weekend of April.
  4. You don't need a permit to climb Mt Whitney if you are a PCT thru-hiker and you stay to the west of the divide.
What I like about Craig's PCT Planner is that you can make changes and the dates ripple down to the end updating when you will arrive and depart the various resupply points. This is great for knowing what to ship where and when but it didn't tell me if I would be able to make it there by then and where I might camp, get water, and take a zero day.
I am planning on camping here the night
before attempting to summit Mt Whitney

So I then downloaded all of Halfmile's maps and began visualizing the route. Halfmile also has the entire PCT in GPS tracks and waypoints, which I also downloaded and opened in Google Earth (GE). Wow, what a cool setup! I could basically fly the entire route, compare the map to what it looks like in GE, and determine if my plan is realistic or not.

Same camp in Google Earth - way cool!

The reality is though, that regardless of the planning I do, the real hike is going to differ from it. There are too many unknown variables for me to be able to predict the outcome. All I can do is my best to mitigate the risks and the variables. So I planned extra days and flexibility into the plan to allow for changes so that they can be made without completely tossing out the entire plan.

In working through this exercise I have found some of my ideas were completely unrealistic. What is interesting is that when reading Yogi's book I found that some parts of the trail contain few entries, giving the impression that the distance is less than it really is. When I began to follow the maps and the route it is truly staggering how far the distance is between some of the entries.

So what's the point of the Bible verse at the beginning of the post?

I been thinking about all of the mental effort involved in putting this trip together. The reality is though, my days could end tomorrow, in which case this is my last post. Even if the summer of 2017 finally comes, the plan is irrelevant until day arrives and my feet hit the ground at the Mexican border, and even then there are a myriad of unknowable, unpredictable possibilities that are going to shape and change the plan even though I put my best efforts to it.

So why plan? Because if I don't plan it, I won't do it. I hate cliches but the one that goes "Those that fail to plan, plan to fail" could be said of me as I have never planned for anything as epic as this trip because of the fear of failing. So I didn't necessary plan to fail, but I also never dared pursue a dream big enough that failure could have a significant impact on my life.

Most people I talk to don't understand why anyone would hike from Mexico to Canada much less why anyone would want to. I will try to answer the why, at least my why in a later post... assuming I live till then.

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