Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Trail Notes, Daily Routine

Agua Dulce - We wanted to give you an idea of what our lives are like on the trail, sort of a brief synopsis of a "typical" day. Even as we write this, we find that our daily routine is evolving and changing. Perhaps this should be called our 'early routine' and compared with a 'later routine', as we hone our long-distance hiking skills. Still, we thought that you would enjoy reading what we go through on a typical day. How does it compare with your daily schedule?

One nice thing about hiking, is that there are no alarm clocks in our trail lives (Well, that's not entirely true. Eric, a PCT thru-hiker who is chronically late, bought a travel alarm clock in Big Bear City, hoping that it would enable him to get up sooner and hike longer distances. We don't know if it is working for him because he is behind us. But, it did wake us up at 5:30 AM one morning when we shared a camp with him.) Our alarm clock are the birds that begin to sing, just before sunrise and that large solar orb that turns night into day (which, right now, has us awake right around 6:00 AM). Scott typically wakes when the birds begin to sing, in the pre-dawn darkness. If the tent rain-fly is off, he might watch the last remaining stars fade into the dawn sky. Rachel's morning begins something like this:

Scott - "Pssst. Hey, it's time to get up."

Rachel - "Huh? Grmph .... mphh."

"Wake up, babe."

"What time is it?" she asks.

"You don't want to know."

She falls back asleep. "Zzzzzzzz."

Scott says, prodding her, "C'mon, we've got lots of miles to go. Let's get going."

Rachel moans, "Awww, just a few more minutes."

--- 5 minutes later ----

"Wake up."

"Huh? Grmph .... mph."

Scott - "C'mon, babe."

Rachel is finally awake, "I'm awake, you slave driver."

Our day begins with a quiz "Guess the inside-the-tent-temperature". Most mornings have been at or just below freezing ... so far. We lay back and moan about how sore we are, that we don't want to leave the relative warmth of our sleeping bags, and that we're crazy for being out here. We might pull a couple of clothing items into our sleeping bags, to warm them up, if it is an especially cold morning. We dress while still in our down sleeping bags, pulling on our dirty hiking pants and shirt from the day before (which, MAY have been rinsed in a stream or lake, the night before, if we are lucky). We then take care of our greatest asset, our feet. We put mole-skin on the blisters (Rachel has several on her heels and Scott has a few). We also apply Vaseline to our 'hot' spots (this is a hiker trick to help keep down the friction). It feels weird. Then we pull on our hiking socks and fleece jackets.

While still in the tent, we begin to organize our things, preparing for our hiking day. First is to stuff our sleeping bags, slightly damp from dew and respiration, into their stuff sacks. We put our sleeping clothes (polypropylene shirt and pants for Scott and silk leggings and top for Rachel) into the clothing portions of our backpacks. We put away the white-gas backpacking stove (MSR Whisperlite) and 850 mL fuel bottle, the toiletry kit and various other items. We each have a special pouch on our packs for the day's "trail goodies" (snacks that we eat while hiking). We pull these items our of our food bag: beef jerky; "Jolly Rancher" candies, "Snickers" candy bars, GORP (nuts and chocolate M&M's), fruit leathers and granola bars. The last thing that we do before clearing out of the tent is to roll up our sleeping insulation pads (Therm-a-Rest pads), letting the air out of them and rolling them tightly.

We're out of the tent now, assessing the morning. If it's really cold, we'll don our gloves. We move our packs to a 'clean' spot (a nearby rock, log or bush, trying to avoid dusty or sandy areas) and continue packing.

Rachel's morning constitutional duties may press her to find a quiet spot away from camp (when she has to go, she has to go now!) Scott usually needs a few miles on the trail to loosen things up.

With the tent cleared out, it's time to take down the 'house' (tent). Off comes the rain-fly. It's big enough that it's a two-person job ... especially if it is windy. We have ritual that's nice ... squeezing the folded fly between us in a full-press hug (to force the air from the water-proof nylon and start the day with a good-morning kiss). Rachel then rolls the fly and stows it in her pack. Next, the tent and poles are folded and packed into Scott's pack.

We inventory our water supply (critical in southern CA and especially critical this year - a big drought year down here). We might fill one of our 4-liter bladders or our quart bottle (if our camping site is next to a river, spring, or other water source).

Our bags are now packed and we are ready to start our hiking. We've not yet had breakfast, but may have consumed a granola bar or "Snickers" candy bar, if we're particularly hungry. We prefer to hike a few miles before stopping to eat ... both to warm up a bit and to make some trail miles.

It only takes us about a half hour to disassemble our home and pack up. The time is now somewhere around 6:30 AM and we've taken the first few steps of our hiking day. (We have been rising earlier and earlier, we've noticed. One reason is because sunrise is occurring earlier each day and the other is because we find the early morning miles easier to hike. The air is cool, the trail is often shaded and our bodies are fresh. These miles are what Scott calls "free miles" and they are helping to increase our daily mileage totals. Our longest hiking day, from Lake Silverwood, across Interstate 15 and into the San Gabriel mountains, covered 22.5 miles and it's not by chance that it was also our earliest start: 5:40 AM. As we near the Mojave desert and the weather warms, these cooler hours are best for hiking. The time between noon and 3 PM is brutal - HOT, water sucking, hard and sooo sloooow.)

The early morning miles pass under our feet quickly and after a couple of miles, we are warmed up and stop to take off our gloves and/or fleece top. We watch some of the small wild creatures start their day ... cottontail rabbits bounding among bushes, ground squirrels or chipmunks whistle, scurrying for cover and those 'mighty-men' of the reptile world ... lizards ... doing their Charles Atlas pushups on nearby boulders. Birds are chirping and flitting from tree-to-tree. Blue Jays screech at us, as if somehow offended by our presence. We also take time to admire the many flowers growing alongside the trail: Forget-me-nots, Lupine, Paint Brush, Fox Gloves, etc. Even in the desert sections, we have been blessed with excellent springtime timing: Prickly Pear, Ocotillo, Agave, Mexican Candlestick & Yucca are all in bloom.

We stop for 'breakfast' along the trail. By now the sun has risen and is warming the landscape. There are still canyons in shadow and the tall bushes throw shadows across the trail that still hold cool morning air. We try to find a place to stop that has a view and isn't too windy. We eat cold cereal with powdered milk, from a Ziploc bag, after adding water (this is our favorite breakfast food). We seldom eat hot oatmeal (our old backpacking staple) ... saving the fuel and the time spent heating water. We also eat breakfast bars, granola bars, candy bars or drink a cup of 'Carnation Instant Breakfast Drink' for breakfast variety.

We look at the map and read the portion of the guidebook that covers the section of trail that we are on - moaning about a big upcoming climb, noting any highlights, and look to see where we can next obtain water. (This year has been a huge drought year in southern California ... "The worst year on record", "The worst in 100 years" - we've heard people say. One guy we ran into near San Diego said that the average rainfall is 14 inches, but only 2.5 inches has fallen so far this year.) Many streams that usually are flowing into summertime are already dried up. Thanks to trail angels and good luck, we haven't had to wander far from the trail to get water (so far). We began hiking the PCT by carrying 9 liters of water EACH, so worried were we about this precious liquid. That translates to nearly 20 pounds!! We've cut back on that a bunch. Now we carry 5 liters max and more like 3 liters average. We control water consumption by hiking early in the morning, but we'll guzzle a quart when we encounter a water source on-trail. We're also much more attune to our body's water needs - knowing that we can hike 10-15 miles on 3 liters, if it isn't a super-hot day. We always read the guidebook with water in mind and are very thankful for every ounce left on the trail by angels -- THANK YOU!!

The hiking day continues. It's now about 8:30 to 9:30 AM and we've covered between 3-7 miles, depending on our start time and the terrain. We hike along, mostly close together, but sometimes separated by 1/4 mile or so. We talk sometimes, but are also silent for a half hour or more, deep in our own thoughts. The mind wanders while the body labors - future plans, nearby sights, where to put our feet to avoid rocks, recent conversations we've had with people, little rhyming games, past memories - all over the map.

We have no real reason to stop hiking. We have snack food in our pant pockets and water is dispensed through a clear hose, over the shoulder, through a bite-valve. We take a sip of water, open a candy bar and keep on moving forward. Of course, we do stop, about every 2-4 miles. Sometimes our feet are unhappy in their boots - a blister is hurting, a heel is aching, or they're just plain tired. Sometimes our legs are tired. Sometimes we are just too hot and are seeking shade. And sometimes the views are just too wonderful and we have to stop just to soak it all in.

Lunch is not an event that occurs every day. Some days, we just snack our way right into camp. When we do eat lunch, it is comprised of bread, cheese, salami, peanut butter or honey. For a change, we'll add 'Gatorade' mix to a quart bottle and sip that with our food. This 'big break' is usually taken mid-afternoon (1:30 - 2:30 PM), after most of the hard miles are behind us.

The hiking ends when we get tired, late in the afternoon, around 5 PM ... sometimes earlier. To some degree, it depends on the availability of a good camping spot (some place flat, big enough to set up the tent, sheltered from the wind and - to a lesser degree - availability of water). We don't need water at camp, but it is nice. It allows us to bathe, do a bit of laundry and to cool off - if it's source is a stream or lake. For our 'dry camps', we can fill our extra 4-liter bag and use that for a sponge bath and cooking - saving our drinking water for the next day. About 50% of our camps, so far, have been dry camps. We're looking forward to the end of the desert section of this trail, so that we'll have more camps next to rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds.

Once we've settled on a site to pitch our tent, we set it up and let it dry out from the morning's dew. We then select our dehydrated dinner and start that re-hydrating by adding water to the meal in a cooking pot. The next order of business is to get our feet out of our hiking shoes and socks - into more comfortable camp sandals. "Ahhhh," say our tired and achy feet. Socks and shirt are laundered (rinsed) if there is available water. Next, our bodies are bathed - via immersion or spit-bath. We use our bandanas as scrubbing cloths. In a dry camp, we often heat a 1/3 quart of water as a luxury for our spit bath. Soon we're "clean" (at least, not hot and sweat-covered). We then put on our "clean" sleep clothes and settle in for the night. If there are other PCT hikers around, we'll socialize. If not, we tend to our journal and answer emails. (Thanks for all your kind words!!! It keeps us going.)

Dinner is not far off, generally consumed by 7:00-7:30 PM. We cook in two pots. The main, re-hydrated meal in one and the filler (Minute rice, instant potatoes or pasta) in the other. We mix and divide the food, then ... sitting in the tent (because it's starting to get cold), we eat our hot food. YUM. Oh, the joy of a nice, hot, tasty meal after a day of hiking!

Bed is shortly after the lights go out (sunset). But, before we retire for the evening, we enjoy an intimate luxury - we give each other a foot rub. (Our tired dogs, usually the most neglected and unimportant part of our bodies, have become a number one priority on this trail.) With moans of pleasure and grunts of pain, we massage each other's tired feet simultaneously ... head-to-toe. It feels so good and we're so exhausted after a day of ups, downs, rocks and sun - that we nearly fall asleep while rubbing. When we swing around and lay our heads upon our fleece jackets, all snuggled in our feather down bags, we're not long awake.

We have a light, lip balm, watch and water bottle all within easy reach during the night. The food is tucked away inside rodent-proof bags (Ursacks) and our packs are stowed under the rain-fly vestibules (if rain is threatening, we expect a heavy dew, want privacy or think it will be cold, we'll use the rain fly). We're asleep till the birds start chirping and the stars are, once more, fading from a lightening sky.

"Psst. Babe, it's time to wake."

"Huh? Mph .... grph. What time is it? Just a few more minutes ..."