(1) Where are you from and how would you like to be identified?
Vancouver, BC; Catherine, 56
(2) Thinking back to your “day-1 self,” what is going through your mind at the start?
I am excited to get walking at last after intense preparation, but I am also thinking that my pack is shockingly heavy. I have 7 litres (7 kg) of water (as advised because it’s 20 miles to Lake Morena) and more food than necessary (because of my inexperience calculating how much I need). I am walking around trying not to betray to anyone how brutally heavy my pack feels. It is about 34 pounds, which is a lot without a hip belt. I feel some uncertainty about my ability to walk far with this pack, but I put the worries out of my mind and just start walking.
(3) Do you feel ready?
Yes, I am ready! I am more than ready!
(4) What are you most afraid of?
I am most afraid of water crossings and forest fires.
(5) What are you most confident about?
I am confident that I have prepared in all ways that it is possible to prepare without actually doing the hike. I know I’ll be able to survive and I suspect that I’ll thrive.
(6) Does anybody not want you to go?
No. Almost everyone is excited about it. My mother, at 80, is still mystified why I want to do these types of long journeys involving some personal discomfort (e.g., sleeping on the ground).
(7) What made you decide to take this hike?
I love long distance journeys and have done quite a few long tours by bicycle. Backpacking wasn’t my favourite mode of backcountry travel because I found carrying everything on my back so onerous that the reward almost wasn’t worth it. So when my partner Dan said he wanted to do this, we both decided we could only do it if we learned how to backpack with less weight, which we did during the two years leading up to this hike. We did a 112-mile hike last summer with our lightweight gear and all went well and now here we are!
(8) What do you expect to get from it?
I am hoping to gain a calmer, more mindful way of being, and I want to work on being stoic, in the philosophical sense.
(9) Have you ever done anything like this before?
See #7—many long bicycle tours, sea kayaking trips, and shorter backpacking trips, culminating in our longest backpacking trip to date on the Sunshine Coast Trail in BC, 112 miles over 12 days with our lightweight gear.
(10) What have you done to prepare?
I read several books on lightweight backpacking, including Ray Jardine’s Trail Life, Don Ladigin’s Lighten Up! and Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpackin' Tips. I pored over websites to find the most recommended lightweight gear. I ordered kits from rayjardine.com and made two backpacks (for me and my partner Dan), a tarp, a net tent, a double quilt, and shell pants. I prepared and dehydrated food and what I’m not carrying now has been mailed to Warner Springs and Kennedy Meadows. We did a trial backpacking trip last summer. I am thoroughly done with preparing and just want to get started on the hike!
(11) What are you looking forward to the most?
Being in a natural environment, sleeping outside, observing my surroundings, just being present.
(12) When/where did you leave the trail?
We hiked steadily northbound (no flipping or skipping) and completed 80% of the trail to Mile 2147, at Cascade Locks, on September 26. We plan to return to Cascade Locks next summer to hike the Washington section and complete the PCT.
(13) What caused you to leave the trail?
We felt that it was getting late in the year to be in the North Cascades with gear and clothing meant for summer hiking. It was a difficult decision to end the hike there, because we were loving our life on trail and felt certain that we had the physical and mental strength to finish. With experience in snow as a backcountry skier and snowshoer, however, I dreaded being caught in snow with inappropriate gear, as had already happened to fellow hikers in WA. We had also met a seasoned veteran hiker, Hob (who first hiked the whole trail in 1976 with his wife Chickadee), who had cautioned us against being “beguiled” by the lovely sunny weather we were experiencing in Oregon at that time. We decided not to be beguiled, and we don’t regret our decision to pause here until next summer.
(14) Would you like to add anything else?
In reference back to question 8, it’s not always obvious to me that I gained a calmer, more mindful and stoic way of being, but ironically, it’s driving a car in city traffic when I feel most transformed. I don’t drive a lot in the city as I have always commuted to work and errands by bicycle, and over the past few years as my eyesight declined with age, I became increasingly anxious about driving. It just happened that I had to drive quite often in the first month of being home, and I noticed an absence of anxiety. I realized I was travelling through traffic the way I had on the trail, continually scanning and observing my environment and how I fit into it. This change is subtle but profound—it means a lot to me.