PCT Pacing

In the last post covering PCT Planning, I mentioned a 20 mile-per-day (mpd) average needed for us to get to Canada by the end of September.  Hopefully before the snow starts falling.

Twenty miles a day?  Walking?  On purpose?

Gotcha.

But remember, that’s the average.  Half of the hike will be below, half will be above.

We’re going to stick with the ultra-marathon mantra of “start out slow, throttle back”.  In other words, we intend on being tortoises.

We’ll start our hike about 10 days earlier than the traditional start of the PCT hiking season, which coincides with an event called the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO).  The ADZPCTKO is, in a nutshell, a camping weekend where hikers can meet other hikers, get advice on their equipment, buy what they need and get the latest trail, water and snow conditions for the trail before they head out.

[I actually typed “buy what they don’t need”.  Freudian slip, anyone?]

The location of the ADZPCTKO is the Lake Morena campground at PCT mile 20.  A lot of folks will do that 20 miles in their first day.

Goddess and I will not.

We’ll take two days to get to that campsite, a week before the masses.  We’ll keep moving at a 10 mpd average pace for the next couple of weeks.

There are downsides to moving so slowly.  We’ll have to carry more water between watering holes (literally) in the desert.  We’ll have to carry more food between resupply points.  But we’ll be giving our feet and our bodies frequent breaks during the day, giving everything a chance to settle into the task.

A typical day early in the hike might look like this – wake up early and get on the trail around sunrise.  Walk for a couple of hours until mid- to late-morning when it starts to get hot (it will be the desert, y’know).  Find or create shade, have lunch, take a siesta and wait until late afternoon.  Then get a couple of more hours on the trail in the late afternoon/early evening before setting up camp for the night.

A lot of folks will try to get in 20 mile days, day after day, right from the start.  Some of those will soon start to deal with incessant blisters and/or bio-mechanical issues.  Quite a few of those will stop at Warner Springs, just 110 miles into the hike, deal with their injuries and never continue.

That’s not something we want to experience.

We’ll get to Warner Springs as the ADZPCTKO is in full-swing and we’ll likely continue north.  Although we’re still discussing the possibility of hitching a ride back down to the event.  We’ll have time.

If we continue along the trail, the fast hikers will catch up to us within a few days.  Soon the trickle of hikers will become a steady stream as the faster ones catch and pass us.

But we still won’t be in a hurry.

By the time we get to Kennedy Meadows, the traditional start of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we’ll be up to a whopping 12 mpd average.  And we’ll still get to Kennedy Meadows about a week earlier than the traditional 15 June date.  In a typical year, departing Kennedy Meadows earlier than 15 June means dealing with a lot of snow at elevation, while departing Kennedy Meadows after 15 June means an easier time as the snow melts quickly.

Mind you, that average takes into consideration days off.  In thru-hiker parlance, a day off is a “Zero Day”, meaning no miles are hiked.  Often taken in a town, a zero day can also be taken on the trail, but that requires additional food and water for that segment of the trail.

Another option is what is called a “Nearo Day”.  Instead of no miles hiked, a hiker can camp a few miles outside of a town, wake up, hike into town and take care of whatever resupply and other chores are required, then hike out of town a few miles to camp for the night.

The advantage to a Nearo is not paying for a hotel room.  Handy when you’re trying to save money on the trail, but not so much if it has been 7-10 days (or more) since the last shower or hiker bath in a large body of water.  Even your fellow hikers might start to say something about that.

So while the average is 12 mpd, we’ll slowly build up our daily pace to accommodate those off and shorter days.

The next 400 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountains will be slow going as we have to work over several high elevation passes and across streams swollen with snow melt.  After that, it’s time to get serious about making miles.

Through Northern California and Oregon, it’s likely that we’ll be covering 25 mpd, many days covering 30+ miles.  It sounds like a lot, but when you consider that by the time we enter Northern California we’ll have had over 1,100 miles in our legs over three months, we’ll be up to the task.

Not to mention time.  We’ll enter Northern California in early July, a few weeks after the summer solstice.  The days will be long (~15 hours of daylight).  We’ll be comfortably walking 12-14 hours each day at a slower than normal walking pace of 2.5 mph.  That gets us over 30 miles each day if we want or need to push that hard.

Once we get into Washington, the terrain becomes a bit more demanding again and our daily pace will slow down a bit.  But at that point, we’re five months into our long walk and have the finish in our grasp.  Excitement and motivation will help overcome any terrain and weather (rain) that we have to deal with.

And that, in a nutshell, is how we average 20 miles per day on this long walk.

But that sure is a lot of words.  Perhaps this will help with the understanding of the motivation:

 

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