The Greek first heard about people hiking for months on the Appalachian trail around 2009 and was immediately fascinated. He always wondered if he would ever do something like that himself. A few years later he heard about a similar trail along the Pacific Coast and just by looking at the scenery knew that this was the trail for him. In 2015 he got to visit Mt. Hood and felt he had to attempt it or else regret it forever. After spending months fantasizing about it and convincing himself that it was not for him, in 2016 he was ready for a change in his life and finally decided to go for it.
He spent 3-4 months preparing by reading online gear recommendations, blogs, and any related information he could find. He trained for a couple of days and then started together with Carbon (they had been working together at the University of Minnesota) on July 10th, 2016 from Stehekin. Although he started with the will to reach Mexico he ended up putting the trail on hold indefinitely after reaching Chester, CA, on September 12th, 2016. He got off trail because maintaining a relationship while on the trail, especially one across the world, turned out to be a lot more difficult than he expected. At the end this made the trail not as enjoyable. But he will be back one day to finish it!
STARTING IN NORTHERN WASHINGTON
"Going SOBO is like riding a roller coaster straight from the top. Northern WA has some of the most difficult and isolated sections of the whole trail. Which is great, but in our case it meant a hell of time to get from Stehekin to Stevens Pass, due mostly to being unprepared physically and not having hiking poles. I ended up having to do most of that section with pain in my knees and swelling in my right ankle. The weather, which was quite wet and cold, as well as the presence of snow, fog, and bad trail conditions, made this section quite the ordeal. Having said that, those first sluggish (we probably didn't do more than 12 miles a day) and painful days were some of my favorite on the trail. Life on the trail was exciting, nature was magnificent, and the sense of accomplishment at the end was exhilarating."
"A reason why that first section was so hard for me was that my preparation was one-sided. I spent a lot of time choosing gear and reading about other people's experiences on the trail and not enough time in preparing my body to endure. Reading was definitely worth it, I was very satisfied with almost all of my gear and had a very good idea of what the overall experience would be but not getting fit wasn’t. You can get fit on the trail but it’s going to be painful and risky. I recovered from my injuries without much of a delay but they could have also ended my hike prematurely. Another aspect of preparation is having experience with multi-day hiking. Ideally when preparing for the PCT you would want to do at least one 3-4 day trip and if possible on a section of the PCT with the gear you plan to use. If this is not possible plan for low mileage days at the start so your body can adjust and then larger mileage will come naturally. "
HIKING WITH A FRIEND
"Hiking together with someone else is comforting and makes the whole endeavor less scary. We saw a bear after about 5 miles into the trail, the first bear I had seen in my life! Although the bear got up and left it would have been a much scarier experience if I was alone. However, it turns out that it's not always possible for two people to keep the same hiking pace throughout the day. So what we did, and what most hikers traveling together do, is for each person to travel at his own pace but meet at pre-agreed locations for lunch breaks or camping at night. That way you still have the companionship of others and are not restricted in how fast you have to walk."
GETTING OFF TRAIL
"Although I was having a great time and was finally making big miles my decision to stop came from wanting to be with my girlfriend more than being on the trail. For this reason I decided it's better to stop and come back to finish it another time when I can enjoy it to its fullest. This decision was not something I anticipated or wanted when I started and it was a struggle against my urge to complete the PCT. I still feel I made the right decision and have no regrets. It made me realize what is really important to me. Hiking the PCT is about the journey, and journeys don't always take you where you expected.
No matter how hard the day was or how much my feet hurt I don't remember a time that I didn't feel happy lying on the notoriously uncomfortable Therm-a-Rest Z Lite trying to get some sleep. There is something magical about living in nature, pushing your body to its limits and the simplicity of life on the trail that I miss greatly since I stopped."
HIS TRAIL ADVICE
"Make sure you find a good pair of durable shoes that fit well. After a long day of hiking your feet are the ones that are going to make you stop, so having good shoes is crucial. My first pair of shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0), although very comfortable, completely fell apart after the first few days in Washington and I had to wrap them with duct tape to make it to Cascade Locks. Also, consider that your feet might grow while on the trail which might mean trouble if your feet are large to begin with. The largest shoes I could find in Ashland (size 13) were too small for my feet at that point. I was hoping I would break them in after a couple of days but instead I ended up losing two toenails and suffering for days.
If you are going SOBO expect snow in Washington. Even if online snow coverage maps appear to have little or no snow there might be a few small patches and they are enough to cause a scary experience or even worse, a serious accident. For me walking over snow covered slopes in WA was by far the scariest moment of my hike.
Another thing to expect that I didn't see mentioned a lot during my preparation is that the trail conditions, especially in WA can be extremely bad. There were sections with hundreds of blowdown trees, thick brush and washed out trail. Overall the trail in WA is really wild and isolated which also made it my favorite part. Just keep this in mind when planning miles and be prepared for a tough and slow start.
One more thing to expect when going SOBO is the solitude of the first few weeks. Most of the days in WA we would see at most 2 or 3 other hikers and camp by ourselves. This is a vastly different experience from going NOBO and I heard for some people it took weeks until they had a campsite on their own. If that's good or not it depends on you but it's good to keep in mind.
If you are not sure if you are going to need hiking poles then you are going to need hiking poles. In other words, unless you are an experienced hiker that prefers not using hiking poles then do yourself a favor and make them the first item in your gear list. I started without hiking poles thinking it would be a hassle to carry them around and ended up injuring both my knees and one of my ankles on the first few days of the trail. I then started to carry two sticks I found and although they kept me hiking despite my injuries they were heavy and tiresome. Upgrading to hiking poles made hiking so much more enjoyable and I didn't suffer any further injuries.
If you decide on getting a sawyer filter absolutely get the sawyer squeeze over the sawyer mini. The flow is like day and night, the extra money and weight is definitely worth it.
Talk to people. Talk to everyone you see. A few will talk too much or too little or their advice will be crap, but most of the times you will learn something useful or listen to a cool story they have to share. I found that the best people to talk to are middle-aged section hikers. They have the time to talk and the best stories to share. Of course when you hit the NOBO bubble you will get tired greeting more than 50 of them a day but it's still the best way to get information for what's coming up ahead.
Don't stress out! Things always work out on the trail."