Last updated: Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lessons from the Trail


We have hiked about 1050 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) since May 2, 2006. During this same time, we have also completed many urban hikes and day hikes, which add up to many more uncounted miles. This has been an adventure I am still excited about.

Here are some of the key details:

In May and June of 2006, Ken Tran and I hiked 500 miles of the PCT over 37 days on the trail. We walked north from Campo, CA to Lake Hughes, CA.

In September 2006, we hiked 80 miles of the John Muir trail, from Tuolumne Meadows through the High-Sierra camps and back. We also hike the High Sierra loop in September, but most of that was off the PCT.

In April 2007, we walked from Lake Hughes, CA to I58 near Tehachapi, CA, through the Mojave Desert and over part of the Tehachapi Mountains, about 85 miles - not counting the extra miles we walked while we were exploring the desert.

June 7-15, 2007 we hiked from Whitney portal, with our packs at max weight, over Mt Whitney and over the four passes heading north on the PCT. We returned to civilization at Florence Lake - because we ran out of good food - for a total of about 90 miles of more hiking.

Since then we hiked from Florence Lake to Tuolumne Meadows, in 2008, which completed the John Muir Trail for us, and then in May 2009 we hiked from I58 to Walker Pass and continued to Kennedy Meadows to complete the sections we had missed - we also hiked south from Idyllwild to Paradise Cafe and then to Warner Springs, and that was just extra. We have re-hiked from Campo to Warner Springs a couple more times too; also extra miles.

In August 2007 we pedaled our bikes from SF/Mission and 16th to Guadalupe, CA - about 300 miles - then took the train to Santa Barbara and LA to meet our friends as planned. We "moteled" and camped for 3 nights on the road; our route was basically along highway 1. This does not count as thru-hiking miles, but it is on my list of adventure miles. We had a great time; met wonderful people. We also had 3 flats in one day, blew out an old tire and enjoyed a bunch of strawberries along the way.

 In 2009 I hiked, without Ken, from Tuolumne Meadows to Sonora pass(5 days) and later from Sonora Pass to Ebbits Pass(1.5 days). This trip had the extra adventure of riding my bicycle from Ebbits Pass, over Monitor Pass, through Antelope Valley and then up Sonora Pass from the eastern side, to get back to my truck - 72 bike miles + the 32 miles of hiking the PCT.

You can get specific information about the PCT at

I love these hiking adventures and wilderness experiences, and I have noted some lessons I gleaned from time on the trail. It is probably just a romantic thought that I may have learned any of these lessons, but I present them to you here anyway.

1. We all hike our own hike. This is sort-of-unwritten, number 1 rule of the trail. This can be a deep thought, if you let it. Someone wrote a nice book with this title recently.

2.  I can carry all I need to live for weeks in a 15-25 pound backpack, so what is all the other stuff I have really for?

3. I know it is possible to live a very simple life, as when thru-hiking, but only with the support and collusion of others.

4. During a long day of hiking I notice the beautiful world I am in; I think about and notice the condition of my feet and body, enough water to drink, and my next meal, in order. That is enough to feel great.

5. Every new day is like an "Adventure Box"; I see it in front of me in the morning and I must decide whether to open it. What will be there?

I am not sure what this has to do with the trail, but during several weeks on the PCT I dreamt about opening an "adventure box" each morning, as sort of a way to begin each new day with a smile and an open mind.

6. Everything in life that I don't need or do while on the trail is most likely just a distraction and a diversion that I can do without; a diversion from minding my life.

7. I am a part of nature in this way. Leaves fall and branches sway in strong winds. I hope that each of us, like the trees, have grown strong, deep roots, so strong winds never not topple us.

8. When I hike all day, I don't need to do my daily, morning stretching and strength exercises.

9. Weather is just weather, thoughts are just thoughts, feelings are only feelings. Do not be concerned, change is coming. Imagine a scene of waves coming in and going out endlessly along the beach - each one is on not so much consequence.

10. I can walk 25 miles or more in one day while carrying even a 45-50 pound pack. I am still OK - extremely!! tired but OK. I prefer to carry only a 25 lb pack.

11. On the trail everyone is a friend, and everyone will share what they can.

12. If I want to go fast, it is probably best to go alone. If I want to go far, I should travel together with others. This is a proverb from Africa somewhere, and it applies to hiking the PCT as well to other things.

13. We normally eat more than we need. Lots more. We should instead stay a little hungry all of the time.

14. Water is the best thing. All the juices, sodas, beer, tea, coffee, is all a distraction. Sometimes it is a burden. Food is also a simple enjoyment of life. Find balance.

15. Eat a little in the morning, eat a good meal for lunch and take a nap, then eat just little in the evening. Sleep early. Arise early.

16. Hike everyday. I will repeat this as long as I can.

17. 5-6AM; get up, clear camp and start walking by 6-6:30AM. Walk until 7PM or so. Find a flat place to lie down and sleep off the trail.

18. Swim and wash when I find water. Aim for mid-day and warm weather. Wash socks and underwear daily; carry a wet wash-cloth in a plastic baggie, and wear a bandana for my neck and use a hat and sun glasses.

19. I check my feet and especially my toes every morning, noon and evening. I work to keep my toe nails short, so I won't wear holes in my socks. I use athletic tape to prevent blisters and protect my feet. I keep my finger nails short, because my hands stay cleaner, and a broken finger nail in the wilderness tears clothing and can be painful.

20. A proverb: if you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance. Enjoy.

21. Hiking is walking. Walking is dancing. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and pace to the music inside.

22. Wilderness is not the city. City things do not work well in the wilderness.

23. Everyday things get better. Things are so much better today than ever before in Human history.

24. Long distance hiking is a homelessness, wandering way of life; that is OK. Happy Journey.

25. In the desert, a silver umbrella makes a great sunshade. With an umbrella, I require less water, so my load can be lighter, and I can go farther between fill-ups and breaks. An umbrella also blocks the wind and provides shelter at night if needed.

26. Trail shoes of plastic, rubber and mesh are lighter than, and so preferable to, leather boots for hiking and walking. Use light gear. Use less gear.

27. A good hat and bandana protect me from too much sun, when walking day after day. I also use sunglasses and a silver umbrealla for sun and wind protection. And I might get burned and dark anyway in SoCal deserts.

28. I carry reading glasses, but only use them for maps.

29. When preparing for hiking, I focus for a moment on each item I will carry. I discard any item not essential and useful. I have a scale with ounces and grams, for precision during preparations.

30. The first 2-3 days of a hike are acclimatization - the real hike begins on the third day...

31. When living outside, the sun is the clock; the moon is the calendar.Notice the night sky, it is beautiful.

32. When hiking we must be patient and resourceful, just like living.

33. I don't need a tent or a flashlight, but I carry good rain gear. I am still thinking about bug netting. And Deet.

34. The trail will either cure me or kill me. Thank you Sparky.

35. Walking all day, everyday, makes me strong, calm and healthy.

36. It is great to have a hiking partner who is steady, strong, reliable and adventurous.

37. Long-distance thru-hiking is good for me.

38. The trail is always there; silent and waiting. The trees and rocks are always there.

39. The trail never lectures, but the lessons are unforgiving.

40. Good maps are important. It is also essential to read them.

41. Hiking uphill, downhill and level, on rocks and on sand, are each different. Know where you are going and what you have to do to arrive.

42. Know where your next water is and have a Plan B for Desert Hiking. It is easy to run low on water or to get lost; hard to recover.

43. I cannot easily hike in the wilderness without home support. Someone who misses me and someone to miss is essential.

44. Every morning I wake up and go on, regardless of the weather, regardless of how I feel. In hiking.

45. I notice that I have time and opportunity to mentally design and re-design everything about my life during the long hours of hiking.

46. Hiking in the wilderness has been the best unplanned adventure I can imagine. Then we rode bikes SF to LA. Another outdoor adventure - words cannot surround this experience.

47. I don't need to travel the wide-world to have an adventure and to discover and create new things; I only need to hike in the wilderness for a while.

48. I can observe my body change each day while hiking. I am stronger and lighter, my feet callous like leather, my skin is worn by the wind and sun; I sleep well, I eat less, I work hard, I think clearly and I feel good. This wilderness world is a very nice world to live in.

49. There is no effort on the trail, as in nature. There is MY efforts to go forward and climb the hills and mountains, but the trail, the rocks, the trees, grasses, flowers and bushes, the wind, the sun, the clouds, the streams, the stars, all make no effort. They each are perfect as they are. How many eons have these features of nature been here waiting? How many eons more? We pass thru and that is all; try to appreciate our good fortune being here for this moment.

50. I stop hiking and return to the protections of family and city when things become too difficult.

51. When I am not hiking, I say I miss the trail; when I am hiking, I think of how difficult it is. But there are many moments of joy.

52. I know a few things about the natural world; I primarily know that I  know relatively little of all there is to know. Nevertheless I enjoy it everyday and every moment and continue to observe and learn more.

53. I open my eyes and I breathe. Now I pick up my gear and begin walking toward my next destination.

54. There is some food along the trail; Yucca stalks in the desert and Miner's Lettuce in the spring. Acorns in the fall too, but those require hours for collection and preparation.

55. There is so much to learn. Minerals, geology, natural history, geography, weather, botany, wild food, history, mythology...

56. Check the "hiker box" at each destination. I love the beanie I "found" at Warner Springs in 2006. Also the chocolate and granola bars, long gone.

57. Don't break your gear on the trail.

And fix it if you do. Carry a little Swiss-army pocket knife, strong string and duct tape - the usual suspects- to fix things with. I cracked a tent pole in 2006, like Tom and Sheila, and my tent leaned to one side as a result. I became totally distracted from enjoying my tent after that - until I stopped using the tent.

I don't carry or use a tent now; I carry a large, light, waterproof, rip-stop tarp instead. This works great, and I can see the stars easily.

58. Start an adventure with good gear and a good plan. Study, think everything through and talk to hikers, then acquire the gear that makes sense. Write down your plan and leave it with someone.

59. I always survey my camp site before I leave it to start hiking again. I know I may not be returning to this place.

60. When I have any foot problems - hot-spots, blisters, really big blisters - I use "goat tape", a Velcro-like gauze wrap, to stabilize my foot, protect it, and hike the rest of the day. Usually used for animals; it happily comes in florescent colors.

61. Carry good food. Nobody likes crabby hikers. Nobody likes to be one either.