Single Biggest Mistake in Thru-Hike Preparation

An exercise in mental preparation

Keegan Leary
Keegan Leary

I was meandering through an internet wasteland of hiking-related posts and landed on this post from PCTA about preparing your brain for the hike.

The gist of the post is that over 50% of folks attempting the PCT fail due to lack of mental preparation despite thousands of dollars spent on fancy gear and lots of time committed to strenuous workouts. I'm guilty on both charges. But I do have one day before I make the journey to the Southern Terminus, so let's give it a go!

As an exercise in mental preparation, the post suggests that thru-hikers should answer the following questions:

  1. I am thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail because… (this is your why)
  2. When I successfully thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I will… (these are the personal benefits you’ll acquire upon reaching Canada)
  3. If I give up on the Pacific Crest Trail, I will… (these are the negative perceptions you’ll develop of yourself if you quit – harsh but effective)

I imagine I've done less planning than most. I have mailed zero resupply boxes and I couldn't tell you which towns actually will for sure have the food and supplies I need to keep my journey going. I do have this thing and I downloaded that app, Guthooks, that everyone recommends.

But questions remain. Where will I get new shoes? Who knows!? That said, I have a solid plan for the first few days, and depending on how that goes will influence how I plan as I go along.

I have a short window to complete the hike.  I rescheduled 3 months of drills with the Navy Reserve such that my next hard commitment is to be at NOSC (Navy Operational Support Center) Alameda on September 11 and 12 for that drill weekend.  Starting on May 19, this gives me 114 days to git 'er done.  Since I'd like to take a few zeroes and anticipate needing some time to travel home and remember how to be a normal human being, I'm hoping for around ~104 days of actual hiking. This puts my daily mileage requirement at 25.5 miles per day, an ambitious goal considering I'm carrying 22 pounds base weight (everything except food + water), a bit more than average, and plan to do my "walk by the fancy camera on the tripod" thing a lot which slows down progress a bit.

My plan: start with ~20 miles per day and hope that increases as time goes by. Yup, even in the Sierra. At this moment, every Commanding Officer I've ever had would look at me with a concerned face and say, "Keegan, Hope is not a plan."

I'll probably get chewed out, but I've been chewed out before.

Yea, I'm nervous I wont make it, but we don't know until we try!

Anyway, let me get to the whole mental preparation thing.

I am thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail because…

  1. It will be a wonderful experience. I'm excited for: carrying everything I own on my back, trying to hike 20+ miles every day, feeling pain, feeling joy, being bored, making friends, being alone, overcoming obstacles, sharing my journey, making choices, failing, succeeding.
  2. It will make me a more interesting person. I don't have a job, and I spent the last 10 years of my life as a professional submarine driver. You could argue I have no actual useful skills. You could also argue that hiking is not that interesting, or a skill. But it will be an adventure, and that's what counts if you ask me.
  3. I've always wanted to hike it, since first learning that it existed.  It was back in college in my guiding days someone told me about it. My response was this: "Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?" ~Gimli, Lord of the Rings.
  4. It will help me raise funds for two causes that I care about, well-being of sailors and scenic trails preservation.
  5. I will be able to capture some beautiful nature scenes with my camera, which will lead to me becoming the next Ansel Adams. They might even rename a wilderness area after me. Keegan Leary Wilderness. Imagine that.  It's selfish, but I want a wooden sign with my name burned into it for all the hikey-folks to see.  Some college kid volunteering his summer with a hammer and carpenter jeans will have to hike it out to the middle of nowhere and bang it into a nice little flat spot next to a particular splendid tree and rock combo.
  6. There's a chance I could lose enough weight to see abs.

When I successfully thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I will…

  1. Take time to reflect on the adventure. Yep, just gonna do some sittin' and thinkin,' John Muir style.
  2. Plan out my next adventure.  If my truck hasn't been impounded and my feet still work, there's more walking to be done.
  3. Consolidate my photos, videos, and writing. I will put it out into the internet wasteland to help others looking to take up the adventure.
  4. Donate some money like I said I would and pat myself on the back for being such an altruist!  Promise not to embezzle the funds and buy more hard drives with which to mine Chia with the crypto bros.
  5. Maybe. MAYBE. Start looking for jobs?
  6. Pick up where I left off with music and coding.  I've got songs to sing and app ideas socked away in my Pocket Brain I'll be ruminating over on the trail.
  7. Take mirror selfies of my glorious new abs and fire up the dating apps again.  Go on dates and tell chicks about how I cool I am because I walked from Mexico to Canada.  Sorry babes, my profile is on pause at the moment since I have a scheduled summer fling with Mother Nature.

If I give up on the Pacific Crest Trail, I will…

  1. Be eternally disappointed with myself. Just kidding. Most likely, I'll be upset with myself for a few days, then consider how lucky I was to even experience what I did experience, justify my failure, and twist my mind with reasons why giving up was actually a success. Not looking forward to this mind-melt. Don't quit Keegan.
  2. Wake up at 5 AM for 30 days straight and go for a run.  Gotta have something I don't want to do in here.
  3. Devise a plan to ACTUALLY complete the trail.  I.E. return to the drawing board and come back stronger and wiser.
  4. Write a 1000 word blog post on why Ryan Leary is cooler than me.  Gotta have something I REALLY don't want to do in here.
  5. Still do everything form my success list, with more emphasis on numbers one and five and less emphasis on number seven.

Ryan is supposed to be my support man for the expedition, but who thinks he's secretly going to sabotage my outting so that #2 comes to fruition? Chuck a comment below if you have other ideas of solid self-punishment for giving up. I'll add any good ones. Any comments by Ryan Leary will be ignored.

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Keegan Leary

I'm the dude the website is about.