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Set a Goal – Make a Plan

It was 2019. I had a goal – to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The Plan was simple: find someone to go with me, gather my gear and go.

Mind you, at age 65, I’d NEVER backpacked. But it couldn’t be all that hard. Could it?

I had all the necessary gear (and more that wasn’t but that’s another story.) My mind was made up. I’d found a new friend, to go with me, Debbie.

The date was set. As well-laid plans go, there were conditions made by my new hiking partner. She imagined that the start of the Trail, near the Mexican border, would be mobbed with Cartel waiting to beset and besiege us poor women hikers. It was decided that her brother and wife would join and protect us. I’m not sure what kind of defense he would have deployed except maybe hurl disparaging and disrespectful language at the desperados.

Big Brother

The first day was exhilarating! Our first foray was three days two nights. It was a good way to start, affording me my first ever backpacking experience. I was frustrated at myself for how slow I was compared to the others. I really thought I was prepared! It seemed they did try to slow down a bit, but they would stop to rest while I caught up. How fair is that ? They get to rest much longer than me! And I was the one needing a long break!

After a couple weekend hikes protected by big brother, we were ready to move ahead on our own. Mind you, Debbie and I are still just getting to know each other. But sharing a two-man tent, one gets to know the other rather quickly. There was so much sass and laughter between us, we got along well.

Grand ideas of 20 mile days. We were so prepared! Hiking, exercising, planning. Debbie was convinced we would be completing the trail as thru-hikers in one year. She’s the optimistic-adventurer, I’m the cautious-practical one. After covering 40-50 miles, reality set in. I did some calculations and I informed Debbie that at our speed, without any breaks or even Nero days, we may finish by January! Grudgingly accepting reality, she agreed to a two year plan.

At the beginning of 2020, we had our permits in place and were geared up to go all the way. Then Covid hit. Well, maybe a three-year plan will have to do.

Pinchot Pass

In 2021 our target was 1200 miles. Again, reality brought us to about 800 miles. But it was a beautiful reality. Starting in northern CA, going Southbound (SOBO) we gained trail legs for the approaching Sierra and the daunting passes. Successfully fulfilling our much anticipated hike through the Sierra, we officially ended 2021 with cumulative 1662 miles of the 2650 total PCT miles.

Set a goal – make a plan. Sometimes the best you can do falls short of your goal. So what? You started and tried. More than the majority of people! We have come to accept ourselves and the pace we enjoy. It isn’t a race. It’s a journey. No shame because we are still out there…enjoying ourselves.

More Advice for Beginning Hikers

Let’s talk about other considerations for you beginning hikers. Start watching my YouTube video where I discuss a variety of issues about where to hike, how long, inviting friends, having fun, and good shoes!

Speaking of shoes – Like all gear, there are a plethora of options. I started by way overdoing it with a heavy pair of waterproof (and expensive) boots. While they were comfortable, I developed a serious knee problem that stemmed from the weight and high ankle structure that over restricted the flexibility of my ankle, thereby stressing my knees. Other hiking boots would also destroy toenails!

After looking at reviews and talking with experienced hikers, it seemed the Altra Lone Peak was a favorite. (And they leave a cute little footprint on the trail!) Once I switched, I’ve never gone back. Loved for their lightweight and comfortability, after 1700 miles in 4 years I’m on my sixth pair! (Hint: I wear 1.5-2 sizes larger than normal shoes that keep my toenails intact.)

Other favorites are Hoka, Soloman and Merrell However I have no personal experience with those. Does anybody have comments about their favorite hiking shoes?

Atra Lone Peak 5 – Check out the lugs
on these babies!

My Backpacking Sleep System

Thermarest Neo Air XLite Sleep Pad

Are you wondering how a backpacker makes a bed? Most boil down to two to four pieces for a cozy night’s sleep. A pad, bag (or quilt,) and optionally a sheet liner or pillow.

Here’s a brief video of what I use

My sleep system

Starting out I kept all bedding in a bag. Since this video was made, I pack things differently, mainly, not stuffing the quilt in a small bag. It is just stuffed in the bottom of the backpack allowing other things to conform and squish together efficiently.

What’s a quilt vs a sleeping bag? Basically, a quilt is a sleeping bag without a zipper. Usually, there is a sewn foot box and the rest lays open like a quilt. You can tuck it around you or easily hang out a leg if you’re a warm sleeper like me. It also comes with straps that go around the pad to keep it in place if needed. The warmth of either a sleeping bag or quilt is in the loft or puffiness of the filling. In a sleeping bag, you are laying on the bag, crushing the loft, so when you roll over there’s a cold spot until that filling restores its loft.

I have graduated from a Go-Lite 20-degree bag (no longer available) to an REI Magma 30-degree quilt and more recently a zPack 10-degree Solo Quilt. This gives me a good range of warmth to choose from depending on where I’ll be hiking. Whether shopping for a bag or quilt, there are so many options. At the end of the article is a list of American Cottage Industries offering

A good insulating pad is required with a quilt, as it reflects your body warmth while the quilt keeps you warm from the top and sides. For myself, an active side-sleeper, the added advantage of a quilt is that I don’t get all twisted up and feel trapped inside a bag! It’s miserable waking up with your face buried in the hood of the bag wondering how do I get out!

Main considerations for sleeping pads: are length, width, weight, and R-Value (how much warmth the pad provides.) My pad of choice is the Thermarest Neo Air XLite weighing 12 oz, 66″ x 20″ an R-value of 5.4, and 2.5″ thick. But there are many great choices

Here is a link so you can shop for a pad that suits your needs and price point. Backpacking sleep pads.

Pillows and liners come in many forms and are considered luxury items. Liners can add several degrees of extra warmth and come in synthetic or silk. My liner of choice is the Sea to Summit Compact Reactor liner that adds up to 20 degrees of extra warmth. Heck, if I’m going to carry the extra weight of a liner, I may as well get at least 20 degrees! A good place to shop is here at Amazon

These are some links to other cottage-industry American made quilits and sleeping bags:

Mountain Laurel Designs;

Enlighteded Equipment;

Sierra Designs;

El Coyote Quilts;

Katabatic Gear;

REI; and many more.

Many of these are items I use personally and others are recommendations if you are starting out planning your purchases, you should know that “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” 

All my equipment is paid for by myself and I do not accept sponsorships. This way I can share uninfluenced reviews on my gear.

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