This whole long-distance hiking thing, Day -14

It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. It’s hard to say I’m going to commit to six months of something when I don’t really know what I’m doing.”

She can’t remember why, but it just seemed like this summer would be the perfect time to go on a 2,650 mile, five-month-long hike.
She’s been backpacking twice.
She doesn’t know how to read a map.
She’s 17.
She’s my little sister.
Her name is Laina.
And she’s leaving in 14 days.

She’s leaving on a mission to backpack from Mexico’s northern border to Canada, on the Pacific Crest Trail.

“I don’t know what made me want to do the whole long-distance hiking thing,” she mused when I asked her. “At this point I’m like, ‘Oh my, I don’t even know how I came up with this idea — This better be really beautiful.’”

Laina hiking in the Trinity Alps in the summer of 2013.

It was about six months ago when she decided she wanted to try living on the trail. At first her idea was to spend the summer hiking around in the Trinity Alps, a mountain range near where we grew up in Trinity County, but on a two-day backpacking trip in the Trinity Apls last summer (her first time backpacking actually) signs for the Pacific Crest Trail caught her eye.

She started looking into it, and the more she thought about it, the more she didn’t want to just wonder around. She wanted to do something defined, that could be started and completed.

“I realized I really like when I have a project and a goal. I wanted to have something that I was doing that inspired me. The Pacific Crest Trail was more appealing [than aimlessly hiking around in the mountains] because it’s like — you are at the Mexico border, you sign that trail register, and then you are trying to get to Canada and sign that one. You are not just lazing around, you are hiking 20 miles a day.”

Laina didn’t know anyone who had thru-hiked the PCT (hiking the entire trial from Mexico to Canada in one go), but a bit of research showed her it was “totally possible.” And she figured if other people could do it, so could she. Sure it occurred to her that she hadn’t done much actual backpacking, but she was used to living outside, she added.

“We think we’re backpackers because we were raised so rustically, but then I realize I’ve never actually been backpacking,” she said. (My sisters and I were raised on a rural homestead. We spent every summer sleeping outside and cooking on an open fire.) “But like carrying your stuff, pitching tents, fuel stoves — I haven’t really done it.”

But after six months of preparing, Laina is determinedly making it all come together.

Planning her route, buying gear, packing food, figuring out where she’ll get water. Between preparation she said she worries a little. She worries that she’ll be scared at night. That she’ll get lost. Or die of boredom.

I asked her if our mom and dad were worried about her. Did they want her to do this? Did they try to stop her?

“Oh if they didn’t want me to do it they wouldn’t have had to stop me, they could have just not helped me,” she said.

Our parents, always advocates for anything inspiring, helped her with organizing, researching, packing and paying for the trip, she explained. They will be mailing resupply boxes to points along the way throughout her time on the trail and both of them plan to hike portions of the trial with her.

“Financially a big deal, but also all the time they are going to have to spend,” Laina said, reiterating that this could not have been attempted without our parent’s help.

“It’s definitely not something to undertake without support. I haven’t even really had to ask them if they would help because they have been so offered up about it. But yeah I do feel guilty about the amount of energy that they are putting into it.”

She said all along she has told our mom, “Whenever you get tired of this, just tell me.”

Apparently that time hasn’t yet, and the more invested Laina and my parents get into the trip the more pressure there is to actually do it — and hopefully finish, she said.

The pressure comes from Laina’s personality, and from the 100 pounds of dehydrated food they now have, but not from our parents, she said.

“Unless I get injured I don’t think I’m going to want to stop,” she said. “It’s such a wild crazy idea, and no one thinks you can do it. But I have to keep reminding myself that no one else would care that much if I don’t finish. No one will be like, ‘Ha, I told you so’ or like ‘What, you quit? I’m so disappointed.’”

But the Pacific Crest Trail Association does offer gold metals to those who complete the thru-hike.

“It sounds ridiculous, but I want one of those.”

If she can’t finish this time she said maybe she will save her food and do it again next year.

“Or maybe I’ll be like, ‘Whatever I tried that. I’m going to go to school now, I guess my first year in the dorms I’ll eat a lot of dehydrated beans.’”


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