With only a few weeks left before I head out to California and start my thru-hike attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail I thought I’d bring everyone up to date on what has been happening these last few months.
The biggest news is that last summer I met and fell in love with an amazing girl called Alyssa who has made me so happy we are now engaged. She says now she blacked out from shock when I proposed but I’m sticking to my story that she said yes. As well as a fiancee this also provided a ready-made family as I am now effectively a stepdad to 3 wonderful kids. All this makes leaving the country for 5-6 months to pursue a selfish ambition rather hard emotionally and it remains to be seen how we all will handle this challenge. I can’t wait to get started and am dreading leaving, both at the same time. At least I know that I can get on a plane and be home the next day if something crops up I need to be home for.
Nevertheless the plan is still to continue and give it my – our – best shot. Training has been squeezed in where possible, consisting of 2-3 hour urban hikes carrying 30-35lb in the cold, dark and rain of a London winter, every 2-3 days. I bought a backpack specifically for training, namely a Osprey Talon 33. It has a ventilated, but not trampoline, back so it carries close to the body which is good for heavier weights, and is rated to 35lb, though personally I find the hipbelt slips after 30lb and it’s pretty uncomfortable beyond that weight. I don’t think I’m especially skinny but I have to cinch the belt literally all the way to carry that weight. In early March I got the backpack I will use on the trip, the first of the new Gregory Optic 48 packs sold in the UK and switched to that. It’s a lot more comfortable than either the Exos or Talon and carries the weight without triggering my pinched nerve which causes my arm to lose blood supply. So that’s nice.
By the way, all of my training weight is packets of porridge oats! They are cheap, allow me to easily adjust the weight – they come in 500g (1.1lb) or 1kg (2.2lb) bags – which squish a bit for efficient packing and it’s not a problem if they tear and leak, unlike water containers. They also ride silently with no sloshing around. And if I get stranded I can eat oatmeal for weeks!
My training weight has risen gradually from when I started at 17lb (7.5kg) in November 2017 to 35lb (16kg) in March 2018. Since my base weight is about 12lb I can expect to carry up to 10lb of food when starting a long section and 13lb of water when starting a dry section of desert. Hence training with 35lb to get my body ready for the worst-case. Most of the time I will be carrying a weight of 20-30lb in the desert (first 700 miles). In the High Sierra I add 4lb of mountain safety gear and warmer clothing plus there is a stretch with a 10 day food carry but that is compensated for somewhat by being able to carry less water so it will end up being an average of 22-32lb. Once in Oregon (mile 1100) in summer it be will down to the bare essentials but more water challenges so 18-25lb and then in Washington a little more gear for wet and colder weather so 20-25lb.
The extreme snow in 2017 (the year was nicknamed “snowmageddon”) has given way to a very dry winter leading into the 2018 hiking season with around 35% of the average snowpack in the Sierra as at March 19th (Washington is higher than usual making an early SOBO hike challenging). This makes the Sierra range much easier (to the extent that now I wish I was starting a week earlier than I am) but will cause problems with heat exhaustion and dehydration in the desert plus wildfires, smoke inhalation and trail closures in Oregon. Ah well, there’s always something.
As well as training I have been trying to get my feet into hiking shape. I was in the usual pain from plantar fasciitis for months after I returned from the AT in September 2016 and eventually got a High Volume Injection (cortico-steroid) in February which numbed the worst of it for a little over 2 months. I had an MRI of my right foot (the worse of the two) and 7 different problems were identified, none of which were the kind of thing you could operate on, or remove, or fix, or any such simple solution.
I then went to the London Foot and Ankle Centre and took 5 sessions of extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) in both feet, a 10 minute procedure I can safely file under “hideously painful”. The machine used was an EMS Dolorclast Master Touch. My doctor told me that the theory of using shockwaves to break up kidney stones or stimulate the body’s own healing process by causing micro-damage was first discovered in World War 2 when submarine personnel suffered internal bleeding when an attacking torpedo detonated far from the submarine. Initially it was confusing why people were injured or killed this way until the concept of shockwaves was understood. Since then it has been refined – hopefully – and ESWT and ultrasound are now standard medical practices.
Finally, I will get another cortico-steroid jab just before I leave, so at least a few weeks will be pain free. I will only get the right foot jabbed as the left will be ok for a while anyway and the risk that comes with the jabs is that the plantar will rupture under duress and this way at least one foot will be sure to still work.
When I get back, presuming I’m facing yet another 18 months of painful recovery, I intend to pursue a course of Platelet-Rich Plasma injections as there is some evidence of that being more effective than ESWT in the long term and with little in the way of downside or risk.