TIPS FOR VISITING THRU-HIKING FRIENDS ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
If you’re planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, you’re most likely overwhelmed with finalizing your Pacific Crest Trail gear list & planning your Pacific Crest Trail resupply strategy. You might have friends and family asking how they can visit you while you’re hiking or how to best support you. Trust me, you’re going to have moments that you’re “home-sick” for your friends and family so planning opportunities to see them or better yet, have them join you to experience the trail themselves can be fun.
Kim Vawter, Bearfoot Theory’s Community Manager, coordinated having over 10 friends and family members meet her during her Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike and a majority of them tackled some PCT mileage themselves. Some flew across the country to hike with her, and others drove less than 30 minutes to see her. Some were experienced backpackers and hikers, but others were out for their first nights in the wilderness. For Kim, sharing the trail with those she loves made the experience of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail even more meaningful to her.
In this blog post, Kim shares her advice on the best Pacific Crest Trail meetup points and how to connect with family and friends during your thru-hike.
Utilize Southwest’s Flexible Policy
If you have friends flying to visit you encourage them to use Southwest which has a flexible policy on flight changes, even last minute ones. In our list of 20 Best Places on the Pacific Crest Trail to meet thru-hikers we provide details on nearby airports.
Southwest flies into the following airports near the trail:
- San Diego (SAN)
- Los Angeles (LAX) or Burbank (BUR) or Ontario (ONT)
- Reno (RNO)
- Sacramento (SMF)
- Portland (PDX)
- Seattle/Tacoma (SEA)
These are also great airports to keep in mind if you have a friends wedding or family reunion to catch during your thru-hike.
A big mantra on the Pacific Crest Trail is “hike your own hike”…it’s okay to get off the trail for life’s most important celebrations and commitments. If you want to have an authentic Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike just make sure to get off & get back on at the same mile.
Help Them Prepare
Think about whoever is planning to join you and give them advice to help them prepare. Maybe they need to get the right backpacking gear if they’re joining you on the trail for a few days, or maybe you’ll want to encourage them to get outside for a few training hikes where they can practice carrying their loaded packs.
Don’t be hesitant to be honest with them about what it takes to be ready. My dad spent months walking all over our hometown in Indiana with his backpack fully loaded. When he met me on the trail he was confident that his pack fit and wasn’t concerned about that aspect at all which helped us hit our mileage goal every day with no complaints. Another friend rented a pack in Los Angeles from a reputable outfitter but unfortunately, she didn’t have much time to test the pack and ended up with lots of sore spots after being on the trail for 3 days.
You know your friends best AND you know the trail so be realistic in sharing what might be difficult for them. Will they encounter snakes? Bugs? Water crossings? High elevations? Steep uphills or downhills? Be realistic in talking with them about what they might encounter in the section they are joining you for.
Plan a Zero Day
If you have a large family or a significant number of friends who want to visit you on the trail it might be a good idea to consider taking a zero-day to catch up with them. Trust me, some of your fellow hiking buddies might be homesick and they might jump on the bandwagon and join in.
My parents rented a house in Cascade Locks on the Oregon/Washington border, (where the Bridge of the Gods is) and my cousins drove down from Seattle. We spent a full 24 hours BBQ’ing and eating ice cream with every meal – it was fabulous. My cousins even brought an inflatable mattress and gave me and my hiking friends the beds–it’s the small things you miss the most on the trail, like a bed with a fluffy comforter…and ice cream, always ice cream.
Utilize Pacific Crest Trail Facebook Groups & Other Hikers on the Trail
When my dad joined me for 9 days of hiking, we had planned to meet around the same location (Lake Tahoe) that a fellow thru-hiking friend was also meeting someone. We quickly connected his friend with my dad and voila! Just like that my dad had a ride from the Reno airport straight to the trail. We were concerned about using a taxi service and there was no public transportation options to the location we were meeting so this was perfect. You can also post in one of the trail angel groups or ask around for support, you never know what might work out and it never hurts to ask.
Remember That it’s Your Hike, Not Theirs
You’re moving at about 3 miles/hour. If they can’t be flexible with when to meet you or the location, then meeting on the trail is not a good idea. You never know when you’re going to twist an ankle and need to take a rest day or if you’ll get Giardia and need to take a few days off to recover and re-hydrate, postponing your meet-up date. To reduce stress, make sure your friends understand they need to be flexible on the location and/or the meet-up date in advance of planning time together.
Set Expectations About Town Time
When you’re a thru-hiker, “town” means resupplying, gear repairs, laundry, and lying vertical on a fluffy hotel mattress with multiple showers in between all those activities. It’s tough to play tourist while you’re in town so set expectations with any visitors. Be honest with those meeting you or plan an extra zero-day into your itinerary to be a tourist.
Be Realistic on Distance
If your friends or family are joining you for some backpacking, think back to your first few days on the trail. They aren’t going to be able to do 30+ mile days, their pack might not fit as perfectly as yours (be prepared for complaining) and they are going to need more breaks. You want them to enjoy the trail so be considerate of their needs and reduce your daily mileage.
Have Them Join You for One Night
An easy way to have a friend join you without a whole lot of stress is having them hike with you for a day and then have them hike back out to the trailhead the next morning. This is a great strategy for friends/family who work full-time and might only have a weekend to visit you. You might actually end up learning even more about the section you’re hiking if your friend is local to the area – that was the case for me when my friend, Abby, joined me on the trail. As a Washington-native she knew a lot about the area we were hiking and it was refreshing to have her join for one night on the trail.
Don’t Push It
If it doesn’t work to coordinate meeting up on the Pacific Crest Trail while you’re hiking, remind your friends and family that they can always send you a “surprise” resupply package if they’d still like to contribute to your trip in another way. I picked out 6 locations on the trail where friends/family could send me packages and told them I’d be there 1 week earlier than I actually anticipated I would (just to give their packages plenty of time to arrive). These packages were some of the biggest highlights of my town stops.
I gave the following simple reminders to my friends & family:
- I have to carry everything you send me so please think about weight and usefulness.
- I can buy common things in town so sending homemade treats or unique items I can’t find at the grocery store is preferred
The best things I got in packages were: handwritten notes of inspiration, funny cards that were personal, a copy of a chapter of my favorite book, homemade banana bread, small cartons of boxed wine, funny unique decorations to tie to my pack, etc.