Monday, September 26, 2011

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Barracuda has decided he wants to do a Pacific Crest Trail attempt this coming year (2012) and break the record of the youngest thru-hiker. We are actively preparing. Though this came as a bit of a shock to his father and I, when we sat down and thought about it he has gained many of the skills necessary to be able to have a successful shot this next year. Throughout the post you can see pictures of him learning various skills over the past year and a half.

The Pacific Crest Trail has been on my life list for quite a while. I've wanted to thru-hike it; to really finish it and have the accomplishment of knowing it was all done at once. Quite a bit ago the Fimby people (as they're family is known in our house) sent us the book Zero Days from their outdoor blog. It describes the trip taken by 10 year old Mary Chambers and her family hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She is currently still holding the record of the youngest thru hiker of the trail. We read the book together, and though The Barracuda was completely baffled by the way they hiked (as it is completely different from how we backpack), he was a bit taken by the fact a kid had completed such a famous trail. At that point, we weren't doing much by way of complete trails and were focusing more on just hiking around. The thought stewed with him a while. You could see his little brain a workin'. Sometime later, he decided that he wanted to try it. He would hike The Pacific Crest Trail; let's put it on his Life List. This was highly pleasing to Jules and I since we had wanted to continue long distance backpacking and hoped our son would one day join us.
That was it for quite a bit (almost a year). The intent had been declared, nothing else to it. When we began to really backpack in earnest, with miles flying away at the waysides, The Barracuda began to ask a few more questions. How many miles a day would you have to hike? How many miles had his father hiked on the AT? How did his dad carry all the stuff? How much did his backpack weigh when he thru-hiked? Long distance backpacking was becoming a reality he could really grasp.

Learning to read elevation change on topographical maps. This is the precursor to learning compass bearings and route finding skills. We have also actively been working on the math and visual/spacial skills while homeschooling.


While hiking the Timberline Trail this summer, The Barracuda made his intentions clear. Next year he wanted to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. He would be 7 then, a full three years before Mary Chambers. He wanted to be the youngest and he thought he could do it. If he could hike 50 miles around a mountain, he could hike three states. He was homeschooled and thus wouldn't have to miss class. We already had all the gear. I already knew how to make the food. Guadie could already put that many miles on her paws. His reasoning continued and soon his father and I became a bit convinced. He might actually have a shot....how crazy is that?!

Learning to glissade (and levitate apparently). Before ice axe use, you learn to glissade just with yourself for better balance. Once you can balance during the slide, you can add the ice axe for steering and speed control.


After arriving home, Jules and I sat down to talk. The kid had put in his time. He could hike the miles, he can read a map, his snow skills are good, his perseverance is higher than many adults we know. He needed to increase his daily miles from 14-15 up to 20-25, he would need an ice axe and we'd have to work on a boot belay for the Sierras, we'd need a smaller tent and to find a decent kids backpack (I'm going to have make one, they just don't exist with small enough torsos and enough carrying capacity for a kid to actually backpack). Alright, Jules agreed; we could do it.

The kid is just fit. There is no getting around it. Even the sports therapists all agreed - he's in incredible shape. Now all we have to work on is modesty :)


The details needed to be attended to. We had been planning on doing the PCT with The Barracuda, but not exactly this soon. He is still under 48 inches tall. Those little legs of his are so tiny he isn't allowed in the pool by himself, let alone hiking that many miles. So after checking with a sports therapist (or 3!) to make sure he could physically do it without blowing out his body, and after looking into gear costs to make sure we could do it without blowing out our wallet, and after looking at timelines to make sure we could do it without blowing out our state homeschool funding, I said yes.

Evaluating river crossings and learning technique with the Leki poles. I dislike Lekis but The Barracuda seems to be interested in carrying them and they make great tent poles to lighten our load.


The Barracuda then figured out a training schedule within 2 days of being home. (He is so organized it is disgusting!) He wanted us to walk 10 miles a day and increase by 2 miles each week. While increasing in miles we would increase in Nalgene bottles of water to add weight. On weekends we would then go out and backpack the forest to train. He and I would carry everything and Jules would get to carry only his stuff. The kid is determined. He didn't have any details of where this was all going to happen, but that was for us parents to figure out. More and more I am impressed by how much thought this kid can put into goals. It is definitely a skill I don't have....it must be attached to his Y chromosome somewhere.


Testing the depth of the ice. The Barracuda gets to actively use an ice axe (in fact he got his own for his birthday) because crampons are still far too dangerous. He needs to practice self arrest rolls to be sure he can stop from a multitude of angles, but we figure a few summits this coming fall will help with that.


We now walk at least 1o miles a day. We are trying to get in 15 miles a day, but that extra 5 is proving hard to schedule in. Luckily, the dogs can help us remember with constant nagging. The walk is just up our road with nice elevation changes and good scenery. At 5 miles total (we clocked it in the car) we hike every morning and every evening. So far, so good. The dehydrator has been going almost non-stop and the weighing/packaging of meals is well underway. At this point, the only issue we are having is where to put all of it. One-hundred and forty-six days of food is proving to be quite a lot. Clearance has been given from our virtual school and homeschooling from the trail is still acceptable. In fact, The Barracuda's advisor is a bit excited about it. We are looking for pen pals from the trail (gotta love backpacking while homeschooling) so if anyone out there wants to send and receive letters, comment away. We are compiling a list of good post offices and town stops which we can post in the future. As it currently stands, we will leave April 30th and return September 17th.

Some days are long and exhausting. A couple of times dinner has consisted of cheese and tortillas eaten inside sleeping bags. But, he hangs in there. The Barracuda is always ready to go the next morning, always blazing the trail ahead of his father and I, always eager to climb a talus slope, play in a meadow, or throw rocks into an alpine lake.



The Barracuda's Thoughts on Our Pacific Crest Trail Attempt
When asked to say something about the trail, this is what The Barracuda had to say.

I think it is big and it is long. It has so many miles in it. 2,658 miles is a big number. I have no idea even how long that is. I mean, I look at a map and it is from Mexico to Canada. I can move my finger, but I can't really know how long that is.

I am nervous, but at the same time, it makes me feel excited. The reason I am nervous is that it is so far away from everything I've known and it is so long. It will be weird not seeing different things in different places. What I mean is like, how I've never seen El Campo before or Kennedy Meadows, and I'm going to see them on the trail. I'm not going to drive up or drive through, I'm going to walk. When you drive you feel like you are going fast. You look out the window and think "Look at that" then it disappears. When you are walking, you actually get to see it. It lasts for a while and you are there with it, not just in the car by yourself.

I think it will be fun to do because we will be seeing new plants, and being in hot deserts, and new ecosystems and everything. Sometimes it is going to be hard to do 20 miles at the same time. The first day and the last day will be the hardest parts of the entire hike. The first day will be the hard because we are just starting and have to leave my dad. On the last day it will hard because we have to leave the trail.

I think that breaking the record will be exciting and I feel like I've accomplished something. It will be fun to be able to say that I broke the record.

10 thoughts:

Damien said...

Wow, that is big news! We are very excited, and happy (and perhaps a wee bit jealous!) of you guys. We have a long trail on our list as well, but just not quite yet. I look forward to reading about the journey.

renee @ FIMBY said...

This is too funny but that top photo of Barracuda looks like he's on some kind of ventilator, though I assume it's water?

Rock on Barracuda! And your training regime, wow, when do you cook and you know, do life stuff? (that's a question for mom & dad, not Barracuda)

Granola Girl said...

Damien - I don't know if anyone is ever really ready for a long distance hike. There are always a bajillion reasons why you should leave school, home, work, etc. There is always better gear, or more money, or getting into better shape. Quitting civilization is a lot like quitting smoking; no good time to start. We have just decided to say screw it and do it. I could see you all do the Long Trail since you are so close. It wouldn't be much more than 2 weeks or so. We are hiker trash, though, and we don't really use many of the amenities that others like to spend money on (hotels, showers, eating out) so it might be cheaper for us. Supposedly it is gorgeous!

One of these days we really want to do the AT. Jules' family live over there and we can't really travel that side of the US for fun right now (his mothers health is rather bad). Hopefully in a couple years we will be able to and we can stop in and say hi to you all.

Renee - I know that darn tube is so silly! That is my Osprey Viper which The Barracuda has snagged. It works great as a pack for him when both Jules and I go, but the hydration is set up for a normal adult sized person. With The Barracuda's arms swinging as he walks he knocks it out constantly. Thus, it is swirled up around the other side of his head as some weird apparatus thing. If it wasn't so nice with him carrying his own water, and me not having to stop repeatedly to give him drinks, I'd just say heck with it!

Cooking and school and all that "life stuff" have proved a bit harder walking the 15 miles. When we do 10, taking an hour and 15 minutes to do 5 miles in the morning isn't too bad (we do it as the days bread is rising and it works just great as a motivator to really move). We will often times discuss school stuff while we walk as most of The Barracuda's homeschool lessons are self directed at this point. He relays what he has read and connections he has made. These are sometimes really funny and it is nice to straighten a few things out. Then when we get home, he does school and I do house stuff. When Jules gets home, he changes, decompresses for about 30 minutes and the whole family goes on a walk for an hour and 15 minutes for the other 5 miles. We talk about our days together and come home for dinner. I try to have all of dinner prepared before Jules gets home, so that way it can cook in the oven while we walk or be ready for a quick cooking when we get home. When broken into 5 mile chunks it is much more manageable. Now we just have to get that mid-day 5 miles in!

Damien said...

I mean "a long trail" (like the AT/PCT/CDT), not "the long trail"... although that would be fun too ;-)

It is a goal of mine to do a family thru-hike in the not-too-distant future.

Alice said...

Clothes are so overrated ;) Go for it little dude!!

Dicentra said...

PCT 2012? I'm wicked excited for you all! Are you coming to ADZPCTKO? If so, please come find me (vendors). I would love to meet you. Will you be writing/blogging about your journey along the way? I ask because I pick a few people each year to follow on the PCT. Last year one of them was Balls and Sunshine (who is 10 years old).

Happy Hiking!
~Dicentra

Granola Girl said...

Yes Dicentra, we are going to be there and we will totally check in with you. We're hoping to head out on April 28th-ish. We would love for you to follow us and are always looking for pen pals. I'm finalizing all our food right now so your website is pretty rad. We've been without power for the last week due to a snow storm, but I'm so excited it came back on an hour ago. I'll have to peruse what all you have posted.

Dicentra said...

Awesome! I'm looking forward to meeting you. Let me know if I can help with food advice in any way. So exciting!

jephoto said...

Good luck to you all. Many years ago I read Devla Murphy's Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru and it showed me just how much little legs can achieve on the trail. With planning, determination and a little good fortune I firmly believe you can do it.

Brenna Elliott said...

it was so cool meeting your family one on trail in '12, and seeing the little sand castles left in the high sierras!! <3

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