1. How long is the Pacific Crest Trail? Where does it go?
  2. How long did it take?
  3. Did you do it alone?
  4. When did you start? Did you go northbound or southbound?
  5. Did you carry a tent/stove/bear spray, etc.?
  6. What did you eat and how did you get food?
  7. Did you filter your water?
  8. Why is your trail name Scrub? Are you a nurse? Do you really like TLC or something?
  9. Did you see any bears? Cougars? Rattlesnakes?
  10. How many miles per day did you do?
  11. What maps did you use?
  12. Is the PCT harder than the AT?
  13. How did you handle the desert?
  14. Wasn't there some book about the PCT on Oprah?

How long is the PCT? Where does it go?

The Wikipedia article on the PCT and the Google Map of it should combine to answer most questions about the Trail itself. In short, it's around 2650 miles long and goes from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon and Washington. More mapping information, including a Google Earth overlay, is available at Halfmile's awesome site.

How long did it take?

It took me 142 days, so a little over 4.5 months. I would consider this about average, or maybe slightly faster than average for 2013, which had a very dry spring and hence a longer weather window for completing the trail—thru-hikers could start in early April at the Mexican border and still not have to worry about snow in the Southern and Central California mountains, and as such they could take their time heading north.

Did you do it alone?

Yes and no. I started at the Mexican border alone and did not know a single person who was out there this year; I had no pre-established plans to hike with anyone. However, estimates are that 800-900 people attempted a northbound PCT thru-hike in 2013, and I must have met at least half of them. Rarely did I actually move along the trail with other people for longer than a few hours, but I certainly hiked in groups or pairs—by which I mean we made plans on where/when to walk and camp together each day—several times. Alex in far Southern California, Bow in the Mojave, Bow/Gavin/Matan/Gangster aka Los Cinco de Hiko in the Sierra, Shorts for a few days in NorCal, Spit Walker and Sherpa C in Oregon, Hitch in Washington. There are others, too.

Because there are fluctuations in thru-hiker traffic, sometimes I felt quite alone for a few days at a time, and I even had one day in Southern California where I never saw another human being, but for the most part there was always someone within a few miles of me who could've helped out in the case of an emergency. The thought of hiking or camping alone didn't and doesn't bother me. Wild animals are extremely timid and even if all they want is one's food, they don't want to have to fight for possession of it and risk injury. My food was always in arm's reach or propped up under my feet every night that I slept in the woods.

When did you start? Did you go northbound or southbound?

I started May 5 (and finished September 23). Almost everyone goes northbound. There are a hundred reasons it's easier to go NOBO (as they say in the biz), but they all boil down to: there's a longer window of hiking time, and there's less hiking on snow. Snow sucks because it's hard work and it makes the trail look like this and then it becomes very difficult to follow.

Did you carry a tent, stove, bear spray, etc.?

Check out my gear list. There's a rationale listed in the comments for most items. This was the load that I started the trail with; items came and went over time based on the climate and conditions, but the only substantial additions came at the end: an entire extra set of base layers and a waterproof ("waterproof") raincoat for northern Washington.

What did you eat and how did you obtain it?

The how: thru-hikers get their food either from grocery stores in towns along the way, or from maildrops. The pros and cons of both strategies can be debated ad nauseam. "Towns along the way" means you can either walk to the town from the trail (rare), or hitch a ride where the trail crosses a road/highway (more common). Hitching is accepted and easy near most of the major trail towns. Post offices and businesses like hostels and motels will hold parcels for hikers if you write "general delivery" and an ETA with the address. On average, I had to carry 3-4 days' worth of food between resupplies; the longest carry was 6 days, which happened three times: from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows in CA, from Kearsarge Pass to Reds Meadow in CA, and from McKenzie Pass/Sisters to Cascade Locks in OR.

The what: Thru-hikers, generally speaking, eat a lot of junk. The main criteria are: it needs to be calorically dense, have little prep time, and the only step should be "Add water." For most people, this means a lot of Pop-Tarts, Snickers, Ramen and instant pasta and rice meals. I did not carry a stove. This is a decision that maybe 20% of PCT hikers make at some point and probably only 10% stick with, but I found it works for me because I don't ever have spend time on food preparation, I can eat sitting/lying in my tent/sleeping bag at the end of the day, and I don't have to worry about finding fuel in town, or starting wildfires using my fuel in the high, dry mountains of the West (which happens sometimes with homemade alcohol stoves). The basics of my stoveless diet were:

Breakfast: either Bob's Red Mill Muesli with a quick soak in cold water, or Pop Tarts (I vastly preferred the latter after awhile because of its caloric density). I always ate breakfast while walking.

Day snacks (80-90% of my diet): Cheese, jerky, summer sausage, dates, raisins, Snyder's flavored pretzel pieces, chocolate bars, Oreos, mixed nuts, gummy bears, Tang or Gatorade powdered drink mix, chocolate- or yogurt-covered nuts or raisins

Dinner: either more day snacks, or sometimes Idahoan instant potato dinners reconstituted with cold water, and often fortified with meat, cheese and/or olive oil

Did you filter your water?

No. In fact, I basically never treated it in any fashion. Old School Boy Scout Backpacking 101 says you have to filter water from all natural sources, but some people who purify their water religiously still end up with giardia, and some people who dip straight from cow ponds without treating stay healthy. It's a crapshoot, pun intended.

I started out carrying Aqua Mira. I used it on sketchy-looking natural sources three times in the first 500 miles, then never bothered with it again. In southern Oregon, I developed a stomach ailment which turned out, after some medical tests, to be giardiasis. Note that a) it took me 1800 miles of drinking straight from streams and springs to get sick, and b) my symptoms, personally, were so mild that I wasn't even sure I was sick half the time. I will probably continue not to treat my water hiking in the U.S. in the future.

Why is your trail name Scrub? Are you a nurse? Do you really like TLC or something?

On long-distance trails, almost everyone gets a trail name, except people like Scott Williamson and Andrew Skurka who hike too fast to ever have company (it's like the opposite of being a Brazilian soccer star—being a hiker star means you get to use your full given name). Usually trail names are appointed by other people for any number of reasons. Being contrary, I started calling myself Scrub Hiker, Scrub for short, because it's an anagram of my real name. When I tell people this, they invariably ask, "Well, what's your real name?" I then size them up and decide whether they'd like a challenge or begrudge me for it, then I either tell them to solve the puzzle or just tell them my name accordingly.

Did you see any bears? Cougars? Rattlesnakes?

Yes, probably not, and yes. But these don't really scare most thru-hikers. What's actually scary: Ticks. Other humans, sometimes. Dogs, sometimes. Yosemite rats transmitting hantavirus, only a little, although that would be pretty heinous. The rest of the animal kingdom ... not likely to pose a risk. My friend Spins did see a wolf on the PCT last year, which adds a whole new element of fear to hiking Southern Oregon ... being in the woods outside Medford is scary enough.

The only scary animal encounter I had was when a scorpion stung me as my wake-up call one morning in the desert. I didn't know what would happen to me (neurotoxins? vomiting? paralysis?), but it turns out all that most scorpions can do is deliver something akin to a bee sting, and I heroically survived. I also saw an unidentifiable, big, silent pair of eyes tracking me as I night-hiked in Northern California once; other hikers saw mountain lions in the same area around the same time. The one bear I saw up close was so puny I wanted to laugh at it. None of the rattlesnakes were interested in being anywhere near me.

I saw other cool animals, like a ring-tailed cat, pine martens on two occasions, elk, owls, and mountain goats. People who hiked more at dawn/dusk hours tended to have much more impressive lists of wildlife sightings.

How many miles per day did you do?

With all breaks included, I averaged 18.8 miles per day. The average hiking day (there were 14 zero days, in which I didn't hike at all) was 20.9 miles long. Without having bothered to crunch the numbers any further, I would guess that my average full hiking day—wherein I wasn't starting or finishing in town, thereby foreshortening the day's travels—was over 25 miles long. My longest was 36, and I had days of 33, 34, and 35 mixed in as well. Many other hikers had 40-mile days, either as a matter of necessity or just for the hell of it.

Sometimes people express disbelief at those numbers--one time a grown man yelled, "JESUS CHRIST!" at me when I told him—but consider that I hike 3mph. In the middle of the summer, there are at least 16 hours of daylight. Start walking at 7 a.m., stop at 8 p.m. (and those are by no means the earliest/latest I or anyone else could go) and throw in three hours of breaks in the middle and I will have walked 30 miles. Once I had my routine down, breaking camp took 20-25 minutes every morning and setting up at the end of the day took 10 without the tent, 20 with it, and I could do all that practically blindfolded. Walking just starts to become the Thing That You Are Doing 80% of your waking hours, without even thinking about it too much.

What maps did you use?

There is a free and incredibly accurate mapset for the PCT available online, created by Lon Cooper aka Halfmile. You would be an idiot to consider using anything else, though each person has their own way of using them. I never bothered to have mine printed out (which would've cost money and added weight, plus another logistical complication in mailing them to myself), instead putting all the PDFs on my smartphone and consulting them many times each day that way. I used the elevation profiles at the bottom of each section even more than I used the topo maps. Additionally, I used Halfmile's smartphone app (also free, for Android or iOS) to figure out precisely where I was and not miss water sources in the dry parts. Other smartphone people liked Guthook's app, but between Halfmile's app and maps, the water report, and Yogi's guidebook—all of which I could toggle between instantaneously—I had plenty of information and didn't need another source.

Is the PCT harder than the AT?

I don't like this question. It's different for each person; here are some of the reasons why. Beyond that, who cares? A great way to announce yourself as a total douchenozzle is to belittle someone's accomplishments on one trail or another because you think one is easier.

For the record, I found my PCT experience easier than the AT. But that statement should mean nothing to anyone else, past present or future.

How did you handle the desert?

The first 700 miles of the PCT are in the desert in Southern California. This sounds intimidating, and people who went through it (or skipped through it) like to talk about how much it sucked, but I loved it. The trail is relatively easy, but still gorgeously splendiferously beautiful in many places, and there is a huge support network for fledgling thru-hikers in the form of water caches and trail angel houses. The ONLY two things that you need to adjust to and pay attention to in the desert are having enough water, and being out of the sun in the afternoon on the days when it's very hot and sunny out. If you could handle that, you probably breezed through it. If you struggled with those two things, as so many people mystifyingly did (were they just not paying attention?), you were miserable. I found the dastardliness of the desert to be completely overhyped.

Wasn't there some book about the PCT on Oprah?

Yes. It's called Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. It's been a New York Times #1 bestseller at some point, and is still hovering around the nonfiction top 5 as of April 2013, over a year after it was published. I read it and mostly liked it, except for the whole from-lost-to-found idea of hiking. I wrote an opinion of it in a blog post in April.