2023 was a good year – I’m feeling confident in who I am, more settled in my life, and ready for another big adventure!

So, I played the lottery: that is, the lottery for a permit to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail! And I won.

If you’re not from the west coast, you may be wondering what kind of trail this is. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles long (4,265 kilometers). It starts in Campo, California, a small town on the US-Mexico border, it crosses the Mojave desert, winds its way through the national parks in the Sierra Mountains, continues through northern California, up the spine of Oregon, and into the Washington Cascades before reaching its northern terminus at the US-Canada border in Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia.

Yes, this is the trail that the character Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) hiked in the movie Wild. That is not why I’m doing it.

Growing up in the mid-west with summers filled with mud-pies, sleeping outside on my family’s farm, and vacations to the Smoky Mountains, I always knew about the “long trail” that took you from Georgia to Maine- the Appalachian Trail. Wouldn’t that be so cool, I thought! When I was in college, my mom even bought me a guidebook and a map to encourage this idea. She loved living vicariously through my adventures.

But then, in my 20’s, I moved west and started working for the US Forest Service, first at Mt. Hood, then the Olympics and the North Cascades. This was where I found my true home. With an oversized backpack and heavy leather boots, I cut my teeth on the trails all over the Olympic Peninsula and Oregon/Washington Cascades. I was hooked for life. The bonus for me was that the “long trail” on the west coast- the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)- had just been completed too!

Occasionally, my weekend hikes would take me along the coveted PCT, where I looked longingly down the trail, wishing that I could be part of the culture, dreaming of a trail name and chewing on the idea that someday I would get to see it from end to end. Could I even dare?

But as you know, life took me on another ride for awhile and after more than 25 years in a relationship and a long teaching career, it all turned upside down. At the age of 48, I quit everything, sold my house, all my belongings and joined the US Peace Corps serving in Ecuador. It was there I learned to fully live and love each moment, sleep anywhere, say “yes” to every adventure, and deal with anything that comes my way. But mostly, I gained confidence in myself and the life I was meant to lead. For the past four years, I have used this new bravado to continue backpacking, working and living around other parts of Latin America including Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

Last year, as I was hiking around the Andes Mountains, I started thinking about my next big adventure. That’s when the idea of a thru-hike began to rattle around my head. Over the next weeks, I read about the realities of the trail, the equipment I would need, the permit process. I didn’t tell anyone what I was thinking- my family in North America and my friends in South America already think I’m crazy! In the end, I decided to leave it to fate. If I earned a thru-hike permit on the first lottery day in November, it was meant to be. And so I waited, sending a lot of positive wishes into the Universe.

Permit Release Day

On the first day the thru-hiking permits became available, I refreshed my email every 30 seconds, waiting for my assigned “time” to log into the lottery. If I was assigned a slot early in the day, permits would still be available and I would be able to choose a good start date. Finally, the email arrived. I held my breath and opened the message. There is was – my lottery time – within the opening hour of the day. The stars had aligned. I was definitely going to hike the PCT.

Then it got very real.

My PCT Prep

After jumping up and down and cheering for hours, I sprang into action. In typical Becky fashion, I started making a list of all the things I needed to do:

  • Start training- seriously! A friend who is a personal trainer got me started on a program and I’m supplementing that with suggested exercises posted by a long-distance thru-hiker. Also, while I am still living in Argentina, there are lots of mountains to climb!
  • Take an online Wilderness First Aid Class and learn strategies for survival and caring for myself in all kinds of dangerous conditions
  • Research how to cross raging rivers, how to use my ice axe and my compass to cross snowfields and how to identify the rash-inducing Poodle Dog Bush
  • Research any new equipment that I will need (i.e ice axe, crampons, and trekking poles), hit the on-line sales for the best prices and ship the equipment to Portland where I’m going to stage my final trail preparations
  • Research nutrition and ultralight food options that will support my calorie and protein needs
  • Research the new way of doing things (I’m oldschool- yikes!) – like wearing trail runners through the rivers, cold-soaking foods so I don’t have to carry a stove and learning how to use a water bottle bidet (double yikes!)
  • Download maps and apps, join virtual trail groups and take notes of other’s experiences
  • Buy plane tickets to get myself back to the United States in time to buy some shoes and pack some resupply boxes which I will send myself along the hike
  • Engage my west-coast friends to be my trail angels, my box shippers, my drivers to the trailhead and my emergency contacts

Since November, I’ve been reading everything I can, listening to hours of inspirational and how-to-thru-hike podcasts (while I’m working out) and everything I learn leads to more questions to explore. I’m not trying to plan the details. The days will unfold as they will. I just want to be well-informed and prepared when the whatever comes my way. And, after living these past years well outside my comfort zone and all my life adventures in both North and South America, I think I’m perfectly prepared to attempt the PCT. But I definitely need some help!

I Need Teammates!

How can you follow my progress? I will try to post a few times here on this blog. More likely, you will be able to see regular photos on my Instagram Site: beckysonthewingadventures. I’ve also been awarded the honor to be an On-the-Trail Blogger for Trek, a web-resource for long-distance hikers. If you want to subscribe to my Trek page where I hope to post regular trail updates, including the good, the bad and the ugly, check-out my Trek Blog here: https://thetrek.co/author/becky-wandell/ Thanks to Trek for already featuring this first post!

And the part about engaging my friends to be my trail angels… I really meant it. It’s a real thing. I need a team. If you live on the west coast and can make it to a trailhead to feed my hiker hunger or be willing to ship me a box en route filled with lots of protein and fat rich num-nums, I’ll love you extra for life. I’ll have internet whenever I’m in towns, so we can stay in contact and I can alert you to where I’ll be in the future days. Thanks to the friends who have already agreed to help me out. I appreciate all of your support.

My beloved Mt. Hood- I hope to see you again in August!

The Reality and My Why

I’m a dreamer, and I love the idea of reaching Canada, but I’m also a realist. Hiking the PCT is going to be the physically hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m older than most hikers who attempt this feat. I know that statistically I may not make it (only 25% of thru-hikers successfully completed the trail end-to-end last year). I’m going to be hot and cold and wet and hungry. My body is going to hurt like it’s never hurt before. I’m worried about the wear and tear on my frame, my safety crossing swollen rivers and snowfields, my ability to stay positive and motivated. And ultimately, even if I’m healthy and going strong, a bad fire year in the Pacific Northwest could close the trail until the snow flies.

But then I also know that when my feet carry me to a place where only feet can go, and the light is magical and the view is immense, I immediately forget about all the suffering and concentrate only on the beauty. I give thanks to my body for carrying me the distance and I feel so grateful for being alive. These are the moments that are so precious and meaningful for me along my journey. This is what I live for. This is why I hike.

I also know that I was in a relationship that prevented me from ever doing something like this; I’ve always wanted to see how far I could push my body and what I could really accomplish in extreme sports. For so many years this wasn’t an option. Now, I have a chance. I may be older and I may be slower, but I’m still healthy and able. So there you have it, underneath it all, this is my Why. I’m going to hike the PCT because I can. I don’t know how far I’ll get, but I’m going to give it a damn good try… and the fun of life is always in the trying!

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

-Arthur L. Williams Jr.

2024 is my year on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m ready. I will start walking north on April 7th from Campo, California. In a way, it feels a little like I’ll be walking home. Won’t you join me for this grand adventure?

North Cascades National Park, I hope I get to see this view again in September 2024!

“Do not choose less because less is easy. Do not run from more because more is difficult.

Do not settle for how it is simply because you are afraid too see how it may end up.

Do not fear, you are more than ready for anything.”  

-Topher Kearby