0
10 In Guest Posts/ Hiking + The Outdoors/ Travel/ Travel Talk/ Wanderlust From Others

Trail Talks – An Interview with a PCT Thru-Hiker

Trail Talks

In the fall of 2015 Jennifer Kercher did what many people have dreamt of doing – she thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail making it on to the PCTA list of 2,600 milers. The astounding accomplishment of being a PCT Thru-Hiker has only been achieved by 4,018 hikers since the first person hike across the mountain crests of California, Oregon and Washington in 1952. I “met” Jennifer while scrolling through Instagram and I found her account (@iwishmydogwerehere) and I found all of these incredible photos of scenic landscapes, trails, mountains & lakes. I was amazed by all of the amazing photos that she was uploading and I commented on a couple of the photos. These comments led to multiple conversations and eventually this interview which I hope leaves you just as inspired.

arrow

What inspired you to do this hike? Were you an avid hiker before this?

I first heard of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012, when I met a Triple Crown hiker. (She completed the three major US long distance hikes). I was fresh out of college, and managed to score a seasonal job in Juneau that involved working with sled dogs on a remote ice field. The hiker was my coworker. At that point, I didn’t know what thru-hiking was, and the idea of walking thousands of miles sounded insane.

It also sounded extremely intriguing. Her stories of the PCT resonated with me the most. After that summer, I got a job as a dog trainer for a major pet store chain back home. I started putting away money and doing occasional trail research, but I never intended to go through with the idea.

I did, however, start hiking with friends more, and collecting backpacking gear. It was nothing serious, and I didn’t go on my first backpacking trip until I visited Maui in 2014. About a year after that trip, there were some policy and management changes at work that made it clear it was time for me to move on. I thought back to that old thru-hiking co-worker. I’ve never told her this, but she’s the reason I decided to hike the PCT.

Who dropped you off at the Mexican border? What was going through your head as you took your first steps on the trail?

I’m from Washington state, and my mom woke up early on April 21st to drive me to the airport. The plane ride from the Seattle to San Diego is pretty short, maybe about an hour or two, and it was during this time reality hit me. I didn’t panic too much, but I was definitely second guessing myself. I was suddenly thinking, “Am I really doing this?”

After I arrived in San Diego, there was no one to drive me to the border. Instead, I took public transportation. I had read that there were trail angels who would help me, but at that point I wasn’t comfortable asking for help when I could do something myself. So I took a bus, and then a trolley, and then another bus.

On that final bus I met my first thru-hikers. We talked about gear and our PCT plans on the bus ride. It was fun, and it helped me calm down. The bus dropped us off about a mile from the Mexican Border. We filled up on water at the local Fire Station, and made or way to the terminus together. I left the border thinking that maybe I really could hike to Canada.

How many times, if any, did you consider going back home?

I never seriously considered going back home. There were times that I worried I would be forced to–I had consistent knee and feet issues for the majority of the trail–but luckily that never happened.

How was it meeting people along the trail? Did you make friends that you’re keeping in contact with? 

Meeting people was the best part! There were a record number of hikers on the PCT this year. I purposely started the trail during its busiest time– during ADZPCTKO, the annual PCT kickoff event.

I met great people along the way. I stayed mostly solo for the first part of my hike. There were people everywhere, but I never really joined the inevitable hiking groups that were forming around me.

This worked for me until halfway through the trail, when the number of people on trail plummeted. Suddenly, I wasn’t seeing other hikers anymore. I spent three days alone, which is longest I’ve gone without seeing another human being. At the end of those three days, I ran into the group of people I would finish the PCT with.

I’m doing my best to keep in contact with those people. I hope we can stay in touch. Luckily, a couple of them are also from Washington state, so we’ve met up a few times since we finished the trail.

Bears are one of my biggest fears – they’re just so massive and powerful – did you have any run-ins with bears? If so, what was it like?

Unfortunately–or maybe fortunately–I did not encounter bears on my hike. The closest thing I have to a bear story are the times I walked up on other hikers only to have them say, “Dude, you just missed a bear!”

How many times did you splurge on restaurant meals or nights out of your tent when you made it to towns?

I splurged on restaurant meals constantly. Anytime I saw food for sale, I would eat it. My goal in town was to eat until I felt sick, and then do that again at the next possible opportunity. The cost of this food was justified, because I was having problems keeping weight on. The high calorie restaurant foods you don’t want in the real world are perfect for thru-hiking.

As for nights out of my tent, it varied. Cost was a huge factor, considering how much I was spending on food. In town, I generally wanted to shower, do laundry, and charge my phone. If I could do this at a campground or trail angels house, perfect. If not, I would generally stay at a hostel or look for other hikers wanting to split the cost of a motel room.

What are the biggest lessons the PCT taught you?

The PCT taught me that the people in my life should be my top priority. Before my hike, I valued having time to myself. I still like alone time, but now I make sure my friends and family come first. I feel like I’m a happier person now.

What was the highlight (or highlights, if you can’t narrow it to one) from each state?

California was great, because this is where I met friends I would finish the PCT with. That makes the state pretty special. If I were to pick a scenery highlight, it would be Kings Canyon National Park. This is on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra section, and it’s gorgeous.

Oregon was great because it’s not California. I’m serious–California is stupid long. I really enjoyed Ashland, and I saw a play at the Shakespeare Festival there. The Three Sisters Wilderness was my favorite section of trail here.

Three Sisters Wilderness Day 145. (Miles 1949.77 – 1980.08) #pct #pacificcresttrail #Oregon #hiking #backpacking #camping #thruhike #pctig

A photo posted by Jennifer Kercher (Vanish) (@iwishmydogwerehere) on

In Washington, Trout Lake was a big surprise. The people are incredibly nice, and we stayed the night in the hostel above the store there. We spent the evening watching movies together, and I got to shower. It’s hard to pick my favorite section of Washington trail. I know I missed amazing views due to fog. If I had to pick, I’d say Rainy Pass to Manning Park was my favorite section. Here I saw the most snow (barely any at all), and that really added to the beauty of the trail.

How many miles per day did you travel?

My miles per day varied widely. While hiking solo, I tended to go between 15-20 miles per day. After hiking with a group, this bumped up to 20-25 miles per day. In Oregon, we (attempted) to go about 30 miles per day, and we did 25 miles per day through Washington.

Was your dog there to meet you at the end of the trail?

I love this question. However, I did not get to see my dog immediately upon finishing the PCT. My post-trail plans interfered with anyone from home coming to meet me. My trail friends were about to fly home, so I spent the first few days hanging out with them in Vancouver and Seattle. My dog was very excited to see me walk through my front door, though. My mom even recorded it.

Has your life changed since you finished the PCT? If yes, how?

My life is surprisingly similar to how it was before the PCT. I do spend more time with my friends than before, and I no longer have the same job. Fundamentally, however, my life is the same. It seems weird, because I did a lot of research into the readjustment period after a thru-hike. I thought things would be harder. The fact that things feel so normal is a surprise.

Would you do it again?

I would definitely thru-hike again. It was an amazing experience. If my knees heal up okay, and I can put some oomph back into my savings account, I can see myself doing this again. As it is, it’s been hard not to put any research into the Continental Divide Trail.

What advice would you give someone who wants to do the PCT?

My advice would be: do not set your plans in stone. What I mean is that someone doing the PCT needs to remain flexible. For instance, many people made strict resupply plans where they had to make it to towns on specific dates. The problem with this is that plans WILL change. This puts a lot of pressure on a hiker, and some people even injured themselves trying to keep up with their too-rigorous plan.

This doesn’t mean a potential thru-hiker shouldn’t research. Research and general planning is important. If you’re new to backpacking, try out gear and see what works and what needs to change. I saw so many people sending POUNDS of extra gear home. Try to make your gear as light as possible while still being safe.

The research will also help you prepare for a variety of situations that would be a surprise otherwise. I met several people who did not bring cash with them. They brought only their credit cards, and there are towns on the PCT that are cash only. They would have known this if they had researched. I have many examples like this, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Also, don’t stress about the PCT too much. Everything will work out in the end.

arrow

Jennifer has been an inspiration to me. Her photos & her story have sparked another wanderlust in me – one to maybe someday be a PCT Thru-Hiker myself. I’m dreaming of potentially doing something like this with Matt someday. I hope she inspires you too. Even if you don’t go out and hike 2,000+ miles in 6 months, let yourself be inspired to get outside and fall in love with this beautiful world we live in. A huge thank you goes to Jennifer for sharing her experiences with me & the world through Instagram. 

Come along on my adventures by subscribing to my blog. Simply enter your email and get updates on new locations and experiences. [Subscribe below this post or to the right.]

You Might Also Like

10 Comments

  • Reply
    omobtomtom
    January 20, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    amazing story! truly inspirational …

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      January 21, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Thank you for reading! I think her story is incredibly inspirational as well.

  • Reply
    mytravelbugbite
    January 24, 2016 at 8:07 am

    I really wanted to do the Appalachian Trail, then I watched “Wild” and wanted to do the PCT… maybe one day I’ll actually get up and do a thru-hike! Great story and interview and her pictures are incredible.

  • Reply
    Its A Travelful Life (@atravelfullife)
    May 23, 2016 at 11:07 am

    The first time I came across the PCT was watching the film ‘Wild’. I have yet to read the book but hope to soon. Like MyTravelBugBite I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. Jennifer’s story is truly inspirational!

    Marteen

  • Reply
    thetravelpockets
    May 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Wow! Now I have to follow her in IG cuz the photos are beautiful. It’s so amazing that she accomplished a hike that only less than 5,000 other people have finished. So glad she didn’t run into any bears and I can only imagine how much her knees and feet must have hurt!

  • Reply
    Girlswanderlust
    May 23, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Really inspirational story to read! I had a look at her Instagram account and it are indeed stunning pictures of the landscapes, trails, mountains and lakes. Thank you so much for sharing this interview. I hope I can do one day the Appalachian Trail.

  • Reply
    Patricia Steffy (@PLSteffy)
    May 23, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    This really seems incredible to me. I didn’t even know what thru-hiking was before I started your interview. I’ve just started hiking, and getting up to 6 miles (round trip) seemed like a huge accomplishment. I can’t imagine this — but good for her! Really inspiring!

  • Reply
    thewordhermit
    May 24, 2016 at 7:51 am

    Great inspiration for hikers, and what amazing photos! Jennifer, did you bring a professional camera on you hike? I’ve section-hiked the Appalachian Trail, which is totally tame compared to this. Congratulations on completing the trail.

  • Reply
    Trail Talks - An Interview with an Appalachian Trial Thru-Hiker - For the Love of Wanderlust
    May 22, 2017 at 6:56 am

    […] the Appalachian Trail. I would do the Pacific Crest Trail, which I probably will. I have to. I’ve never really wanted to do the same thing twice. I […]

  • Reply
    Trail Talks - An Interview with an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker - For the Love of Wanderlust
    May 22, 2017 at 7:35 am

    […] the Appalachian Trail. I would do the Pacific Crest Trail, which I probably will. I have to. I’ve never really wanted to do the same thing twice. I […]

  • Join the Conversation!

    %d bloggers like this: