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In May of 2001, I found myself in Southern California at the Mexican border. As I looked north, I knew that Canada was out there somewhere. That first day of hiking the PCT, I remember thinking over and over “what have I gotten in to?” It was HOT. Crazy hot. I was carrying too much weight, I had the wrong clothes and shoes, and I was totally unsure of what to expect for the next 2658 miles.
Planning for that 2001 PCT hike was confusing. I wasn’t sure what books to buy, what gear to carry, when to start the trail, NOTHING was clear. So my hiking partners and I arbitrarily picked a starting day and headed north, using the same gear that worked for us on the Appalachian Trail in 1999.
I made it about halfway to Canada before a leg injury forced me to get off the trail. I returned home to Kansas City, where I spent the winter HAUNTED by the Pacific Crest Trail. It had beat me. And I’m a terrible loser.
April 2002 found me back in Southern California. I once again stood at the Mexican border looking north to Canada. I hiked with a vengeance, and completed the 2658-mile PCT in 140 days with only 12 zero-days. No blisters, no injuries, just 140 days of pure hiking bliss. I had completed the PCT. It beat me once, but this time the victory was mine.
In March 2003, I had received an email from someone who wanted to know the locations of the water caches in Southern California. I got out my Data Book (yep, I still had it), and started to make a list. I have a very strange mind for strange details. I can’t remember where I put my car keys, yet I can remember specific curves of the trail, where the secret climbs are, and which streams were flowing or not. And, of course, the location of the water caches.
So I made this water cache list. But I couldn’t stop there. I mean, REALLY, what good is a water cache list? The caches aren’t always full, and you’re not supposed to count on them anyway. So I went through my Data Book again, this time noting which streams were/were not flowing in 2001 and 2002.
This was a pretty good water list. But I couldn’t stop there, either. My mind was on a roll. And I had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon in Overland Park, Kansas. So I sat here at my computer, and by sheer memory added information for all the towns I’d been to, noted the confusing trail junctions, and then solicited tips from other 2002 PCT thru-hikers. When it was finished, I posted this information on my 2002 journal site.
That’s when I realized that the Pacific Crest Trail needed a book with detailed trail, town, and water information. The Appalachian Trail had books like this, why didn’t the PCT? It was obviously needed, as evidenced by the fact that many 2003 thru-hikers took the time to print the information off of my journal site and carried it with them. It became known on the trail as “Yogi’s Notes”.
During my 2003 PCT thru-hike, I did a lot of research. I walked down the aisles of the resupply stores, and wrote down everything the stores had. I confirmed the water cache locations, noted which streams were/were not flowing, identified confusing trail junctions, noted the bear box locations, and collected detailed information about each town’s services.
After my 2003 PCT hike was over, I contacted many of my thru-hiking friends from both 2002 and 2003. I asked them to contribute their thoughts on the towns and many aspects of thru-hiking. What I ended up with was a collection of different opinions from people who have thru-hiked the PCT. They’ve been where you’re going. They’ve done what you’re about to do.
In 2004, I spent a spectacular summer on the Continental Divide. Those months on the backbone of the continent were life-changing for me. I pushed myself to my physical and mental limits -- and beyond!
2005 was spent compiling information for the CDT Handbook. I spent most of July road-tripping back and forth across the Divide, visiting all the trail towns and resorts to gather information and make town maps. In September, I did the same thing along the PCT in California.
By the end of 2005, the PCT Handbook had maps for all the towns from the Mexican border to Ashland, Oregon. The CDT Handbook debuted in the summer of 2006. By the end of 2006, town maps were added for Oregon and Washington in the PCT Handbook.
I thru-hiked the PCT for the third time in 2007. The trail sure had changed since my last PCT thru-hike in 2003! Fires and floods had destroyed the trail in many areas. There were more trail angels. And oddly, there were more solo female hikers than I had seen on past hikes. Gear was lighter, and everyone had a cell phone!
In April of 2009, I took another extended road trip and re-visited all the CDT and PCT trail towns. The current editions of the PCT Handbook and the CDT Handbook contain the most information and most town maps to date. These books have gone through a long evolution, and although I was proud of each prior edition, I believe that I finally have created the Handbooks of my dreams.
In July-August 2010, I hiked the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail Handbook premiered in February 2012.
2012 is a big hiking year for me. I hiked the Appalachian Trail from February 29-June 26. After regrouping at home for a week, I then headed to Glacier National Park to begin a southbound CDT hike. As of October 2012, I'm still on the CDT, currently freezing my ass off in Colorado.
I hope that these books are helpful to your pre-hike planning and on-trail logistics. I’ve had fun putting them together, and I look forward to keeping them alive for years to come. And just think, this all started with an innocent question in an email !!
1999 - Appalachian Trail
2001 - Half Pacific Crest Trail
2002 - Pacific Crest Trail
2003 - Pacific Crest Trail
2004 - Continental Divide Trail
2007 - Pacific Crest Trail
2010 - Colorado Trail
2012 - Appalachian Trail
2012 - Continental Divide Trail (thru-hike in progress)