AT vs PCT: The first 150 miles

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Lots of people have been asking me how the PCT compares to the AT… At least in the first 150 miles there are lots of differences!

The AT is a green tunnel, the PCT is either a red racetrack or the yellow-brick road.

The AT has lots of tree cover and the trail was mostly mud or hard-packed earth. The PCT by contrast is incredibly exposed. There is rarely tree cover and much of the trail is yellowish beach sand or reddish rocks.

Walking on the AT was mostly walking on hard surfaces, walking on the PCT is mostly like walking on the soft part of the beach.

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On the AT I never used my sunscreen, on the PCT I use it four times a day.

On the AT I used my rescue inhaler four times a day, on the PCT I haven’t used it at all.

On the AT it seemed like there was water everywhere, on the PCT the creeks and streams have mostly been dry. The water caches, however, have been impressively stocked.

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On the AT almost 80% of the thu-hikers I met (in the first 150 miles) on the trail smoked cigarettes, on the PCT I haven’t encountered any smokers yet.

On the AT the birds started chirping an hour before dawn (a reliable alarm clock), on the PCT the birds start chirping sometime between dawn and an hour after dawn.

On the AT views were a rare commodity, on the PCT it seems there are spectacular new views around every corner.

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On the AT the lows were in the 40s, on the PCT the lows were in the 20s.

On the AT the highs were in the 70s, on the PCT the highs were in the 90s.

On the AT it’s possible to stay at shelters every night, on the PCT there are no shelters.

On the AT mice out number people, on the PCT lizards outnumber people.

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On the AT the crowd was mostly 20 something’s, on the PCT the crowd seems to be mostly 60 something’s (because I’m starting the PCT early and I started the AT late?).

On the AT people would look at you crazy if you hiked 20 miles on your first day, on the PCT that seems like the norm.

Blister prevalence seems the same for both the AT and the PCT. I’ve seen fewer knee injuries on the PCT so far though.

The PCT truly believes in switchbacks, Georgia thinks that it’s trying sometimes.

On the AT there are gaps, on the PCT there are canyons.

On the AT I never used my sunglasses, on the PCT I use them every day.

I didn’t seem any mosquitos the first 150 miles of the AT, I’ve seen tons on the PCT already.

There seems to be a higher default level of education on the PCT relative to the AT (could be due to the older demographic.

On the AT I hung a bear bag every night, on the PCT I sleep with my food on my tent.

On the AT I resupplied out of grocery stores and ghetty marts, for the PCT I am sending myself maildrops.

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Despite raining 4/5 of my first days on the PCT, it has generally been much sunnier on the PCT than on the AT.

When packing for the PCT I made a few adjustments to my gear. The main one was switching my alcohol stove to a jetboil sol. I loved my little alcohol stove, but because of the fire danger California has banned them this year.

In the first 150 miles I’ve also switched some of my gear. I traded out my baseball cap for a more desert friendly cap with a neck guard. I bought down booties to keep my feet warm. I bought a chrome dome umbrella for shade, I bought extra sunscreen, and I bought some Chapstick with sunscreen in it. I also realized that having a v-neck long sleeve shirt meant having extra sunburn area to worry about so I would definitely get a high-colored shirt if I were to do this again!

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Smoky Mountain Characters (Days 20-22)

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I’ve already gone on at length about how gorgeous the Smokies are, and that was especially true of the views and the trails of the northern Smokies, but I haven’t talked much about the people.

Prior to the Smokies I’d only spent two nights in the shelters (both times in the pouring rain) and tented the rest of the time. In the Smokies, however, camping is discouraged and everyone has to stay in the shelters. Since the Smokies are incredibly popular, and I was there over Memorial Day Weekend, the shelters were packed with 12 to 20 of my new closest friends each night.

In theory each of the shelters is designed to hold 12 people (8 people with reservations and 4 thru-hikers). Often though, extra people were squeezed in that either didn’t have reservations or because a group of thru-hikers converged.

The Scotsman (actually from Ohio) was one of the people that I met in the shelters.The kilt was a bit of character, but when combined with his pipe-smoking and mad lumberjack skills (all demonstrated at once in the picture above) he added warmth (with a toasty fire) and entertainment (some off color jokes) to a chilly evening in the Smokies. He said he liked hiking in the South because there aren’t as many rules down here.

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Batman and his girlfriend CryBaby provided a glimpse into yet a different world. Batman wore a batman t-shirt ever day and superman sox, but what really sold the outfit was the full batman latex mask and the bat mobile that he carried with him. As a fellow thru-hiker, I wondered how much his pack must weigh with all of that batty stuff. The downside to this pair of thru-hikers is that they chain-smoked when they got into camp. Just sitting there rolling and then smoking their tobacco cigarettes. They described themselves as hiker hobos… Homeless and hiking in the woods because it sure as heck beat being homeless in the city.

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Even the characters that don’t make it to the Smokies get talked about in the shelter, like Real Tree, who was section hiking from Georgia to Hot Springs. I hiked with him for a day, and after I learned to understand his thick southern accent we had some nice conversations. His thick accent, big cowboy hat, canvas backpack, and tin cups and pans rattling off of it made him kind of famous… Even before realizing that the only food he had with him was outmeal and that he was sleeping under a picnic tablecloth instead of a sleeping bag. He’d complained about being cold one morning and i suggested maybe it was because it was damp… He assured me that the lack of sleeping bag and the picnic tablecloth he was using as a substitute was the problem.

I also met a lot of awesome families out with their kids hiking and enjoying the scenery and the fellowship. I especially enjoyed seeing the three generation hikers with father, son, and grandson (not meaning to neglect the uncles).

Ah, I almost forgot the other characters in the shelters… The mice! My first couple of nights in the shelters I tried to pick a nice spot against the wall… With so many people it was nice to be on an end. I learned, however, that this plan has downsides… The mice would scamper on head when they wanted to get around the wall because I was in the way. As you might imagine, waking to the pitter patter of mice feet on your head is no fun! After that I made a point to chose nice middle spots in the shelters.