Interview with a PCT Thru-Hiker

"Easy A" Gives us a Glimpse Into his PCT Experience

Mt. Thielson

We’re starting off 2015 with something a little different. Usually when we do interviews they’re with gear manufacturers; this time around we’ll be talking with a hiker. Join us as we chat with PCT thru-hiker Adam “Easy A” Criswell. From Mexico to Canada, Adam did a great job of updating his blog while passing thru civilization but he has been kind enough to entertain a post-hike debrief and share some insights on what it took to plan and prepare for this trip as well as what gear he carried and the importance of decisions such as beer vs. ice cream. I’m pretty sure it’s very similar to Wild, except he’s a dood and of course, he didn’t wear those swanky brown boots with the fat red laces. Anyway, check out what Adam had to say, and enjoy a few of his wonderful photos!

Hi Adam. Thanks for entertaining our interview request. Will you tell everyone a little about yourself and maybe share some of your past hiking experience?
AC
Hi Jacob, sure thing. I currently live in the beautiful state of California; my wife and I moved out here about six years ago and absolutely love being here. For an outdoor oriented person, California has so much variety and year round opportunities to explore. I work in agriculture which I enjoy but the unfortunate thing is that my busiest time of year is from late Spring to early Fall… prime backpacking season, so work somewhat limits my access to the mountains. Growing up in the East, I was fortunate that my Dad and Stepmother introduced me to backpacking at an early age. I believe I went on my first overnight trip when I was six or seven. Perhaps it was these early experiences, or maybe it goes deeper than that, but I feel most in touch with myself when I am on the trail. This feeling and the enjoyment of fresh air, exercise and adventure keeps me motivated to get hiking.
You hiked the totality of the Pacific Crest Trail (“PCT”) in 2014, correct?
AC
Yeah. I started at the southern terminus, which is right next to the border with Mexico and I hiked all the way to the northern terminus on the border with Canada. A total, length of about 2,665 miles and it took me just under five months.
So, how was that?
AC
In a word, Incredible! It was an experience I will think about and draw from for the rest of my life. I could have stayed home and continued doing what I was doing for those five months, time would have passed, I would have a little more money than I do now, and I probably wouldn’t remember most of it. But I took a chance to have an adventure and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I have such vivid and intense memories; I can remember details from every single day of that hike, which for me is very unusual.
Far out. Is this something that you spent time planning or was it more of a serendipitous unfolding of events?
AC
Taking a trip like this had been in the back of my mind for a long time but it wasn’t until early 2013 that I actually decided that the time was right and that I should go for it. I was going to turn 40, my life felt in a bit of a rut and this thought of thru hiking just took hold of me to the the point where I couln’t ignore it. Although it was something I fantasized about from time to time, the actual planning didn’t start until about one year before the trip was to begin. The serious daily planning started in December of 2013 and kept me busy until I left in April of 2014. I also have to give big props to my wife, who gave me tons of support and encouragement and didn’t freak out when I told her I wanted to do this.
A year is a lot of planning! In retrospect, was it time well spent?
AC
Absolutely, my personal mantra was that planning increases chances for success. In hindsight, I could have spent a little more time getting in shape and a little less time getting into details. But the planning and preparation gave me something to do other than counting down days in anticipation.
After all the buildup, what were those first few footsteps like?
AC
It felt really good. All the time spent planning and all those years daydreaming were becoming reality. I was so excited to be embarking on that journey. There was some nervousness, I really didn’t know if I could do it but I was so stoked to be following my dream.
Speaking of reality, when did the reality of what you were doing start to set in?
AC
I think it took about two weeks. It started to sink in that this trip was going to be really long. Almost all of my previous backpacking trips had been under two weeks, so at this point I would normally be thinking about getting back home and back to work. When I realized that I had no home to go back to [because his wife was travelling aborad during his hike], it got real and felt awesome!
Your home was on your back so to speak. Let’s talk about gear for a minute. What were your “big three” for this hike?
AC
  1. My shelter was a ZPacks Hexamid Solo tarp + Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight bivy
  2. My sleeping bag was an Enlightened Equipment 20º quilt
  3. My backpack was a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 4400
Aside from those things, was there anything that would prove to be a standout piece of gear along the hike?
AC
Although I had to be careful with it, and inflating and deflating was a pain, my [Therm-a-Rest] Neo Air sleeping pad was really wonderful.
Was there any gear that didn’t work out for you, and if so, why not?
AC
I originally started out with a Zpacks Arc Blast backpack but it became increasingly uncomfortable and I had to switch out to the beefier Windrider around mile 700. I never used my compass and ended up sending it home. I got annoyed with my levigaiters but still used them for the entire trail. From Lake Tahoe until I got into Washington, I carried too much clothing and didn’t need such a warm sleeping bag. Other than that, everything I brought worked out pretty well.
You took some very nice photos along the trail. Was bringing the camera and lenses worth carrying the weight for you?
AC
Thank you! I am still debating with myself about this. The short answer is I think it was worth it. For short trips, I can pretty much bring whatever I want but for this trip I had to be more careful to keep the weight down. I ended up bringing my camera (Olympus EM5), 2 lenses (Olympus 12-40 f2.8 and Olympus 75 f1.8), a polarizer for each lens, one 3 stop reverse grad, filter holder, mini tripod (similar to Gorrilapod), rocket blower, microfiber cloth, 3 batteries, battery charger, SD card, camera case and a pouch for the extra lens. Total weight was around 3.5 lbs. I took photos every day, I couldn’t bring myself to send any of the camera gear home but I cursed it every day as well.
Alright, let’s switch it up to something serious… the food! How many calories a day did you plan for? Was it enough? Did you dehydrate your own? Did you buy packaged stuff? How many Snickers did you eat? Spill all the details!
AC

Food! That is the number one topic for thru hikers on the trail. We can and do talk about food for hours. As far as planning calories, I didn’t have a formal number, I had a rough number of around 4000 per day [!] but I never calculated out the calories in my food. It was pretty overwhelming just preparing it all and I thought I would figure it out as I went. In hindsight, I underestimated by about 1000-1500 calories per day [!!] which I made up for with extra cheese, pastries and snacks. That was one of the best parts of the trip, I could eat anything I wanted, as much as I wanted and I would still lose weight. I did prepare about 70% of what I thought I would need ahead of time, this took me a full three months of cooking, dehydrating and packing almost every day.

I ended up hating everything I made with potatoes, was pretty sick of all my rice meals and was slightly sick of all my pasta meals. But the enjoyment of pasta was pretty sustained for most of the trip. I did plan on picking things up along the way and I really started to look forward to these resupplies as I could add some variety to my diet. One thing I started to eat which surprised me were gummy bears, I never really cared for them until the trail, now I look lovingly on gummy bears every time I see them at the store. Snickers… this is like the nectar of the gods for most thru hikers. I really didn’t eat a lot of them though if I were to put a number on it, maybe 40. A guy I hiked with for much of the trail ate two per day, so he put down around 250! I have a sweet tooth but I found myself craving salty foods more than sugary, so I ate lots of crackers.

Man, that’s a lot of calories! How did you get your resupplies?
AC

It is fairly easy to resupply on the PCT with a little planning. I did a combination of premade boxes and supply along the way. So I had a total of 22 resupply boxes that my wife and sister mailed to me and 4 resupplies out of grocery stores. For the boxes I would pick them up at post offices or hiker friendly stores. I also supplemented my premade boxes pretty heavily from stores after about 600 miles, when my hunger started to ramp up.

For gear, such as shoes, I would order them from my smartphone and have them shipped ahead to a hiker friendly store. This worked out surprisingly well.

Getting to a store was either a short hike on a side trail, hitching a ride or a combination of the two. Getting rides was never a problem (except once) and people were super friendly and helpful.

When you come into town, what do you go for first… beer or ice cream?
AC
Beer, always! But I don’t each much ice cream so not much of a contest. Besides beer is the best sports beverage out there, it has calories, acts as a pain killer, is a motivation enhancer and tastes great!
You embarked on this hike solo but you must have met some kind people along the way. Care to talk about anyone in particular?
AC
I met so many great people, which was a highlight of the trail. Big shout out to Red, Crusher, Doubletap, Ruthie, Cheese, Butters, Signal, Luna, Seamstress, Juneau, Rimshot and Kit, all the great trail angels and random helpful strangers. And of course, DC who helped keep me sane and made me laugh. DC and I hiked together for 1200 miles; we spent every day together for 2 months and had a great time.
That’s really cool, the people aspect of the trail sounds great. Ok, let’s hit the home stretch… What was your favorite stretch of trail?
AC
Definitely the High Sierras. We are so fortunate to live in California. Second favorite would be Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington, totally cool place.
Hardest climb?
AC
All of Washington! And probably that 5000 foot climb out of Seiad Valley in 100 degree heat after drinking a six pack of beer, probably not the wisest choice but I made it.
Favorite trail angel?
AC
My wife!
Favorite town?
AC
I really liked Idyllwild… really cool little town in Southern California at the base of Mt. San Jacinto. They even had a very decent wine bar!
Best view?
AC
That’s really hard to pick but there was one very memorable sunset behind Mt. Shasta that was really incredible.
Strangest thing you saw?
AC
The pot farm/hostel, that was really weird and kind of creepy!
Adam, thanks so much. It’s clear that you had an amazing time on the PCT. Do you have any thoughts to share with others who are reading this and considering embarking on a PCT thru hike?
AC
If you are really thinking about it, make it happen and you will not regret it. A lot of people say they don’t have enough time or money to do it but if it is a priority you will find a way. Some of the best experiences of my life were on this trip and it is something I will cherish for the rest of my days.
Another big thanks to Adam for sharing a little of his experience with us. There are countless stories, blogs, books, and even a movie or two out there telling of individual experiences on the PCT and it quickly becomes clear that the journey is always a unique one. We hope that Easy A’s story gives you some inspiration, a sense of what it is to hike the PCT, or if nothing else, just some enjoyment from reading about this crazy guy’s time on the trail and what’s involved in the prepping for a trip of this magnitude. You can check out Adam’s blog for many more details about his trip, along with other hiking related material. And, in case anyone’s wondering about his trail name, well… some thing simply must remain a mystery! Hike It. Like It.

Some of the best experiences of my life were on this trip and it is something I will cherish for the rest of my days.

Food Preparation!
Food Preparation!
DC and Easy A - Crater Lake
DC and Easy A – Crater Lake
Home
Home
Blue Skies and Crusher - Marble Mountains
Blue Skies and Crusher – Marble Mountains
Red - High Sierras
Red – High Sierras
Goat Rocks Wilderness
Goat Rocks Wilderness
The Notorious "Fireweed"
The Notorious “Fireweed”
Sunset on Mt. Shasta
Sunset on Mt. Shasta
At the Northern Terminus
At the Northern Terminus
Jacob D Written by:

Jacob is the head honcho, wearer of many hats, and modern day berserker here at Hike It. Like It. When he's not out hiking or running the trails you'll find him operating in full capacity as a Super Dad and chipping away at a degree in Kinesiology. This guy likes to stay busy. Follow on Strava

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