Archive for February, 2023

I’ve decided to post something useful for all the future PCT hikers: the sum total of my PCT advice. This isn’t gospel, just one hiker’s take on stuff. I hope this helps, and happy hiking!!

  1. If your trail name is just one word, and if it’s a common noun, be aware that others will probably have the same one. I encountered tons of Turtles and Chefs. 🙂 It’s okay to shop around for a trail name. It’s also okay to have no trail name at all. It’s your hike, and no one else’s.

2. You will not survive off hiker boxes alone. It’s a worthwhile goal, but some towns have no trail boxes at all. Also, your diet would be limited to mysterious Ziploc baggies full of unidentifiable powders. Either way, not nearly enough calories.

3. Eat a lot. I promise you won’t gain weight by the time your thru-hike is over. I devoured 4K calories a day, and still ended up losing 18% of my body weight by the end. O_o

4. If you spend a zero day in a campground/resort, you won’t have as much fun as you would with a town zero. There’s just… not a whole lot to do. That’s something I wish I’d changed on my hike.

5. A lot of resorts/stores, especially starting in the Sierra, will not have price tags… VVR is the worst offender – they don’t quite tell you their tiny beers are $6 each. O_o Don’t be afraid to ask for prices.

6. Don’t chug olive oil if your digestive tract isn’t used to it. Yes, that’s the most efficient way to get your calories, but… At least one hiker shat his pants after he started chugging oil. (He will remain nameless hahaha) As life hacks go, this one may have some severe consequences.

7. Send resupply boxes to tiny towns along the trail. After South Lake Tahoe, and basically for the rest of the trail, there’ll be a ton of tiny towns with tiny stores: even when they have price tags, it’ll be ridiculously expensive to resupply. If you’re not sure about a town, look it up with the Google Maps street view, and you’ll see if it has a Safeway or just one tiny-looking store.

8. Send yourself a variety of supplies. A lot of hikers get tired of the food they’d sent themselves in resupply boxes. (I ended up hating peanut butter pretty fast lol)

9. Take tons of pictures and videos. 🙂 Also, this will sound elementary, but use a microfiber cloth on your phone/camera lens. If you forget to do that once in a while, your pics will come out duller than they should be.

10. Don’t carry $50 or $100 bills. (This is especially applicable to foreign hikers.) Most stores on the trail are small, and they usually wouldn’t be able to break you a big bill. Carry an assortment of $1, $5, and $10 bills.

11. Have a secret cash stash in your backpack in case you really need it. Some places (like Hikertown) accept only cash, and there aren’t a lot of ATMs.

12. This one is just my personal opinion, but Platypus-brand water bladders are poorly designed. You can accidentally yank out the main water tube, or they could develop a micro-leak because of all the friction in your backpack… I ended up carrying my water in SmartWater bottles instead.

13. Dudes, this one is for you (women already know this stuff haha) – after you put sunscreen on your face, wash it off before going to sleep… I miiiight have ended up with 4 days of sunscreen slowly getting inside my eyes and irritating the hell out of my eyes for 2 days in the Sierra. Zero stars, would not recommend.

14. Outside your face, sunscreen generally stays on for several days. You can make it last, and still get enough protection from the sun. (If your skin starts turning pink, reapply as needed.) If you sweat a lot, this tip might not work for you, but in my experience, all the trail dust combined with the sunscreen to form a nice protective layer around my legs.

15. Trail magic is amazing, but don’t rely on it or expect it. Less disappointment that way, and you’ll appreciate any and all unexpected trail magic that much more. 🙂

16. If you’re going through the bear country and don’t have your bear can yet (or anymore), hang your food off a tree branch. It’ll take just a few minutes, and you won’t end up with just a can of Pringles (bears *hate* Pringles!) to last you to the next town.

17. Get a small compass, learn how to use it. Phone apps can get accidentally deleted, electronics can run out of power or drown, but it’d take physical force to smash a compass. There are quite a few confusing spots along the trail.

18. Speaking of backups: National Geographic maps are awesome. 🙂 I actually navigated with one (and my compass!) after I fell into Bear Creek just ahead of VVR. It’s a good idea to have non-electronic backups like that.

19. If your phone drowns and stops working, keep it in a ziploc filled with dry rice. That stuff really works! (But not on DSLR cameras. I’m so sorry, Great Dingleberry…)

20. Don’t pack your fears. I’ve seen a hiker who carried a hatchet (he claimed he saw a lot of violent people in news clips about California…), another hiker with a pistol, etc. In the entire history of the PCT, no one died of human violence or animal attack. Leave the fear (and extra weight) at home.

21. Don’t be an asshole – pack out your toilet paper. There was quite a lot of it along the trail… Just yeet it into a ziploc, and into another ziploc, and put it deep into an outside pocket where it won’t touch anything else. It’s as simple as that.

22. Glissading is awesome, but it tends to randomize your gear. Everything that’s not secured to your backpack can fall off – and even if it’s secured, who knows. One guy hiking next to me ended up losing his sock (it was hanging and drying) but found a bottle of water instead. :))

23**. Don’t glissade in short-shorts…** One girl ended up getting named “Road Rash” – apparently, there was quite a lot of damage.

24. After you get a hitch, always – **always** – make sure you don’t forget your electronics and your hiking poles. Those were the top items folks forgot, from what I’ve seen. (Hell, I forgot my own poles at Kennedy Meadows South. 😛 )

25. Don’t start political debates, and don’t join them if some other idiot starts them. Leave the drama and the politics at home. Enjoy the beautiful nature instead. 🙂

26. A small mylar emergency blanket can be super useful. It can protect your exposed skin from mosquitoes when you’re filtering water next to their natural habitat. It can also keep you warmer at night if you wrap yourself in the emergency blanket while inside the sleeping bag. (It retains a lot of the heat your body radiates.)

27. Try to journal. Days will merge into weeks into months, and a lot of small things (and hiker names!) will be forgotten.

28. If you order Altra Lone Peak shoes from their site, keep in mind that they don’t deliver to post office buildings. (Ask me how I know!) They ship by Fedex, so that won’t work out. You can try shipping them to a local trail angel’s house instead.

29. Your feet will expand. Probably by a lot. If you put new shoes in your resupply boxes, plan accordingly, or you might not fit in them.

30. If you have large (and flat) feet like myself, don’t buy synthetic socks. Wool socks expand relatively well, but synthetic socks… My feet went from size 13 to size 16 (yes, really), and when I switched out my wool DarnTough socks for synthetic ones in Bishop, the synthetic socks started biting into the ankle so much that I ended up with so-called “hiker inflammation” aka fluid build-up in the ankle. Keeping it iced and elevated helped fix it, but I still ended up missing quite a few days of hiking. So, either stick with wool socks only, or keep rolling your synthetic socks up/down throughout the day. Keep them from staying in one place.

31. PCT is a very expensive adventure. Plan accordingly. In my experience, by mid-point, a lot of hikers were walking more miles than they were comfortable with because a) they were tight on cash, or b) they had minor injuries and wanted to reach the finish line before they became **major** injuries, or c) both.

32. Don’t be too cool for an ice axe/microspikes. They can save your life, or prevent a major injury. It’s better to have them and not need them… (I ended up using my ice axe when I started sliding off the hard packed snow on the damn Mather Pass. Best investment ever!)

33. Please don’t try trail-running up a mountain in the dark and/or when there’s ice.

34. You’re gonna have to get good at math, or become comfortable using a calculator. When shopping for food in town, you’ll end up doing tons of math to find the best “calories per $” deal.

35. Make sure you have some food variety when you buy food for the next few days of hiking. It can be **very** tempting to just buy a ton of peanuts (800 calories for $1, wooo!) but you’ll hate yourself afterwards. 😛

36. It’s okay if your hiking routine is different than other people’s. Maybe you like waking up at 3:30am and stopping at 5pm, or maybe you’ll get up after dawn and walk till dark. Maybe you want to take 2-hour siestas in the afternoon. Totally up to you.

37. There’ll be **a lot** of fallen trees (aka blowbacks) along the trail. Just mentally brace yourself ahead of time. 🙂 The hike into Idyllwild was basically an obstacle course, and then there were roughly 50-70 miles of blowdowns on the way to Etna… Quite a few in Washington, too. They’ll slow you down, and there’s no escaping them, so just make peace with that fact.

38. There will be loooong stretches without any cellphone reception, especially in the Sierra. Tell your friends/family not to worry. If you use a Garmin GPS thingy, make sure the folks back home know how to see your location.

39. No internet means you won’t be able to do a lot of time-sensitive online stuff. This is a very niche tip, I know 🙂 but if you decide to sell monthly covered calls to nonchalantly sponsor your hike, you’re gonna miss out on a week or two because, again, no internet. Or if you’re selling your house, maybe. Or negotiating with your crappy accountant. Plan accordingly.

40. Be nice. For a lot of regular people you encounter, you might be the first and last PCT hikers they’ll ever meet. You’re a PCT ambassador. Try to leave a good impression.

41. For fuck’s sake, don’t run off without paying. At least one NorCal hostel shut down in 2021 because the owner was heartbroken that hikers kept slipping away in the morning instead of paying for their bed + dinner. According to Guthook, at one point 15 hikers did that as a group in September 2021. Your actions affect not just this current hiking season, but future years as well.

42. When you’re in town, the most efficient calories = buying a bucket of ice cream. 🙂 a 1.5-liter bucket of ice cream = 1,800 calories. I used to just buy it and eat it with a spork on the nearest flat surface. 🙂

43. Trust your intuition. If all of a sudden, you notice that the path looks kinda faint and not very PCT-like, stop and check Guthook. I’m positive that every PCT hiker got turned around at some point. There’s lots of tiny forks you might not notice. It takes just a few seconds to double-check your location, and if you ignore your intuition, you might spend an hour or more heading completely the wrong way lol

44. Learn to use Guthook’s features – especially the altitude display that shows what ups and downs are ahead of you.

45. If you have doubts… You don’t need to be a super-experienced veteran hiker to do the PCT. I sure as hell wasn’t. 🙂 I’d never spent a night outdoors of my own accord (aside from Search & Rescue training earlier), and never hiked for fun, but I picked it up fast and finished the PCT in one piece. Just pay attention and don’t do dumb stuff, that’s all there is to it.

46. Yes, the Timberline buffet really is as awesome as everyone says it is. 🙂 Their strawberry smoothies were amazing!! Don’t skip the buffet, is what I’m saying, or you’ll miss out on an amazing experience.

47. In the Sierra, most bridges are located in the JMT section. Before and after it, not so much. Be **very** careful when crossing creeks and streams. Even a relatively small creek can kick your ass if it’s strong enough. (Damn you, Bear Creek!) Use caution and common sense.

48. Gloves vs mittens. Gloves give you more dexterity (good for setting up/taking down your tent, etc) but mittens are warmer since your fingers are together and share the warmth.

49. If there’s stuff (water bottles, etc) in your backpack’s outside pockets, at some point it might fall off and get lost. If your stuff is secured by a strap, that strap might fail – for example, if you’re navigating a lot of branches while climbing over blowdowns. To make sure you don’t lose, say, your tent poles – secure your stuff using 2 straps. It might still fall off and get lost, but much less likely that way.

50. Carry an emergency tampon. Human bodies can get weird on a giant endurance hike like that: at a tiny highway rest stop, I met a hiker whose period started wayyy earlier than expected. She always used to buy tampons just in time, and none of the other PCT hikers had a spare… She ended up asking all the locals that hiked by. Fun fact: most women who go out for a day hike on a weekday morning are on the older side, so they don’t have spares either. I used to pride myself in being able to help almost anyone, but I was completely useless in that situation.

51. The JetBoil cooking pot&stove combo is more expensive than generic pots, but it’s wayyy more efficient. It really does boil water faster than your basic aluminum/titanium no-name pots. Just make sure you have a lighter or matches to start the flame – it’s not piezoelectric.

52. Nothing wrong with taking multiple consecutive zeroes, but after about 2-3 zeroes in a row, your body will have to readjust to the hiking mode. Keep that in mind if you take a long detour to Vegas, San Francisco, Portland, etc. 🙂

53. Your water filter will **not** help you if the water is chemically contaminated. (Fertilizers, industrial runoff, etc.) If the water source looks/smells funny, try to wait until the next water source.

54. Wildfires in Cali/Oregon start in August. Keep that in mind if you have a late start.

55. If you plan on night-hiking, be aware that you’re sharing the territory with predatory critters. One time, a dude woke me up at 4am because he was **convinced** he was being stalked by a mountain lion. (“Too insistent for a deer, too small for a bear.”) He was just so damn happy to have some human company – I had a quick breakfast and we hiked together until dawn. 🙂 (His strategy was to nap during the day, then walk at night – that was during the heatwave.)

56. You probably won’t finish that large pizza you order in town. 😛 You’ll be hungry, yeah, but those large-sized pizzas are HUGE, y’all. Order a medium, or be prepared to walk around town with a to-go box full of cold slices hahaha

57. Bagels are awesome. ❤ Each bagel is about 220 calories, has 10 grams of protein, and they don’t really go bad. Bagels were my must-have carryout food in every town.

58. New to hiking? Or never hiked in the desert? I did a 3-day “rehearsal hike” and I highly recommend it! I rented a cheap campspot in Potrero through AirBnB, just 5 miles or so west of the South Terminus. (There’s a bus from San Diego that goes there.) It was a really laid-back way to make sure my body adjusted to the climate, humidity, altitude, etc. Also, a great way to get last-minute practice with all your shiny new gear. 🙂

59. Don’t carry huge knives. A small folding knife and/or a tiny flat one-piece metal multi-tool will do just fine.

60. There are many trail angel groups in towns along the PCT. You can find them either through the main trail angel group on Facebook, or if you search for the town name + trail angels. Not every town has them, but it’s a great way to find a free (or cheap) place to crash when you’re in town.

61. Cowboy-camping is indescribably awesome. Hands down one of my favourite parts of the trail. Waking up in the middle of the night, looking up at the stars (and the Milky Way, if you’re lucky) amid the velvet-black background of the universe… There is nothing like it. ❤

62. Leave no trace – carry out all your trash. Yes, that means you’ll have a tons of plastic packaging and food wrappers by the time you reach the next town in 3-5 days, but if all 4,500 hikers started throwing their trash around… Just don’t do that.

63. Electrolytes are your friends, especially during heatwaves. You will sweat **a lot**, and you’ll need to replenish the salt you sweat out. Experiment with different electrolyte powders. Include them in your resupply boxes because PCT-adjacent stores often sell out.

64. Yes, Oregon mosquitoes are as terrible as everyone says. There are literal swarms of them. Pack a head-net: it weighs just a few grams, and you won’t regret it.

65. Take a few minutes to google, read, and understand the symptoms (and treatment) of heatstroke and frostbite. You may end up needing that information in the desert, in the Sierra, and during heatwaves. It could save your life. (Or somebody else’s.)

66. When you’re in town and all the electric outlets are already taken, check the back of the building! Always check the perimeter, y’all. 😉 More often than you’d think, there’s an empty outlet (or more than one!) in the back, out of sight and all yours to use.

67. I already mentioned the blowdowns – mentally prepare yourself for some really frustrating days. There’s a section (near mile 200) where the trail got swept away by annual flooding, so you’ll spend 15 or so miles wandering from one tiny stone cairn to another – no trail, no signposts. 🙂 In the Sierra, especially along the JMT, there’ll be virtually no PCT signage, no way to tell where exactly the path to the summit lies under all that snow. You can’t change that, but you can change your attitude. Just keep in mind that it really is wilderness out there, and not every stretch is easy to navigate.

68. The farther you get from the PCT, the fewer people will know what that is, and hitchhiking might get difficult. When I had to leave the trail to nurse my ankle, I got a ride from KMN all the way to Modesto. (2 hours away.) Coming back, the locals all thought I was a homeless person and not a thru-hiker. 😦 I tried and failed to hitchhike, and ended up spending roughly $150 on Uber and Lyft to get from Modesto to Sonora, and from Sonora back to the trail near KMN. Keep that in mind if you plan to hitch back to the trail from a city 50+ miles away.

69. Have fun out there. 🙂

(Crossposted on my PCT-2022 trail journal)

Short version:

I’ve created a new e-book. It’ll be available for free on Kindle from February 10th through February 14th. You can download it over here. You can also download the 59Mb PDF version over here. (And please, share it as much as you can/want.)

Long version:

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

Oscar Wilde

This collection of banned books was inspired by Florida’s House Bill 1467, which aims to police which books would be allowed in public schools. Schools in Manatee and Duval counties are hiding, removing, or covering up all of their books just to be on the safe side. A teacher charged with distributing “obscene” books to minors could be charged with a third-degree felony. Since no one knows what precisely would qualify as obscene, there are entire schools with empty shelves.

A “media specialist” (and not a teacher) would be tasked with deciding what’s allowed and what isn’t: by default, everything is banned, and books would be approved on an individual basis. If that doesn’t make you confused, bewildered, and perhaps a little angry – well, maybe this collection of banned books (and the introductions I prepared for them) will show why censorship has always been a losing game, a coward’s last defense.

I was born in the Soviet Union. My grandma spent seven years in Stalin’s Gulag camp. My home country, which I haven’t visited since 2003 and likely never will, kills journalists for sport. Let’s just say I have low tolerance for censors and bullies. I always low-key wondered how I could help, what – if anything – I could contribute, and I got this idea after reading a few too many accounts of the consequences of Florida’s book ban. (They aren’t setting up book bonfires just yet, but we live in an age where the unthinkable becomes improbable becomes news.)

If I were the pretentious kind, I’d say that I’m a friend of freedom, a lover of libraries, a keeper of knowledge – but I’m not, so I won’t, though I sort of did. Heh. I’m just a guy with a computer and a little too much time on my hands. I’m good at editing huge volumes of information, and my sole accomplishment here is meta-compiling old books using publicly available resources. If I could do it, so can you.

At first, I thought this banned book compendium would take just one all-nighter: find the most famous public domain books that had been banned in the past, splice them all together, add some formatting, a few words about each book, etc… That was idealistic of me: I suddenly understood why the only other collection I found stopped at 18 books. I went with 32. Working nights and weekends, this project took well over a week, even though Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia had already done all the heavy lifting. Still – worth it.

There are two often-banned pieces of literature I couldn’t fit in: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s plays. They require so many footnotes (which would have to be very carefully interlinked) that adding them here was beyond my capacity. Fortunately, you can find them for free right here, on Project Gutenberg: Canterbury Tales; Shakespeare.

Each banned book in this 8,622-page monster of an anthology is preceded by a short text: a summary of the book, why it was controversial, and who tried (or succeeded in) banning it. That’s followed by a link or two that will lead you to sites with other relevant information on the topic.

Incidentally, it’s quite disturbing how much information is hidden behind the paywalls of academic journals. The research published (presumably) for the public good, often in taxpayer-funded universities, gets locked away where an average reader can’t read it without paying $25 or more. (Good luck finding anything useful and accessible on Nicholas I’s “terror of censorship.”) Some of the links I’ve included lead to hobbyist blogs that have remarkably useful and in-depth information. Those sites were created by average people like you and I, and they dispense their knowledge freely. Some food for thought…

I’ve learned a fair bit while assembling this collection. Before I started this project, I had no idea just how much influence Anthony Comstock (he of the 1873 Comstock Act) had with all his puritanical purges. I didn’t know that his successor, John S. Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), kept the work going until 1950, which is still within living memory. And I certainly had no clue that Boston remained a hotbed of censorship well into the 20th century, to the point where “Banned in Boston” was a coveted distinction that was almost guaranteed to boost a book’s sales.

Some of the incidents I describe in those mini-introductions sound ridiculous. For example, the time Oklahoma’s Mothers United for Decency couldn’t explain why their Smut Mobile featured the Mad magazine. Or the time Australia kept banning and un-banning James Joyce’s Ulysses. Or the time Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland got banned in China because “animals should not use human language.” We can condescendingly chuckle at those displays of idiocy, but each of them is a canary in the coal mine of literacy.

There always were, and are, and will remain authoritarian despots, power-drunk bureaucrats, puritanical activists, and others like them who hate unusual books, who think they know better than you, who try to dam the flow of progress. Ironically, their efforts often bring even more attention to the books they seek to hide.

There are some who would argue that e-books will end censorship once and for all. Well… That’s true if you manually pass them around as EPUB files. If, however, you download them directly on Kindle (or Nook, or elsewhere), the same centralized system can delete your e-books just as fast, just as easily. That already happened once: in 2009, Amazon realized it didn’t have the right to sell George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm in the US. It proceeded to immediately delete those e-books from all their customers’ Kindles and Kindle apps. The irony of that Orwellian move is overwhelming, and though Amazon apologized profusely and promised not to do that again (unless they must), that showed just how easy it would be to censor an e-book if the push came to shove.

Ergo this file: I’m uploading the whole collection on Kindle as a cheap e-book because that’s the fastest way to ensure wide distribution. ($2.99 was the lowest price they allowed me to set.) You can download the Kindle version here: I’ll also try to spread the free PDF version all over the web. Save it, make a copy, send it to your friends – and read it yourself: the books within may not be your cup of tea, but once upon a time they were bestsellers, and they pissed off The Powers That Be so much that they continued to be banned centuries and even millennia after they were published. Books that inspire so much angst across eons make for some interesting reading. Besides, Lysistrata is hilarious and Mark Twain is a national treasure.

One could argue that we as a culture can be defined not by what we permit but by what we prohibit. Banned books, banned art, banned objects: they’re the negative space in the self-portrait that is our civilization. One of my favourite authors, Claire North, had this insightful gem in her Notes from the Burning Age: “Before the burning, it was considered heretical for women to behave in a manner considered male. Then these words changed – ‘female’, ‘male’. They have changed again since that time. What is our new morality? What is our new heresy?” What indeed.

Next time there’s a book ban (or a Nazi-like book bonfire), there’s a good chance something from this collection will be included. Save it. Pass it on. Historically speaking, literacy is a rare privilege. Public libraries have existed for just a couple of centuries. Public schools, even less than that. Knowledge is fragile, and critical thinking is powerful. There are those who would love for them both to go away, and fast. Read. Resist. Rage.

If you want to help, go to this Project Gutenberg page and start there. I’m not affiliated with them, but they fight the good fight as they digitize thousands of public domain texts. If you want to do more, start stockpiling controversial books (modern or classic) for safekeeping. Build a little lending library on your streetcorner. Pay very close attention to proposed book bans in your area, and protest like hell if they happen. As you will see below, quite a few bans were overturned when the appalling apparatchiks got overwhelmed by their community’s outrage. Shame still works, if only for the time being.

If there’s a large-scale book ban in progress in some other part of the world, get involved by mailing books to students and local activists. Send money. Send emails. Send the good vibes and share social media articles, if that’s all you have the time and the inclination for. Just don’t be silent.

If you have an idea for other public domain digitization projects, and if you’d like my help, you can reach me here: So long, and happy reading.