In two weeks I will heft a backpack, drape my Leica binocs around my neck, and begin walking slowly north from the Mexican border near San Diego. If all goes well, I’ll arrive, considerably hairier and dustier, at the Canadian border in mid-September, having continuously hiked and birded the deserts and mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington along the entire Pacific Crest Trail.
As the days count down, I worry most about things like daily mileage (averaging 22 miles/day, with no breaks, for four months) and wear and tear (will my knees hold out? will six pairs of shoes cover it?), but almost everyone asks the same incredulous question: “You’re doing this, uh, alone?”
I’ll navigate the backcountry on my own all summer. It’s funny to me that people seem more afraid of their own company than bears, late snowstorms, and demented hillbillies. But there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. And, though going solo, I’ll be far from alone; about 300 hikers are attempting the whole trail this year, and 90% of them will start their trek within the same two-week window, heading north, to take advantage of summer conditions.
Even so, I will probably walk long sections with birds as my only company. Despite taking extreme measures to cut weight (I won’t carry a stove, and my pack should weigh about 15 pounds without food or water), I’ve decided to wear binoculars. It was a heavy choice, so to speak. Carrying my 1.4-pound Leicas over 2,665 miles, with 750,000 feet of elevation gain, will require an extra 7,500 calories of food over the 120-day journey. But how many birders have seen a California Thrasher and Boreal Owl without burning gasoline in between? In the realm of “green” birding, this is the ultimate carbon-neutral trip.
Advance plans have been straightforward but mind-numbingly complex. I’m really just going for a walk in the woods à la Bill Bryson, who had a somewhat different experience on the Appalachian Trail. But the logistics are intimidating: permits to cross 67 wildernesses, forests, parks, and monuments, and official entry to Canada; ice axe, crampons, and bear canister for the high Sierras; and 27 resupply packages to be mailed to post offices, stores, lodges, and resorts strategically along the route, including a mountain of vacuum-sealed dried food. My bedroom looks like a post-apocalyptic REI warehouse.
Soon enough, all that gear will be smashed into my Osprey pack and strapped on my back, leaving no space for worries. I will wake to the dawn chorus every morning, face north, and head off in search of new adventures, with birds, all summer long.
If you want to follow Noah’s progress throughout his trip, check noahstrycker.com/latest for regular updates from the trail.