I am excited to announce my southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail and participation with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention! In the summer of 2018, I will be embarking on my 2,650 mile journey from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, on a long distance journey that will benefit my campaign for suicide prevention. So why the PCT again, and why am I passionate about suicide prevention? All your questions, answered!
When I was fourteen years old, I remember sitting on the step of my back porch. It was the weekend, and a damp spring day. The azaleas and rhododendrons were blooming in our garden, and my day off was satiated by a teen magazine and the warmth of the sunshine. My father appeared, with a heavy stride and slouched shoulders, doing busy work in the shed. I knew something was wrong when I smiled at him, and he abruptly turned away and disappeared behind the wood pile. I turned to see my mother standing behind me, her face was stern and she spoke softly, a trait that was unlike her.
“Your Uncle Daniel hung himself last night. He’s dead.”
I was stunned into silence; pained to find any words to speak in that moment.
“When is the funeral?”
She scoffed. “There won’t be one. He committed suicide.”
My father’s little brother had died from a terrible disease.
She went back inside the house, leaving me to process an emotion I had never experienced before. In only a few words, she had reduced him from a human being, to a coward that didn’t deserve to be mourned because he had been mentally ill. It’s true that he had struggled over the years with an undiagnosed disease, and this was something that very few members of my family wanted to discuss. I had overheard conversations before amongst them, always in hushed tones, that Dan was in jail again and why can’t he just get his shit together?
No one had sympathy for him, and his death became a dark family secret that no one dared to talk about. There never was a funeral, and to this day I have no idea where he is buried.
It’s no secret that my relationship with my parents was a difficult one; I’m still coming to terms with the abuse I endured and my eventual placement in foster care. Shortly after my Uncle Dan’s death, I began to experience severe depression. Getting out of bed was a struggle, I became listless and distant from my friends, my school work suffered, and I found no joy in my hobbies. After some particularly bad physical abuse, I was put in foster care. The home I was living in was filthy, and my guardian’s son took every opportunity to paw at me as often as possible. I began to fantasize of my own suicide as a way out of my painful situation.
After a few more hardships, I thankfully made it out of my deep pit of depression with therapy and a little help from the outdoors. It is a romantic notion to say that the wilderness saved me, but it was a really a combination of the two. I used to be a closed book on the subject of my struggles with my mental health, but helping to end the stigma of mental illness is important to me, and that’s why I’m sharing my own experience and hiking to benefit suicide prevention.
Why the PCT again?
As many of you know, I have already successfully completed a northbound thru-hike of the PCT in 2016. The PCT owns a special piece of my heart, as I grew up with a section of it running through my stomping ground in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State. I remembering gazing upon those little diamond shaped metal trail markers nailed to the trees along the trail, and giving them a loving little tap as I passed them by. I dreamed of the day I could spend weeks, or even months, living out of a tent, sitting in the dirt and breathing the fresh air of the wide open spaces that the PCT passed through.
I made that dream a reality, quitting my job and starting my trek on the Mexico/U.S. border on April 15, 2016. On October 5th, I finished the trail at the Northern Terminus near Manning Park, B.C., during the first heavy snowfall of the year in the North Cascades. I was happy and sad all at the same time; I had walked over 2000 miles and completed an amazing feat, but I was disappointed that it was over too. I wanted to do it all over again. That trail made me feel strong and beautiful, a feeling that had long been swallowed and lost to depression.
Someday, I want to be a Triple Crown hiker, meaning I want to hike the three longest national scenic trails in America: The Pacific Crest Trail, The Appalachian Trail and The Continental Divide Trail. But first, I want to southbound (SOBO) the PCT and fulfill a goal of raising awareness about suicide and the stigma surrounding mental illness. The stigma is very real, and it prevents people from getting the help that they need and deserve. This hike and fundraiser is in honor of my family and friends, who have struggled with suicide and mental illness.
I’m excited to see and experience my favorite trail from a different point of view, and hike for a cause that I’m passionate about. This thru-hike will differ in a few ways: I will hit snow pack early on in the North Cascades, and nearly no snow in the high Sierra. I will also have to do this trail at a slightly faster pace, to avoid the first major snowfall in the southern section of the Sierra Mountains. Water in the California Desert could be an issue, and will be even more scarce than before, with possible longer water hauls than what I had in April and May.
I will be starting my hike in either late June or early July, hopefully pushing off sometime before the 4th of July. This will all depend on the snow pack at Hart’s Pass, where nearly every SOBO hiker starts. From Hart’s Pass, I will hike 30 miles north and tag the Northern Terminus, then be on my way southbound. This is because the U.S. Border Patrol does not allow hikers to enter the country via the PCT from Canada.
Suicide and Prevention
Every year, over 44,000 Americans die from suicide.
Many people who are at risk for suicide don’t seek help because of the stigma that is associated with depression. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides important funding to improve interventions, train clinicians in suicide prevention, and advocate for policies that will save lives. They aim to find better ways to reach those who suffer, and encourage schools, workplaces, and communities to make mental health a priority. They also bring hope to those who are struggling themselves, and help those who have lost someone to suicide.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and is more likely to affect middle-aged men, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and LGBTQ youth (almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth, and 92% of transgender individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25). Although men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide, women attempt suicide twice as often as men. Nearly half of all suicides are by firearm.
Mental health is important and needs to be taken seriously. No one should ever be told to just “snap out of it.” It’s never that simple, and it’s a toxic statement that could lead to someone’s death.
During my time on the PCT, at least five Americans will take their lives for every mile that I hike. If I can help to prevent any of these unnecessary deaths by hiking this trail, then I’ve done something right. Long distance hiking isn’t going to change the world, but using my endurance and hiking for a cause might help a little bit.
Please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website for more information, including information on warning signs and risk factors, treatment and statistics.
How to Help
Donate: Please consider donating to my campaign, Hiking for Hope and Healing. My goal is raise $1 for every mile that I hike, totaling $2,650. Every penny of the money raised through this campaign goes straight to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and saves lives.
Like, share and Care: liking and sharing my posts on social media will help get the word out for my fundraising. If donating to my cause isn’t an option, this is a great way to help!
I’m still hammering out some of my gear selections. I’ve learned a lot since my 2016 PCT thru-hike, and have really reduced my pack weight by quite a bit. I plan on doing a separate blog post on all of my gear, detailing why I chose it, performance and weight. Stay tuned!
Frequently Asked Questions
Will you be hiking solo?
Yes, however you’re rarely alone on the PCT. I will often be in the company of other outdoor enthusiasts, whether they’re fellow thru-hikers, sections hikers or day hikers. Throughout Oregon, I will see the northbound packs daily, and likely camp with many of them. In the Sierra, I will meet many John Muir Trail hikers, as the PCT and JMT coincide for 200 miles. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and hearing about their adventures, and hiking alongside other southbounders.
Do you carry a gun?
No. I never have, and likely never will. This isn’t about my political views concerning guns, I simply don’t want to carry one. It’s too much of a bother.
What measures do you take to stay safe?
I keep contact with my family when I can, either by texting, talking on the phone or email. I also never camp near a road, trailhead or town. I don’t tell strangers that I’m hiking alone or where I’m camping for the night, or post my current location on social media. If bears are known to frequent the area, I hang my food bag (or use a bear canister where it’s required).
How do you poop on the woods?
I dig a hole in the ground, preferably in a secluded location with lots of tree cover, about 6 inches deep and 200 feet away from the trail, camp sites and any water. After I’ve done my business, I bury it. I put my toilet paper in a zip top bag, double bagged, and pack it out.
How do you know where to make camp?
I use a combination of tools, usually a map to judge terrain and the ‘Halfmile PCT App,’ which gives me accurate mileage using GPS on my phone. The app will let me know about possible places to camp ahead, and how far it is to get there.
How do you stay clean?
I don’t. In fact, I get downright disgusting at times. There are no showers in the wilderness, which is something that I have to explain to a surprising amount of people. My hair gets greasy, my foot odor is offensive and my chin will likely break out in acne. I try to shower when possible, about once a week, when I’m in a trail town or campground. Some hikers go longer. I try to keep it tamed with a sponge bath, using a bandana and (usually) pretty icy creek water.
What food do you eat on the trail?
I try to eat foods that are high in fat, protein and calories. I burn a lot of calories on the trail, somewhere between 3500 and 4500 per day. Filling that deficit can be difficult, but eating lots of chocolate helps! I tend to eat a lot of instant pasta, rice and mashed potatoes, candy, cookies, tortillas, peanut butter, cheese, potato chips, dried fruit and nuts. I also must have my coffee and tea! My favorite food to indulge in when I get into town are tacos and ice cream.
How many miles do you average per day?
In 2016, I averaged 22 miles per day. I have since upped that average on other trails, but I’m careful not to overdo it and listen to my body. Lately, I’ve found that I can comfortably hike 24 to 27 miles in a day. My longest day currently sits at 34 miles in one go.
What is the most difficult part about thru-hiking?
As far as sections or terrain go, I think every state has its own unique difficulties. In Washington, I struggled most with the cold, wet weather that’s all too common in the autumn. In Oregon, it was the combination of boring, long stretches of pine forest that had me questioning whether I wanted to continue. Northern California’s extreme heat and long water-less stretches were incredibly brutal. I certainly think that thru-hiking is mind over matter, and getting through the difficult mental challenges are harder than the physical ones. It can be lonely, and I can get really homesick at times.
Is there anything on the trail that scares you?
You bet. Injury and illness are what I fear the most. I have little concern for things like bears or serial killers. Bear attacks on the PCT are very rare, if they’ve ever happened at all. I’m very ‘bear aware’ and practice safe bear habits, and I’ve encountered several bears on hikes now with no threats whatsoever. Creepers, sexual deviants and the like are nothing to worry about, simply because they aren’t going to hike 20 miles out into the backcountry in the off-chance that a solo female hiker is going to come along that they can attack.
Injury and illness, on the other hand, are a more likely thing to occur. Overuse injuries to the feet and knees are very real, and very painful. I’m also scared of the diseases that rodents carry, specifically hantavirus and plague, and contracting Lyme disease from ticks. Another concern is giardia from contaminated water. Thankfully, I filter or treat all of my water, so it’s a low risk.
What are your favorite sections of the PCT?
All of Washington is pretty spectacular, especially Goat Rocks Wilderness and Glacier Peak Wilderness, which I’m so excited to do when the weather is better in the summer. In Oregon, I loved the Three Sisters Wilderness and Crater Lake National Park. The Sierra Nevada Range, including the entire JMT section, and the Desolation Wilderness were my favorites in California.
How can I follow your journey?
I will be posting updates here, in the form of trail journals. I will also keep everyone up to date on my fundraising, and whether I meet my goals. You can also follow me on Instagram.
I greatly appreciate the continued support of everyone who have been following my adventures, as well as all the new faces that I’ve met lately who are interested in my endeavor. Much love to all of you. I am open to questions, so please feel free to contact me. You can leave a comment or shoot me an email, and I’ll do my best to send you a speedy reply. If you donate to my campaign, be sure to send me an email with your details; I’d love to send you a personal post card from the trail!
-Staci “Artemis” Anderson