November 16, 2018
This past Wednesday, the Pacific Crest Trail Association held its annual online permit lottery. Eager hikers around the world queued up online to get permits to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2650 mile footpath meandering from Campo, California at the US-Mexico border to Manning Park, BC, eight miles past the US-Canada border. The adventure of a lifetime! Because of weather issues, especially in California’s Sierra Nevada and Washington’s Cascades, the optimal time frame to start a northbound thru hike is early-to-mid-April. Some hikers head out in March or late April-May, but doing so makes the trail difficult to complete. Set off too early and the snow won’t be melted enough to safely cross the Sierra Nevada. Leave too late, and weather conditions in the Cascades may have already turned to winter. In Wednesday’s permit lottery, my heart was set on getting a spot on April 1st, (though any early April date would be thrilling). However, that was far from guaranteed. The PCTA would be opening only 35 permits per day. That meant a total of 787 permits for the prime starting days — including April 1. To manage the throngs of wannabe thru hikers, the PCTA created a virtual waiting room where we could “hang out” until the permit section opened at exactly 10:30 am PT. Then the system would issue us each a random number, our place in line, to reach the trail calendar where we could pick our departure date. I logged into the waiting room at 9:59 am. There were under a thousand hikers there. By 10:30, there were more than five thousand. One minute after the lottery opened, I was issued my number: 530. A great number! A sensational number! A jump up and down with glee number! It meant unless I was suddenly thrown offline and missed my turn, there would still be plenty of prime April permits available when I got my chance to select a date. Moments after my number was issued, an automated countdown timer appeared on the screen. I had, it read, an anticipated wait time of 50 minutes… Then thirty-four… Then twenty-six… Then eight… Sure enough, forty-four minutes heart pounding minutes after the permitting began, I gained entry to the calendar. To my tremendous gratitude and delight, of the 35 spots available on April 1, only seven people had selected it as their start date. I quickly snatched up the eighth place and locked it in. To say that I was exhilarated is an understatement. I was over the moon with happiness! These past three years have been, by far, the hardest of my life. Both my father and beloved aunt died. A person I loved deeply and planned to marry turned out to be … well … not who I thought. My house was hit by a tornado. Insult to injury, I was the victim of violent crime. But now, after all of the struggle and determination, the absolutely commitment to reach better days, life is looking a whole lot brighter! I’m about to set off on the dream of a lifetime! And not just me, but me and my beloved Dalai Llama. We’ve got five months to prepare, train together, find sponsors, assemble gear, dehydrate meals, pack resupply boxes, and so much more. But the best part is: When April 1, 2019 comes around, Dalai Llama and I will begin thru hiking the PCT! If you’d like to know more about this grand adventure, be sure to check out my newly updated website at www.riverstillwood.com.