When planning out her 2,300-mile journey along the famed Pacific Crest Trail, Soldotna’s Laura McIndoe held close to one mantra.
“Pack your fears.”
The words guided McIndoe last summer in completing the expansive trail that spans the length of the western United States, and when she reached the finish at the Canadian border on Sept. 17, 2017, there were no fears holding her back from doing what she loved.
“I was happy every day,” McIndoe said. “I got up and was happy and ready to hike every day.”
McIndoe gave a 90-minute presentation recently on the Kenai Peninsula College campus as part of a KPC Showcase event, showing off her wares and wardrobes that she took along on her seven-month-long solo trek and sharing stories and photos that captured the experience. In front of a packed room, McIndoe laid out everything that she carried with her in her pack, from a large range of nonperishable foods and cookware to clothing, footwear, cannisters, tents and toiletries.
The “pack your fears” line provided incentive to include anything that McIndoe believed would help her in her encounters along the path. For example, knowing that fresh drinking water would be a scarce commodity, she made sure a robust container was always in her pack, and knowing that encounters with restrooms are rare, she packed what she called her “deuce of spades,” a handheld shovel handy for digging holes for when nature calls.
With her trail secrets exposed, McIndoe hoped the March 29 presentation in Soldotna would inspire the crowd to begin their own adventure and discover the wonders of the world.
“I just hope to see more people out on the trails,” she said when asked what she hoped the crowd got out of her show.
The Pacific Crest Trail (often abbreviated to PCT) is a staggering 2,660-mile foot trek that stretches north to south across the western United States from Mexico to Canada. The route crosses through three states — Washington, Oregon and California — and along the spine of several mountain ranges, deserts and countless towns and communities that embrace the hiking culture.
McIndoe is a retired teacher who spent 14 years at Skyview Middle School, and said with retirement came the possibility and feasibility of spending a full spring, summer and fall on the trail.
“I’m retired, and I had the time,” she explained.
Once a wilderness permit was attained, McIndoe began the process of deciding what to take and what to leave out of her pack. Among other things, a titanium cookware set, a water filtration system and an assortment of energy food that included instant coffee, powdered milk, tortillas, bagels, quinoa and Snickers bars.
“I ate a bunch of junk food for seven months,” she said.
McIndoe started out April 3 in Campo, Mexico, located right on the U.S. and Mexican border, and routinely put in 15 to 20 miles a day on foot as she dove into California’s Anza-Borrego desert, and by the end of the summer, she had worn out three pairs of shoes.
It wasn’t easy in the early days. As McIndoe gained altitude into the mountains, she encountered a residual snowpack that proved to be difficult to traverse, and had to leave the trail at Walker Pass and get a ride to Old Station, which explains the loss of several hundred miles in her overall trek.
“Mostly it was up,” exclaimed McIndoe to the laughter of the room.
Using a pair of mobile phone apps, notably Halfmile and Guthook, McIndoe was able stay the course and use the technology to keep her on the ideal pace.
McIndoe also took the opportunity to climb 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney, the tallest summit in the contiguous United States. McIndoe set a wakeup call for 2 a.m. to put herself on schedule for a sunrise summit.
With a bubbly, infectious personality, McIndoe had no trouble making friends along the way. The typical crowd of hikers that take on the challenge of the PCT are given nicknames, such as Big Dale, the robust man McIndoe encountered who gave up a vital water container when she needed it most, or Shortcut, the young fellow that always met McIndoe at various checkpoints after hitching rides.
McIndoe eventually revealed her nickname to be “Thumbs Up,” which she earned for her happy nature and double thumbs she gave to each passer-by.
McIndoe said the people she met during her months-long journey made the thru-hike worth every step, and the friendly hiking community is just one part of the “trail magic” culture that keeps hikers going and adventurers returning for more along the PCT.