How to Prepare For a PCT Through-Hike: Interview with Colin Arisman

Col­in Aris­man and high school friend Casey Gan­non share a love for the out­doors that has kept them friends five years lat­er. Their friend­ship will have a chance to grow lots more start­ing April 19th as they begin their hike along the Pacif­ic Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile hike that begins in Mex­i­co and ends in Cana­da. Start­ing in the blaz­ing heat of Mex­i­co, Col­in and Casey are rais­ing funds on Kick­starter to help pay for a doc­u­men­tary that will share the joy they have for the great out­doors. The project is called “Only the Essen­tials”, and is inspired by Thore­au’s quote that says “I went to the woods because I wished to live delib­er­ate­ly, to front only the essen­tial facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, dis­cov­er that I had not lived.” Dri­ven by a pas­sion to expe­ri­ence nature, chal­lenge him­self, and live off “the essen­tials” in life, Col­in has shared how he is prepar­ing for the hike, and the vision for the documentary.

Colin Arisman and Casey GannonRebekah: How do you phys­i­cal­ly train and pre­pare for such a huge hike?
Col­in Aris­man: My friend Casey and I went to high school togeth­er and just being out­side has always been a key part of our friend­ship. We played hock­ey, ran, and did skied. Some peo­ple might call that train­ing, but we did­n’t think of it like that. We just had nat­ur­al work-outs.

Going for a hike is a phys­i­cal­ly inten­sive activ­i­ty, but we’re out there to have that expe­ri­ence. That’s kind of been our lifestyle. Since col­lege, Casey biked across the coun­try to Wash­ing­ton state, now he’s work­ing at a ski moun­tain. I was in South Amer­i­ca pret­ty much hik­ing the entire time. I would hike for three or four days, then take time for a cul­tur­al expe­ri­ence. It was­n’t as intense as this is going to be because I took more breaks, but it’s still helped to pre­pare me. Now that I’m not in South Amer­i­ca any­more, I’ve been cross-coun­try skiing.

As far as the cli­mate change, the desert is def­i­nite­ly a hard place to hike. I expe­ri­enced  that in Peru. You real­ly have to cre­ate a strat­e­gy where you work around the sun. I try to imi­tate the envi­ron­ment, what the ani­mals do. Most ani­mals in the desert aren’t very active dur­ing the after­noon, but a lot are active at night. We’ll try to hike at night more using headlamps.

RV: It’s said that few­er than half actu­al­ly fin­ish the trail. Are there cer­tain obsta­cles you fore­see hap­pen­ing?
CA: I’m a pret­ty deter­mined per­son so it’s hard to think about fail­ing some­times. There’s an ele­ment of injury, and I’ve def­i­nite­ly had to accept that I’m under­tak­ing some­thing that I can give my best effort, but I have to be hum­ble enough to know that even if I give it my best I still might not reach my goal. I think it’s a good sign that I’ve set the bar high enough that I can fail. It’s daunt­ing to think that I might not com­plete this expe­ri­ence, but it’s also going to be an incred­i­bly amaz­ing jour­ney. We’re going into it with the Cana­di­an bor­der on our minds.


pacific crest trailRV: What do you hope to gain from this hike?
CA: It’s pret­ty per­son­al. My entire life I’ve been look­ing for a test like this, kind of like a right of pas­sage. As I’ve got­ten old­er, I’ve real­ized how much get­ting out­doors effects me. I’ve real­ized how much it affects my mood. I come off it being in great shape, and it’s ener­giz­ing spend­ing time out­side. After I heard about the trail three years ago, it just seemed like some­thing I was going to do, it was just out of my con­trol at that time.

RV: What’s the pur­pose behind the doc­u­men­tary?
CA: The idea of the doc­u­men­tary is going out­side of our per­son­al expe­ri­ences, and shar­ing with peo­ple who might not have the resources or pas­sion to do this. We grew up with the resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties to do this, and we just took it for grant­ed. If you grew up not know­ing this, our idea is to con­vey why you should get out­side and have expe­ri­ences like this.

RV: You talk about “nature deficit dis­or­der” on your Kick­starter page. How do you hope this doc­u­men­tary will com­bat a cul­ture of tech­nol­o­gy and con­sumerism?
CA: It’s kind of counter-pro­duc­tive because in some ways you’ll spend more time watch­ing T.V. I don’t know if it will moti­vate a lit­tle kid, but I hope our enthu­si­asm will come across in this film. That’s one thing any­one can pick up on. Hope­ful­ly it can encour­age them to just go on a hike or change their habits. Hope­ful­ly par­ents change the way they look at a hike like this. Hope­ful­ly it can influ­ence how par­en­t’s spend time with their kids.

dv2052014RV: What are your ‘essen­tials’? What do you need to expe­ri­ence and live life?
CA: The idea boils down to every­thing we’re doing. I’ve found that spend­ing time out­side is the essence of what I find valu­able: con­nec­tion with peo­ple, and my hap­pi­ness. My life is exact­ly where I want it to be when I’m outside.

I’m in my room right now, and I’m just look­ing at all this stuff I don’t need. On the hike, we’ll be car­ry­ing our shel­ter, food, water, and a way to start a fire. That’s the essen­tials to sur­vive. It’s what you need to stay healthy and happy.

RV: What do you think is ‘essen­tial’ for peo­ple to expe­ri­ence nature?
CA: It’s a lit­tle weird for me answer­ing that ques­tion because I grew up in a rur­al state. I would imag­ine that it’s very dif­fi­cult for many peo­ple to even access a real wilder­ness area, espe­cial­ly inner-city kids. If your fam­i­ly does­n’t have a car, it could be real­ly hard to access a nation­al park. Cre­at­ing out­door asso­ci­a­tions that help get kids access to out­doors are essen­tial. If you’re in New York, you prob­a­bly have to dri­ve two or three hours to get to nation­al park. You might not have the trans­porta­tion to get you there. And, if you don’t grow up know­ing how to camp, you need a men­tor. An out­door activ­i­ty club real­ly fills both posi­tions; you have a men­tor and trans­porta­tion. Kind of like the Out­ward Bound idea.

I think a big way that can help peo­ple enjoy the out­doors is for them to pack less. Peo­ple are real­ly resis­tant to car­ry­ing less. Peo­ple think we real­ly need a pil­low and all these oth­er things, but it makes the expe­ri­ence less enjoy­able because you can’t go as far. You’ll expe­ri­ence blis­ters, wear, and tear. It’s best to, with­in rea­son, reduce the weight of your pack as much as you can. Real­ly decide what you need. The less you car­ry, the less you need to know about using your gear. There’s a lot of things we con­vince our­selves we need that we don’t need. Your hike is going to be much more enjoy­able and you’ll be more like­ly to do it again if you just pack light.

RV: Who or what inspires you to hike and expe­ri­ence the out­doors?
CA: I think that we all have a nat­ur­al desire to get out­side. I learned at a pret­ty young age that I just want­ed to get out­side. We need curios­i­ty to get out­side. Chil­dren’s books like the Wind and the Wil­lows or real­ly any excit­ing out­door sto­ry were inspir­ing. I read “Into the Wild”, and that made me want to under­take more seri­ous out­door activ­i­ties, but obvi­ous­ly not live in a bus in Alas­ka. Also “The Snow Leop­ard”, by Peter Matthiessen is about a guy’s trek in the Himalayas, and that’s a good book. It deals with some Zen Bud­dhism, but it’s also just about the hike. I just read John Muir’s book about his first sum­mer in the Sier­ras. That’s def­i­nite­ly a clas­sic, and I’m going to that area.