Steamboat Springs When she’s ready, all packed and eager to start, there still has to be room for a letter.
“What to bring” isn’t a small decision for someone preparing to hike one of the country’s great long-distance trails, and last week, as Shayla Paradeis sat in a downtown Steamboat Springs coffee shop preparing for her imminent departure to the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, difficult decisions had to be made.
For the moment, the concern was food: what she would need, what she still had time to prepare and how she would access what she couldn’t carry at the start the 2,662-mile adventure.
Freeze dried is the key. She ordered ingredients online and spent the afternoon splitting the various ingredients for dishes like Thai curry, Hawaiian stir fry and chili into baggies.
“Then all you have to do is add water,” she said, zipping a meal tight into a bag. “It’s kind of fun. It would have been more fun if I’d started this project three or four weeks ago.”
The trick is not carrying all those bags with you but enlisting a friend — in this case, a boyfriend — to mail them to 15 preselected post offices along the route. Even that’s not exactly simple, though, as many of the post offices will only hold on to such a box for a few weeks and Paradeis’ hike should take about five months.
“It’s hard to plan five months ahead for what you’ll want to be eating,” she said. “Every time I taste it now, I think it’s pretty good, but what will I think when it’s been sitting there for months and it’s cold and stale?”
Of course, she’ll want to heat it up, so that requires bringing along a small burner.
It’s just another thing to pack.
The packing list is long, but it needs to add up to as little as possible. And there has to be room for a letter.
Paradeis was in the middle of her last major hike, a 2011 trip up all 2,178 miles of the Appalachian Trail, when she realized the need for that letter.
It was one of many lessons.
A native of Minnesota, she learned she loved to hike after she moved to Montana, a refuge after a demoralizing three-year stint in New York City. She hiked 930 miles in Glacier National Park in one summer and that proved a prelude to the Appalachian Trail.
“I just realized I don’t get sick of it,” she said. “I want to do it every day. Even on the Appalachian Trail, I noticed not everyone was there because they loved to hike. They wanted to do it because it’s a great thing to do, or because they wanted to see the country. I was one of the only ones who was just really like, ‘I love this being in the woods stuff.’”
It wasn’t always easy, however.
Some of the lessons were simple if not obvious. One came back to packing: “All the clothes you have are the clothes you hike in,” she said. “You might have two shirts, one for warm weather, one for cold, and a couple of pairs of socks. What do you wear when you wash your clothes?”
The answer is to wear rain gear.
“It makes for one uncomfortable hour in the laundromat,” she said, “but it works. You figure it out.”
Other lessons were more difficult.
The hardest days came about two-thirds of the way through the trail, when persistent New England rains washed constantly down upon rocky, difficult sections of the still impossibly long trail.
Daylong deluges soaked into packed-up sleeping bag and tents, ensuring that soggy days turned into soggy nights.
But it always gets better.
One grumpy, wet day in New York was brightened when Paradeis and a friend called a phone number they found on a cooler with a note promising a warm meal and a bed.
“This amazing couple came to pick us up. They made dinner and gave us beer,” she said. “We stayed up late talking, and it felt like we were a family.”
Mold that had crept into her water supply left Paradeis bedridden in Massachusetts as her friends pushed on. She quickly recovered, however, hiking the next day by herself, and nothing proved better. She had lunch on the trail with three children, who were wowed that someone could be hiking the trail alone. She hitchhiked into a nearby town and fell in love with its quaintness, then fell asleep on the concrete floor of a local farmer’s co-op.
“I felt like I had made the best of a bad situation,” she said. “I felt like I was really good at surviving.”
It’s that sensation Paradeis admits she’s after again as she sets out for the start of the Pacific Crest Trail in Campo, Calif., on the United States-Mexico border.
She moved to Steamboat Springs in November from Montana, persuaded by a friend the local winter economy was profitable. After working at Gondola Pub & Grill and The Cabin, it proved true enough that she plans to make a habit of wintering in Steamboat.
She worked up to the looming trip by running on Emerald Mountain or Spring Creek before the snow, then hiking Mount Werner after it.
Putting pen to paper
The Pacific Crest Trail starts with 700 miles of desert, but it’s not considered to be as much of a physical challenge as the Appalachian Trail. But with fewer hikers and fewer towns, it is considered to be a greater psychological challenge.
To survive, Paradeis has prepared, carefully packing and selecting what to bring along the 2,662 miles.
She’ll bring along a small stove and a water purifier, a tent and a sleeping bag. She’ll pack a book or two, a few extra layers and three pairs of socks. She’ll need as much as five liters of water for some desolate stretches, and she’ll bring along as much food as possible.
And she’ll pack a letter she plans to write to herself, not one written spur of the moment or amid the “get-out-of-town” stress, but one written when she’s happy, to be read on her worst days on the trail.
“It will be an emergency note to myself,” she said, “It helps that I’ve done the AT, and I remember how my attitude got terrible, and I wanted to quit. I didn’t, and now I know better than to rob myself of the opportunity to complete the trail.
“This is a special opportunity, where things line up in your life so it can just be you and the trees, when there’s something you love and you can spend five months doing just that. I appreciate the chance I have. My letter will remind me of that.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com