Here is a compendium of frequently asked questions. I removed some out-of-date information and made a couple of additions.
Why would you name your book The Cactus Eater[s] when only one person in the book --[you] -- actually bites into a cactus? Also, if we are to get technical about it, you don't really "eat" the cactus. You just take a bite out of it and spit it right on the ground.
Because it sounds better.
Do you have plans to hike another major trail at this point?
The answer is a resounding yes. I would like to hike the CDT some day with a group of folks who know what they're doing, and I would love to re-hike the PCT with my entire family, but I will wait about 20 years to do so. That way, they will have jet-propulsive shoes, weightless backpacks and other innovations that would make it a lot easier for geezers like me. Or maybe, through the wonders of climate change, I can do the whole thing with sled dogs by then.
Have you undertaken any adventures since the trail?
Yes -- a whole bunch. Here is one of the more recent ones in The New York Times -- a great trip, but it will be a long while before I get on a bicycle again. Those things scare me half to death. Here's an account of my journey in Eastern Kentucky. I loved it out there, but this is the last time I've gone overnight backpacking. You'll understand why.
Would The Cactus Eaters have taken place if you'd been carrying a reliable GPS?
Most of the incidents would still have taken place but I don't think I would have gotten lost quite so much. The fact is, I took two recent trips -- one to Maine, with a GPS and extensive studies of the terrain, and pre-programmed coordinates, and another to the Kentucky backwoods for the NY Times -- no GPS at all, and only a foggy understanding of the terrain. I did great on the Maine trip, even though there was no map at all, and in some sections, no trail! The Kentucky trip was a near-disaster, and pretty darned scary. I made it out of there OK but I was pretty scraped up and had to hitch-hike to a motel (which was full.) If I had a fancy GPS, the whole thing would have gone much more smoothly -- although it wouldn't have prevented the fact that I left much too late in the season, packed too little and was underprepared.
What is the exact timeline of the book?
Answer: I mentioned, in the book [which came out in the summer of 2008], that the trail adventure took place more than 10 years ago -- which would put it squarely in the mid-1990s. To be more specific, the trail scenes all took place in 1993 and 1994. The book spans a 14-year period of my life, starting in 1993 in California (when the opening scene takes place) and coming to a close in the winter of 2007 in Manhattan. The post-trail Santa Cruz 'blue period' unfolds in 95 and 96. The book ends in 2007. A lot of the narrative hinges around the 1990s-- and that is very important for the book, mostly because there were no telecommunications devices at our disposal. It wasn't just the fact that we were greenhorns. We also had no cell phones, no way of calling out, and there was certainly no means of 'texting' anyone about what was going on. In a sense, it was extremely primitive compared to hiking these days. That definitely ramped up the adventure.
Q: What has changed on the trail since you hiked it?
Answer: There are more 'trail angel' networks and trail communities, and much better dissemination of updated trail information (up-to-the-moment trail conditions as well as recommended gear.) The upkeep and maintenance of the trail is much-improved. Trail advocates have gotten a lot more sophisticated and much better organized. The trail is a lot more visible, well publicized, and better managed these days. These days, it's easy to go on the net and get consumer information about the best and worst hiking gear. When I did the trail, I pretty much had to test out all that crap myself. There are (from what I hear) many more women hiking the trail, including solo-hikers (I know two of them, and one of them has a PCT book in the works.)
III: Why wait for more than a ten-year period before writing the book?
I went through a long period of post-trail laziness.
Did you know you were going to write a book when you set off on the trail?
Yes and no. If I was serious about it in the beginning, I would have put specific dates on more of my journal entries (and not written the entries in such messy handwriting and all out of sequence, which made it annoyingly difficult for me when I dug up those scattered to some extent, rain-smeared journals more than 10 years after the fact.) I also would have done a better job of protecting my journals from the elements. About 25 percent of my journal entries were decimated by El Nino storms while sitting in a box in an outside shed in Pleasure Point, California. My landlord accidentally threw out lots of stuff from that shed, including my rolling resupply box. And, come to think of it, I would have gotten photo releases from everybody, too. That would have been a smart thing to do. Every once in a while, someone gripes about the lack of photos.
ALSO: read on if you are planning to hike any major trail:
Make sure to read up, make plans, get in shape and talk to as many PCT trail vets as you can. For starters, order the official guidebooks and at least skim them in advance, marking up the water stops, supply stops, etc. The various experiential trail books and weblogs will give you some sense of what to expect. But, quite frankly, the memoir-y books -- including mine -- are better for the sake of entertainment than for actual trail preparation. If you use my book as a how-to guide, you will not survive your adventure -- I can almost guarantee that. The memoirs aren't supposed to be trail guidebooks. If you're really trying to get the most up to date picture of what is going on right now, there are countless weblogs now available, as well as informational clearinghouses on lightpacking that you can find on the web.
Of course, you will get updated information from official as well as unofficial PCT sites maintained and updated by enthusiasts. I recommend both Jardine books because they were the 'starting gun' for the lightpacking movement --- but there are countless lightpacking blogs and websites to choose from these days.
Choose your gear wisely. Don't go for flashy brands (like I did, to some extent). Find out what successful through-hikers have used in the past, especially when it comes to stoves and water filters, two devices that can make your life a living hell out there if they are difficult to use or poorly manufactured. (I love my old warhorse Katadyn, but I'm not sure if they make my old-school 'pocket filter' anymore.) Find out about sewing your own lightweight packs from a kit if you're handy with a needle and thread. Ask a recent through hiker to share his or her itinerary and list of contacts (good cheapo restaurants, local 'trail angels' and the like.) In almost all cases, they will be more than happy to share their schedules. Do long prep hikes to determine your pace. Also, it would be a great idea to take an orienteering course taught by an experienced, savvy leader. Don't set unrealistic expectations for your MPD (mileage per day.) Find a comfortable pace and learn to stick with it. And whatever you do, don't make big batches of home-made granola. The nuts will spoil, and you will feel guilty when you find yourself throwing that stuff away in the trash can or leaving it in the 'freebie' box at a trail stop. I hope that answers your question.
And, since we're on the subject of reliable trail information ...
Here is one of the most comprehensive Web clearinghouses I've found for PCT links, planning forums, PCT trail logs and the like.
Also, make sure to check out this inspiring site if you are either thinking of doing the trail or are interested in trail lore (or other trails.)