Recently I received an advance copy of Shawnté Salabert’s new book Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California: Section Hiking From Campo to Tuolumne Meadows. Shawnté has been active in the SoCal hiking community, and we were lucky to chat with her about her experience writing the book.
SCH: How long have you been hiking? Who or what inspired you to hit the trail?
Shawnté: I discovered hiking during my first trip to summer camp (the Milwaukee Boys’ and Girls’ Club’s Camp Whitcomb/Mason in Hartland, Wisconsin) at eight years old. I grew up in an urban neighborhood in Milwaukee, so the entire experience was a revelation: Cabins! Pine trees! Quietude! A lake! I think the scent of pine was permanently embedded in my soul during that brief overnight.
SCH: Backpacking 940 miles of the PCT is a daunting adventure. What went through your mind as you considered the project? Was the decision to hike this easy or difficult?
Shawnté: My initial reaction was excitement – not only was I already enthralled with the PCT, but writing a book was a childhood dream of mine. After I signed the book deal? Total and utter fear! I wondered how I’d ever work out the logistics of hiking 942.5 miles (plus side trips!), often multiple times and across multiple seasons, considering I had a full-time job when I agreed to the project.
Luckily, my boss offered his full support when I signed on to write this book. Once I relaxed into the experience, I was fully immersed and knew I had to set aside any reservations or fears in order to get it done, and the overwhelming feeling became one of pure gratitude.
SCH: As you were working on the book, how long did it take you to complete your hikes? When did you start/end? How many trips did you take?
Shawnté: I spent a full two years completing field work for this book, beginning in November 2014. I can’t even tell you how many trips it required (okay, I could, but that would require some calendar flipping!), but I can tell you that these trips ranged from day hikes to a full two-month sabbatical during the summer of 2015, when I explored the San Bernardino Mountains and the Sierra. Even when I wasn’t out there gettin’ dirty, the trail was a daily part of my existence – it absolutely informed the rhythms of my life during that two years.
SCH: Did you hike solo or with friends? What advice do you have for solo hiking and/or hiking with friends? What made it successful? What was challenging?
Shawnté: I knew going in that I’d have to do at least a bit of solo backpacking, but I also wanted this to be a communal experience, something I could share with my friends. Therefore, I ended up doing a lot of weekend trips to include as many people as possible.
On that note, it has to be said that this book would never have been written if not for the kindness of those friends, many who shuttled me around trailheads, supported me while I was deep in the Sierra, and comforted me as I was losing my mind during the book’s final edits.
There was also a lot of solo time woven into the experience, and I cherished that just as much. I was initially apprehensive about solo backpacking, but I had no choice – I would need to tackle the entire Sierra solo, since I was doing it in one large chunk during my sabbatical. I was worried about a lot of things, but mostly nervous about feeling lonely. Turns out that fear was unfounded – while I did enjoy lots of amazing solo time, I also ended up finding an amazing “trail family” along the way. One person I met that summer has become a dear friend who just happened to live in San Clemente, so we see one another often; another hiked half of the Colorado Trail with me this summer.
SCH: What surprised you most about your treks on the PCT?
Shawnté: I was most surprised at how lightly traveled the trail is in southern and south-central California. Unless I was out there during “peak” season, when thru-hikers typically come through in late spring, I barely saw another person unless I was at a popular area like Mount Baden-Powell or in the Laguna Mountains. The opportunities for solitude and quiet were astonishing, and I fell madly in love with Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and both the Piute and Scodie Mountains. This quiet allowed for a very personal experience on the trail, whether I was alone or sharing the time with friends – the memories and personal insights gathered during those trips is priceless.
SCH: What advice would you give to someone who has been an avid day hiker that wants to get into backpacking… maybe even section hiking the PCT?
I like to think of it like this – hiking is just walking, and backpacking is just walking with a bit of stuff on your back. That’s not to simplify the experience – you should absolutely research, learn, and prepare for both activities. In fact, the more prepared you are, the easier it is to switch from day hikes to overnight trips – you’ll feel confident in your systems (sleep gear, meal plans, navigation, trip planning, etc.) and will feel freer to get out there and explore.
The great thing about section hiking the PCT is that it’s doable at every experience level – the abundance of car-accessible trailheads makes the trail friendly for day hikers, car shuttling weekenders, and folks who are biting it off in chunks and need to be dropped off. While it can be a lot of fun to tackle an entire long-distance hike, the shorter ones can be just as meaningful.
SCH: How’d you get the trail name “Rustic?” Tell us more about the hilarious encounter you hint at in the book.
That’s a funny story! I was planning a three-day reporting trip between Acton and Green Valley, beginning on New Year’s Eve. I was planning to stay at the KOA Campground in Acton that evening, and made a campsite reservation in their “Rustic” tent section. As it turns out, it was unusually cold that evening and when my friend and I rolled up to claim our reservation, the woman behind the front desk was horrified that we actually wanted to camp in below-freezing temps. She yelled out to a co-worker, “The Rustic is here! The Rustic is here!” and kept shaking her head. My friend and I couldn’t stop laughing about the experience, and a trail name was born. I dropped the “The,” since I didn’t want it to sound so pretentious.
SCH: Finally, what’s your next big adventure?
Oh, that’s an excellent question! I decided to pursue a full-time writing career during the process of creating this book, so I feel like that’s the biggest adventure of all – navigating the wild freelance waters to see if this thing floats!
Aside from that, I’m leaving my slate a bit open right now. While it was exciting to spend two years bonding with the PCT, I also relish the opportunity to keep my date book open and see what other adventures pop up. Perhaps I’ll end up back on the Colorado Trail this summer – or maybe I’ll explore another long trail. I’m also working on a memoir of sorts – we’ll see how that pans out. No matter what the next big project is, I hope to dive in with a large smile on my face!
SCH: Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Shawnté!
Be sure to check out our review of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California: Section Hiking from Campo to Tuolumne Meadow. You can learn more about Shawnté at her website: shawntesalabert.com