Tommy and Jaala Freeman are all about efficiency when it comes to thru-hiking. The couple met while both were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2012, where the trail crosses the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City. Two thousand some miles later, they got engaged atop Mount Katahdin in Maine. Pretty efficient for four months or so.

So with the Raleigh couple poised to set out on the second leg of the Triple Crown of thru-hiking — the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail — later this month, it’s no surprise that they’re about as ready as anyone could be for the wild adventure ahead — an adventure with a two-fold purpose.
“It’s almost like a honeymoon,” says Jaala, “since we really didn’t take one.”

Will you ... (atop Katahdin)
Will you … (atop Katahdin)

The Freeman’s honeymoon will begin at the Mexican border on April 21 and spend its first 500 miles in desert (though reaching an elevation in the San Jacinto Mountains of 9,030 feet). They’ll climb the Sierra Nevada, coming within a whisker of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 at 14,494 feet), pass through the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, dip into the Columbia River Gorge and finish seven miles into Canada. The days, especially early on in the desert, will be hot, the nights uniformly cold. Water will be short early on, bear canisters are mandatory for a 350-mile stretch, and an ice ax may come in handy at times.

“Planning ahead for the PCT, especially in the initial stages, is definitely more important than for the AT,” says Jaala, who works in Great Outdoor Provision Co.’s Cameron Village store in Raleigh.

Rocking stream crossing

As anyone who’s read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” let alone thru-hiked the AT, knows, the first few miles out of Springer Mountain, Ga., are littered with a range of equipment deemed too heavy and not important by March thru-hikers heading north.
“You also have the benefit of a huge support network along the AT,” says Jaala. “Three days out, at Neels Gap you have a shakedown and can reassess.” Three days out on the PCT, you’re in the desert. “There’s not as much infrastructure.”
A desert start plus California’s ongoing drought means hikers must be extra vigilant with water.

“Normally” — meaning on the AT — “a thru-hiker carries one to two liters of water,” says Jaala. “You come to water, you drink a liter, you save a liter. On the PCT, we’ll need to carry three to six litters.” Or as much as 12 pounds of water.
That forces the Freemans to be extra attentive with what they pack and how much it weighs. Jaala says the base weight of her pack is 15 pounds; with food and water, 28. In the desert, she says, her weight could balloon to 32 pounds.
That’s caused her to make some changes from her AT thru-hike.

For instance, Jaala has swapped her fleece for a down jacket: the latter is warmer, lighter, more packable. She’s limited her wardrobe to one pair of shorts, a skirt (for protection from the sun), a lightweight, long-sleeve button-up shirt (again, for sun protection). She’s packing one extra pair of socks and one extra pair of underwear. Her simple alcohol stove from the AT is verbotten on the PCT because of fire danger; instead, she and Tommy will use the MSR Pocket Rocket with Snow Peak gas canister.

Jaala-Spencer_2012_By_Tommy-Freeman-2 Tommy-Freeman_2012_by_Jaala-Spencer Jaala-Spencer_Tommy-Freeman_2012_James-Happy

At least for the desert portion of the hike she’ll wear lightweight trail runners, the Salewa Firetails. Tommy will also wear trail runners, the Pearl Izumi N2s
Her pack is the Osprey Exos 58, a women’s pack specifically designed for thru-hiking.
Jaala calls Tommy a “glamour” hiker, meaning he’s not quite as concerned with weight as she. “I weigh 120 pounds and he weighs 200,” she says. “I just can’t carry as much.”
They’ll split the weight of their ultralight tent; otherwise, they’re each on their own. “Our philosophy is, if you can’t carry what you need, you shouldn’t be out there.”

The Freemans expect to finish the PCT by Sept. 15. “That depends on forest fires and weather,” says Jaala. “The latest we’ll finish is October first.”
As for the third element of their Triple Crown, the Continental Divide Trail?
Possibly next year, though logistics may delay that hike until 2017. Tommy hiked the AT as a fundraiser for Learning Together, a Raleigh child development program specializing in kids with developmental issues. That effort raised $30,000. They plan the Continental Divide Trail as a fundraiser as well. “We’re hoping to leverage our experience as thru-hikers,” says Jaala.
Besides, one 2,000-mile hike at a time.

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Packing for the PCT
What: Jaala and Tommy Freeman discuss how to prepare and pack for a 2,650-foot hike.
When: Thursday, April 16, 6-7:30 p.m.
Where: Great Outdoor Provision Co., Cameron Village, Raleigh
For more information: GetHiking! Triangle