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A Week Unemployed On The Pacific Crest Trail

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Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We're asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who is currently unemployed and spends some of her money this week on beer.
Occupation: Unemployed, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Industry: Long Distance Hiking
Age: 24
Location: Southern Washington State
Salary: Currently $0, I made about $25,000 before I left for my hike
Net Worth: -$43,612 ($4,750 in an emergency fund, $4,100 in a Roth IRA I opened a couple years ago, $6,600 in a savings fund for future hiking/"housing" (I have been throwing around the idea of #vanlife or something similar for quite some time, so have set aside money for that endeavour, although positions in the field I studied often include housing) minus $59,062 in student loans, which will be deferred for a few more months, from my Bachelor's and Master's degrees at public universities with in-state tuition. I plan to pursue a career in state or federal government, so once these payments resume, I will follow a payment plan that allows me to qualify for PSLF. The idea of holding such a large amount of debt does stress me out, but so does potentially paying more than I need to, so I plan on putting extra funds in savings in the event that something changes and I am no longer able to have my loans forgiven.)
Debt: $59,062 in student loans
Paycheck Amount: $0
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Housing: $0 (Prior to my hike, I was fortunate enough to live with two roommates in a really crappy apartment (fortunate, because that was probably the cheapest place I'll ever live in). While hiking, apart from spending a night in a motel here and there while in town, I don't have to pay anything towards rent! I really don't like the concept of paying rent for a place I'll never own (hence the interest in alternative types of shelter), so living in a tent sure has its perks.)
Spotify: $7, split with my sister
Roth IRA: $200 (I opened this account a few years ago, but only began making monthly contributions in the past year)
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Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes, there was an expectation for me to attend higher education, from at least some of my family. I always did well in school and my parents assumed I would pursue a career in academia, even though no one else in my family has. My parents are divorced and my mother (who received an associate's degree to pursue greater opportunities than she had growing up in poverty) took out ~$5,000 in loans to pay for the expected family contribution of my undergraduate degree. I have offered to pay her back, but she considers those loans her contribution to my education. I am the first on my dad's side of the family to go to college and while he and others are proud of me, they believe that higher education is a waste of money. While he didn't contribute to my education, he has helped me out in other ways including paying for my car and car-related expenses, which has certainly lowered my expenses and helped me focus on my education.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I have always been quite frugal and liked to save money, so I imagine that I probably started any conversations with my parents about finances (namely, saving). A local bank worked with my elementary school to teach students about saving, so I would occasionally put birthday or allowance money in a savings account. In middle school, I learned of a credit union that contributed to students' savings accounts for good report cards and summer/winter reading challenges, so I signed up. As I took out student loans and applied for scholarships, I began to speak to my mom more about money. While she is not in a bad shape financially, she does struggle somewhat with constantly having some form of debt. Although I do think I am innately frugal, that has probably influenced my desire to not hold any debt apart from my student loans.
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What was your first job and why did you get it?
At some point in middle school, I learned about student travel programmes, so my goal became to save for a trip abroad. My mom paid for a week-long trip to Italy my sophomore year of high school (~$2,000 after fundraising), which I had been planning to pay for myself. I later planned to go on a trip to France my senior year, which I paid for myself through babysitting and working full-time as a lifeguard during the summer. I was fortunate enough to not have to contribute to any family expenses and to save or use all that I earned on myself.
Did you worry about money growing up?
While I was interested in money growing up, I never had to worry about it. Except for a brief time during the recession, both of my parents have had consistent full-time positions and paid for all my living expenses. I started to think more about money when looking at student loans, which is part of the reason I attended a public rather than private university, however still saw student loans as mainly a problem for "future me."
Do you worry about money now?
I do not currently worry about money, however, I have at times. After college, I participated in an AmeriCorps programme and received less than minimum wage. I knew I would be okay, as the programme included housing and I had no major expenses, but I got very interested in the personal finance community, as I still wanted to contribute to savings and retirement while receiving a low income. This mindset helped me when I began a master's programme which, unlike others in the field, did not include any sort of stipend or tuition reimbursement in the first year. The time I was most worried about money was at the beginning of the pandemic when I was laid off and I had lots of trouble applying for and receiving unemployment.
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At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
As my room and board were covered by student loans, I did not become responsible for myself (paying for rent and utilities, food, etc.) until I was 21. Even then, I don't consider myself fully financially responsible, as a few major expenses have been/are being paid for by my parents. I am grateful, but do hope to become financially responsible for myself in the near future, taking over phone and car insurance payments once I start working full-time. Even then, I will still have a financial safety net, as I know I could stay with family if something came up and I was unable to pay for rent.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
As noted above, my parents have paid for a high school trip (~$2,000), a portion of my student loans (~$5,000), my car, and car repairs. My mom also pays my $30/month portion of a phone bill. I have offered to pay my parents for these expenses, but they both want to continue paying until my hike is over and I start working full-time. I don't consider these expenses income per se, but they are certainly large gifts that have afforded me the ability to use my income and savings in other ways, including currently having the opportunity to take five months off work and hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Day One

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4:40 a.m. — I wake up to an accidentally-set alarm from yesterday and realise I forgot to turn my phone off overnight to save battery. Oops! I turn the alarm off and go back to "bed" (my sleeping pad). I toss and turn for about two hours before I decide to get up. It's actually a bit late compared to when many other hikers wake up (i.e., sunrise), but I've been having some longer days recently and enjoyed the extra sleep.
6:40 a.m. — I get ready for the day, celebrating the fact that I'm finally in Washington State! I crossed over from Oregon yesterday. The past week or so on the trail has been strange. Another hiker I essentially dated for the last two months, V., had to get off the trail. I had slowed down a bit to hike with him and ended up a bit behind some of my friends. Fortunately, I realised that one of my friends (A.) wasn't too far ahead, so I started hiking early in the morning and later into the night for a few days to catch up. Even better, she was nice enough to wait in town for me so that we could cross into Washington together! I pack up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag (it's been getting cooler, but last night was warm enough to "cowboy camp," or sleep under the stars with no tent), and hike for a couple of hours. A. and I hike together for a bit, but she's a bit faster than me after the few weeks we spent apart, so I let her go ahead.
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12:40 p.m. — I run into A., chat a bit, and eat lunch. Looking at the app we use to navigate, we realise that there's a town ahead we could easily hitch a ride to. We don't need to stop, but realise that if we keep up a good pace, we can head into town for dinner. Yesterday, A. and I had a conversation about how we both seem to spend a bit more money when we go into town compared to other hikers. After almost never eating dinner out throughout my two-year master's programme, I feel like I'm in vacation mode and can now afford to treat myself a bit. She feels the same and hiker hunger is real, so it's not too difficult of a decision for us to meet up again later in the afternoon and try to get to town.
4:30 p.m. — A. and I meet up where we've planned, start trying to hitchhike, and are soon picked up. I'm super excited to see the brewery we're dropped off at has vegan pizza! We chat, eat, and each have a beer before I end up ordering a salad as well. It's hard to get veggies in on the trail, so I'm really looking forward to it! As we go to pay, our server lets us know that the first portion of our meal was actually covered by a local trail organisation! As I wait for the rest of my dinner, someone at another table offers to pay for our dinner as well! We decline, but learn that one of the men is actually the owner and quite interested in the trail and helping out hikers. I eat and pay for the rest of my meal and tip, and as we go to leave, yet another person offers to buy us a drink after seeing our packs! Again, we decline, but express how generous everyone has been in this town. $24
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7 p.m. — A. and I reach an established campground. Usually, we just set up camp at designated backcountry sites along the trail, but occasionally we stay at more developed campgrounds. It normally requires a reservation and costs money, but the host gives us permission to stay in an empty site. As we set up (again, it's clear and warm enough where we don't need to put up our tents), one of our neighbours asks if we're PCT hikers. We say yes, and she offers us each some snacks and a cold beer. Our brief time so far in Washington has already been full of such generous people! A. and I chat with her a bit at her campsite, take advantage of the campground's water pump and latrine, and are in our sleeping bags by 8:30.
Daily Total: $24

Day Two

7 a.m. — I wake up, eat a bagel and some bars for breakfast, start packing my things, and head out at 7:30. We hike for a couple of hours. I listen to the podcast Outdoor Evolution (by a long-distance hiker, but I promise I consume other content as well!), and later have a bagel as a snack.
11 a.m. — I run into A. who is stopped by a beautiful view of Mt. Adams. We chat for a bit and I enjoy the view myself, before hiking for a couple more hours. I fill up on water from a stream, which wouldn't be too annoying, except my water filter is on its last legs and I have to be patient. While I'm stopped, I have another protein bar and down a bag of Sour Patch Kids. People assume long-distance hikers eat healthy, but really, it can be a struggle to get enough calories. While I do worry about my teeth (don't worry, I still brush and floss on trail), candy is really great for getting lots of calories without having to carry too much weight. Plus, the sugar rush helps when you're trying to push up a hill!
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2 p.m. — I hike towards a campsite where I know there will be a pit toilet (the alternative being, ahem, a hole in the ground), and come across a group of people who are grilling burgers for hikers. I don't eat burgers since I follow a plant-based diet, but I have some chips, a beer, and a break. Yet again, I'm so thankful for the people of southern Washington!
3 p.m. — I start hiking again and towards the top of a climb enjoy some huckleberries! Wild huckleberries and blueberries are becoming another thing I love about the PNW, somewhere I've never visited until this summer. I listen to more of the Outdoor Evolution podcast, finish an audiobook, and then switch to music.
6:45 p.m. — I stop to filter more water and start soaking my dinner. Instead of carrying a backpacking stove, I "cold soak" my food, which is pretty much just as it sounds. With this method, I'm pretty much limited to things like ramen and couscous for dinner, but that's fine with me. For other meals, I tend to stick to snacks that don't need to be prepared in any way. I meet up with A. and we figure out where we would like to camp.
8:15 p.m. — A. and I reach the site we're going to camp and set up our tents as it looks like it might rain. I eat my ramen, and have some spoonfuls of peanut butter as "dessert." I do a little stretching, something I should honestly be better about, but it's cold and I cut it short to go into my sleeping bag. I figure out that I've hiked over 28 miles today, which is great, particularly after a couple shorter (for me) days. It's more than I would have ever been able to do in a day before starting the PCT, but you really do build up "trail legs" over time and the miles add up when you're walking all day long.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Three

6:15 a.m. — I wake up after a night of tossing and turning. The last couple of warm nights were really an anomaly and I think that being cold is what prevented me from getting a good night's sleep. I decide that the best way to warm up is to just get ready, so I eat a couple of protein bars and start to pack up. Without a stove, I can't make hot coffee or tea, but do get some caffeine in the morning from drink mixes. By 7, I'm on the trail and A. and I chat while hiking. She eventually ends up a bit ahead of me, so I record a podcast entry. I signed up for a hiking podcast as an alternative to keeping a journal, which I knew would work better for me, although I'm still a bit uncomfortable feeling as if I'm talking to myself.
10 a.m. — I stop for water, a bagel, and some Fritos (another hiking staple). My Spotify is acting up, not allowing me to access the podcasts I know I downloaded, so I alternate between podcasts on the Libby app. I'm normally not a huge fan of audiobooks, but hiking gives me lots of time to listen (and little time to read ebooks or physical books), so I have gone through tons over the past couple of months. I recommend the Libby app to anyone who likes audiobooks, as it allows you to use a library card to check out audiobooks for free! Eventually, I switch over to music.
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1:20 p.m. — I arrive at a road about 18 miles from where I spent the night, and I hitch into town. This week is a bit unusual, as I normally would only go into town about every five days, but need to buy groceries here before the next stretch of trail. I know that some people would be particularly worried about being around strangers at this time, but A. and I are both vaccinated and take the precautions we can including wearing masks, asking the driver if they can roll their windows down (usually a given anyway as hikers can be quite smelly), etc.
1:40 p.m. — We get dropped off at my destination, a tiny town, and A. and I walk to an outdoor "cafe" behind a gas station. I get a veggie burger, fries, onion rings, and the fanciest part of the meal, a huckleberry mimosa. It's not incredible, but it's hot food! $31.04
3:30 p.m. — I walk over to the general store to buy food for the next section of trail. The selection isn't great, and things are overpriced, but that's what I expected for quite a small town. A. and I have heard from some friends ahead of us that a local summer camp is allowing hikers to spend the night in their facility, so we walk over. I don't technically need to spend the night in town, but it will be great to get a good night's rest indoors. $45.48
5 p.m. — The camp's set-up is amazing! As their summer camps had to be cancelled this year, they are allowing hikers to stay there for a night or more, and there are plenty of rooms for people to spread out. I donate $20 to spend the night, start a load of laundry (I wear the same clothes every day, so doing laundry occasionally is super important!), take a shower (perhaps what I am most thankful for here), and chat with my friends. $20
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7 p.m. — Apart from what I already had for lunch, there aren't many places to eat here, so I eat some ramen (this time, made using hot water!). I figure out how to connect to the wifi, which I'm thankful for as I've been needing to work on a job application. Before I get to work, I FaceTime with V. for a bit. I can tell he's upset to be off the trail and no longer... whatever we were (he knew he was never going to finish the whole trail and I had felt for a while that I didn't to be in a serious relationship with him). We chat for a bit, and then I get to work on my job application.
11 p.m. — Way past my bedtime, I finally fall asleep in the bunk bed I've settled down in. I chose the top of three bunks, for no reason other than that I've never stayed in one that tall before!
Daily Total: $96.52

Day Four

6:15 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm and spend some time downloading new podcasts and audiobooks on my phone. When working on my job application yesterday, I scheduled an email for the hiring manager with a question I had about the position. The email sends out this morning, and I immediately receive a response that the position has already been filled. What. A. Bummer. I knew I should have just finished my application when I was last in town, or even earlier, but it's hard to force myself to spend the little time I have off-trail typing on my phone or a library computer. To cheer myself up, I search for other positions, and find at least one that really appeals to me. I'll want to edit my resume again, so will need to wait until I'm somewhere with a library.
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6:45 a.m. — I pack my things and charge my phone a bit. I realise I've gotten my period for the first time since starting the trail. The lapse wasn't concerning, as I know many other hikers in the same boat, but it's funny that it's resumed so close to the end of my hike. Apparently, my body has switched to relaxation mode! Fortunately, there's a "hiker box" here, a place hikers put extra food or supplies and I find a few tampons. While chatting with friends, waiting for a ride back to the trail, I have some coffee and oatmeal (again, with hot water!).
8 a.m. — While waiting, and during the ride itself, my friends and I discuss life after the trail. Although I'd like to have something lined up, or simply to have an idea where I'll be living before an opportunity in my field comes around, it's comforting to know that others aren't sure what will come for them next either. Post-trail depression is real and many people have said that it's helpful to make plans to look forward to. At the same time, it's nice knowing that I don't have a concrete deadline to finish.
8:45 a.m. — I arrive at the trailhead and start hiking while listening to an audiobook. It's a chilly morning, but going uphill helps me warm up, so I stop to take off extra layers. I have some peanut butter cookies as a snack and mix flavoured electrolyte powder into my water.
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11 a.m. — I listen to a lovely playlist that fits well with the landscape and leaves me suffering from a bit of main character syndrome. Towards the top of a climb, I start to see glimpses of the mountains to the north. Eventually, I catch up with A. and we reach a point of the trail with an absolutely amazing view of Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, and everything in between. It's a beautiful, clear day, and I feel so fortunate to have such an incredible view. We stop and eat lunch, which for me is a huckleberry jam sandwich (if you haven't noticed, everything here seems to be huckleberry flavoured, and I'm loving it).
3 p.m. — I stop to filter water, and take a quick break with A. Then, we have to cross a stream that is silty and smells like sulphur (yum!). The water is moving faster than we're used to, but there are sturdy logs to walk across. . I listen to a bit of two audiobooks (Attention by Casey Schwartz and Yellow Bird by Sierra Crane Murdoch) before stopping after a couple of hours to filter water and prepare my dinner. I eat couscous for dinner. I hike a bit more, switching between podcasts and music.
7 p.m. — I reach camp and set up while talking to A. to a bit. I stretch, give myself a bit of a foot massage while stretching (something else I should do more often, but haven't lately), and keep chatting while getting ready for bed. I hiked about 27 miles today, which I'm happy about. I fall asleep around 9.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Five

7 a.m. — I wake up after another fitful sleep. I wonder, again, whether it has to do with being cold during the night. I get ready and I start hiking with A. Eventually, I break off and listen to the same audiobooks as yesterday.
12:45 p.m. — I briefly take a break to eat lunch before resuming hiking. I see more absolutely beautiful views! I realise I'm at the start of a short section that some consider one of their favourites on the PCT.
2:45 p.m. — I stop for water and a quick break after climbing a tough mountain pass. The Sierra Nevada was full of mountain passes, but the terrain in northern California and Oregon was a bit easier, so my legs and lungs aren't used to these inclines anymore. After my break, I continue on, and reach what I've heard others refer to as the knife's edge (yikes!).
5 p.m. — I enjoy carefully walking across about 30 feet of snow and then follow switchbacks towards the peak of what's known as Old Snowy Mountain. I go off trail a bit, reaching the peak, before turning around and going back towards the knife's edge itself.
7:40 p.m. — I reach the first possible site I can camp at around 7:40. I know A. is ahead of me, but I feel too worn out by a tough day to go any further. Besides, the sun is setting, the sky is already full of lovely colours, and there's a stream nearby. I message A. on my GPS device so she knows where I'm stopped, send a check-in message to my family as I do every night, and start to get ready to sleep. I think a little about the cover letter I want to write for the position I found the other day and get down a few things in my Notes app. I did about 24 miles today, which is a little less than I expected but makes sense due to the day's tough terrain. I'm asleep by 9.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Six

7:15 a.m. — I wake up, and it takes me a while to actually get out of my sleeping bag and tent. Last night was cold and super windy and I didn't sleep well again. I filter some water and eat a couple of slices of bread for breakfast. I still have quite a few miles ahead of me before I'll be able to get more food, so I need to portion what I have left. I don't start hiking until sometime after 8. My hike starts out with open views, but I'm back in the forest within about two hours. I stop to have a bagel for a snack.
12 p.m. — By this point, at the top of another climb, the trail has opened back up to stunning views of Mt. Rainier and surrounding peaks. I slow down to appreciate my surroundings, but can't relax too much as there are some wasps nearby. At some point, I run into my friend, D., and we chat for a few minutes before they head on. I take their spot, which looks out on a lake, and eat some instant oatmeal. This is the absolute last thing in my food bag and I savour it. Fortunately, after about another hour of hiking, I come upon some wild blueberries! I enjoy quite a few then pick up my pace. I'm close to a mountain pass where I will be able to stop and resupply at a convenience store.
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3 p.m. — I arrive at the store and have some Gatorade and tater tots as a late lunch. The store is quite welcoming to hikers, who make up a lot of its clientele, so they let us charge our devices. They also have a large hiker box, so I look through this before buying my groceries. I find a couple of protein bars that I enjoy and an unopened jar of peanut butter. I then begin to shop; again, it's more of a convenience store and prices can be high, but it has a better selection than the last general store. $54.35
3:45 p.m. — This store is right by a ski resort, so they also sell some winter gear. I buy a hat since it's been so cold the last few nights. Two friends (K. who is hiking the trail and who I thought was further behind, and her boyfriend, R., who is not hiking the trail but is essentially following the path of the trail in his van) text that they're on their way and wonder if we'd like to share a motel room in a nearby town. I know it's a bit ridiculous to spend the night in town so soon, just a few days after spending the night at the church, but this will give me some more time to charge up my battery and work on my job application before a relatively long stretch of trail far from any towns. $25
7 p.m. — A. and I head to the motel and I work on my cover letter (and scroll on social media) while waiting for our friends to arrive. If I had known I would be going into town, I would have waited to get groceries there, but at least now I have one less thing to worry about. We drive to the town, where they're having a sort of flea market. We order Mexican food from the stall right next to our motel. $10
8 p.m. — A. and I leave to get fried dough from another booth, and then walk back towards our motel. She asks if I'd like to get a drink, so we go to the local saloon. Last call is at 9, so we don't stay out too late. $27
9:30 p.m. — In the motel room, I take a shower and work on my cover letter. K. and R. take the bed, while A. and I each lay on the floor on our sleeping pads. Having access to a shower is honestly more important than having a bed, so sharing motel rooms with friends is common and I don't mind. I fall asleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $116.35

Day Seven

7:15 a.m. — I wake up and Venmo my portion of the motel room. Once again, I didn't have an amazing sleep and I wonder if it's because of some weird numbness that I've occasionally had in my left leg. I remind myself to be better about doing stretches during the day. I re-read my cover letter one last time and submit it. A. sees that I'm awake and asks if I want to get coffee. Great minds think alike, so we walk over to a nearby shop. $15
8 a.m. — The shop is super cute, but also super busy. I get an iced Americano with oat milk, which is delicious and refreshing. $5.04
8:30 a.m. — On the way back to the motel, I stop by the grocery store to look for breakfast. I get vegan breakfast sausages, which I can make in our room's microwave, and a few things for the trail that I wasn't able to find yesterday. I head back to the motel, eat, and scroll on my phone, and K. gives me some snacks her family sent her that she's not interested in but thinks I'll like. I want to get back on the trail sooner rather than later, but R. and K. sleep in a bit, so we don't head back until 11. From there, I hike for a couple of hours. $24.72
2:30 p.m. —I end up at a beautiful turquoise lake. I stop and eat some sourdough, which I bought at the grocery store this morning, filter water, and start hiking again while listening to audiobooks.
6:30 p.m. — The rest of the evening is an uphill climb, not too bad but still strenuous. I listen to Attention and eat a dinner of premade rice (meh) with citrus-flavoured craisins as dessert (not meh!). I listen to a podcast from the comedian Mike Birbiglia, which I've enjoyed lately, followed by music. Not too long after, I see beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and enter Mt. Rainier National Park. Around sunset, I get an illuminated view of Rainier that looks like something from another planet.
8 p.m. — I push ahead, hoping to get another view, but it's getting a bit too dark. Around 8, I see a light in the distance and it turns out to be A.'s headlamp! I stop and set up my tent while chatting with her, and try to fall asleep by 9. I'm excited for the day ahead in the national park, and for more beautiful views of Rainier, although it will be a weekend and I wonder whether the PCT will intersect any popular hiking trails.
Daily Total: $44.76
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