Emily AKA Dim Sum and Her Advice for International Thru-Hikers Following in Her Footsteps
Hi y’all, Oats here! This week, our spotlight is shining on Trek Blogger Emily who flew to the PCT from London and has been making stellar updates, sharing photos, tales from the trail, and details on all things new and unexpected in sunny Southern CA ever since.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full recorded interview can be viewed here.
You’ve mentioned in past articles that this is a 9-year dream in the making, to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail before you turned 40: What was it that first drew you to the idea of thru-hiking the PCT and setting this goal for yourself?
To be honest it was the film “Wild” adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s novel. Not so much the trauma story, but more the cinematography of the film really captured my imagination. I love America and believe that hiking is the best way to see the countryside. The exploration and adventure was also appealing.
It’s hiking 2,650 miles, it’s not small, but I knew one day I was going to do it.
During lockdown I spent more time outside and started planning my trip. I spent time figuring out where I wanted to stay, what I wanted to see, and tried to imagine what it could be like. So now here I am, 9 years later.
It’s a bit surreal to be 750 miles in. I hike a lot in Europe so that side of things was a gradual journey with assembling my gear and everything, but the hardest part is adjusting to American life. The grocery shopping and certain words, navigating mass transport are things I didn’t think I’d have trouble with but they’ve definitely presented challenges these first couple weeks. Coming from overseas it’s not just getting your gear sorted and being able to do big miles - it’s everything else on top of it.
What was your hiking experience before you embarked on this adventure? Did you do any shakedown hikes to prepare?
Well I’m from the UK so Scotland is probably the wildest place you can get to in Great Britain. I really enjoyed learning how to read a map off trail and going up mountains - anything above 800 meters is called a munro in Scotland - and it’s great practice going up and down with my backpack. It helped me get used to weather conditions, too.
I’d set little goals for myself like “I’m going to practice in the rain today” or “I’m going to see what it feels like to do 20 miles” just to see how it all felt. Scotland was great for all that off trail exploration.
I made so many mistakes and had to just keep going back to learn new things. I’ve also done a few long distance trails in the UK, though they’re nothing like the PCT. From Scotland down to the south in England I think it’s only 600 miles in total, the UK is tiny compared to what I’m climbing here. I did a 100 mile trek on South Downs Way with the elevation changing every day, but it was hills not mountains. I haven’t been able to have any experience of desert conditions though, so the last 700 miles have been a hard adjustment.
You mention in your Trek Author bio, “When I'm not thinking about hiking I'm thinking about Dim Sum which has been the focus of my career, so I'm taking a break from Dim Sum while I thru-hike.” It seems like you haven’t really kept distance with your long lost love. Can you tell us a little more about your love of Dim Sum and how you got your trail name?
I studied food science at university and ended up with a company that produces dim sum. Since I’ve been out here I’m constantly looking at the labels and ingredients of food and love trying to understand what everyone’s eating. That usually ends up in conversation talking about my job and how much I love food and dim sum specifically, so it came up as my trail name. I haven’t found any on trail yet, but I’m still looking!
How do you think your experience as an international thru-hiker coming from London is different from other hikers on the trail?
I think the journey of getting here has been a lot longer perhaps than people that live in the US now. I’ve been planning this trip for two years.
Getting the appointment for your 6-month visa, booking the flights, getting insurance, we have to be a lot more strategic with planning everything in advance and alongside that you’re really preparing yourself to commit to actually doing it.
I think quite a lot of people here maybe decide a bit last minute, a couple of months before, but for most people from overseas it’s a big thing. I wonder what the stats are for people overseas making it to Canada vs people from the US, that’d be interesting to know. The group I’m hiking with is made up of two Germans and myself and everyone else is American. I get the sense there’s a lot of international people this year, perhaps because they couldn’t come last year. It feels more familiar to me to have some Europeans around that I can relate to.
In one of your articles, you write about the most unexpected parts about life on trail from carrying more water than you think you need to really making sure you’re practicing good hygiene. What would you say are some of the biggest lessons learned from your first 700 miles?
Something I wasn’t expecting to think about so much is where I’m choosing to lay my sleeping pad down. I’m using a foam-cell pad only as the inflatable makes me feel I’ll fall off, and if it’s cold it’s not as insulated so I have to think about where it’ll be the warmest. Making sure I’m warm and sleep well at night is really important to me. It makes a big difference! My secret now is eating a whole bar of chocolate before going to bed, then I stay warm.
Oh, I love foam pads. So have you been cowboy camping or tenting?
A bit of both, but I’m more settled now with my trail family, there’s 5 or 6 of us depending on our plans, and we cowboy camp like sardines.
It’s such a great feeling to go to sleep with people you know and you really appreciate being with and you’re chatting and then you all wake up together again. It took a while for me to figure that out.
I’d never cowboy camped before and was initially scared of insects and snakes, but one group of people convinced me and took my “cowboy virginity” and since then I’ve been doing it by myself as well. That’s something I didn’t think I’d ever have the confidence to do but I feel quite comfortable with now.
What is one piece of advice you would have for an international thru-hiker following in your footsteps and taking on one of America’s long trails?
I think flexibility and not being rigid with your plans is important. If you think you’ve got an idea of what you’re going to be eating based on local European food, you have to be adaptable here. There’s a few people that send resupplies on throughout their trip from European food that they’ve brought over. It means you’re rigid to have to go to those towns and sometimes the food is way too expensive or you realize that the food is better than what you can get in Europe, which is what happened to me.
There’s so much you can’t know until you’re here.
I knew that was going to happen and being a planner, I like to be in control and have everything in a row. But I had to be flexible and go with the flow.
What section of trail or experience on the trail are you most excited about that lies ahead?
I’m prepared for lots of snow - I know this year it’s not particularly high but over the last 2 years as I’ve been listing all the things that could go wrong or that I don’t have experience with, snow was a big thing for me. I’m from the south of England, we don’t really get it there, it turns to slush and then mud very quickly. So, I’m excited to be here and be going through the Sierra because it’s so different from what I’m used to.
I did go to Scotland and camp a couple weekends in the snow, but I had not stepped foot on a mountain in the snow until this year.
And there’s people here from Europe that have done a few long distance trails but never walked in snow! This is a big thing for me. Maybe I don’t need to be worried, but I am excited to experience this and see the Sierra myself. Mount Whitney is so much higher than anything I can imagine and it’s so exciting to think that I’ll be summiting in a week.
Before we officially wrap up, Emily, are there any shoutouts you’d like to give or anything you’d like to touch on?
Sure! I’d love to give a shout-out to my trail family. They’re always joking around and supporting my content, and I’ve really enjoyed being out here with them.
Katie "Oats" Houston (she/her) is a freelance outdoor writer and content creator based in Austin, TX. After being bit by the thru-hiking bug in 2019 on the Appalachian Trail, Katie has since gotten the Colorado Trail and Lone Star Hiking Trail under her belt with a bucket list of many, many more long-distance trails. She enjoys any opportunity to write about her adventures, good trail ethics, and trail stewardship and currently works as the Social Media Lead for The Trek. Check out her adventures with Thru the husky at her website and Instagram.