An European hiking the PCT on a three-month ‘visa’ sounds weird. Everyone from outside of the USA makes sure to have a full visa, allowing for a six months stay in the country, when attempting a thru-hike that takes between four and six months to complete. Why did I do it differently?
When planning all of this, I did make sure to get a longer visa. Sadly, my bag with all my belongings was stolen from my rental car in South Africa, just 1.5 weeks before I would fly to the States. Stupidly, I had my passport in there as well, which in turn contained my US visa. So by a turn of event, I ended up traveling to the States on a ESTA. Maximum stay: three months.
Fast forward to Big Bear Lake. The snow in the Sierra Nevada was the talk of the town and intimidated hikers. So instead of waiting the melt out at Kennedy Meadows, I decided to take care of the visa issue at home by early June. The waiting time for an appointment at the consulate was about two weeks. Giving me enough time to hike to Tehachapi and fly back home.
Just a day after filling out the online forms, I was informed that I could just mail in my passport and relevant documents. Not having to wait the two weeks, I changed my plans to leaving from Wrightwood, as that gave easier access to a rental car and thus the airport.
Two days, 22nd of May, after mailing the documents to the American Consulate, I received an email stating that I did not qualify for mail in and had to schedule an interview after all. First option for an appointment: 18th of June, almost a month wait.
Not wanting to sit at home for a month, I started looking for trips to take during the wait. In the end, I decided on Portugal. Fly to Lisbon, take a train south to Santiago do Cacém and hike the Caminho Histórico south to Cabo de São Vicente (the green route in the image below). After the hike, I stay in Lagos for a bit. Enjoying the sun and the beach, and take surfing lessons. Back home just in time for my visa interview.
Two days before flying to Lisbon, and just after booking the whole side trip, I got my passport back. With the package was a note stating the reason why my initial request was denied. It also said that people in my situation could ‘just’ show up at the Consulate Monday through Thursday between 8:30 and 11:00 without an appointment. ‘Why wasn’t I told this before?’, I pondered while making plans to head over the next morning.
The next morning a friend drove me to Amsterdam and I made my way to the Consulate. Fully prepared to hear ‘no sir, that does not apply to you’, I walked up to the security guard and I was allowed in. Each single person up to the final window took note of the paper and said something like ‘well, no appointment, but you have this paper. Head over to the next window and see what they have to say about it’.
After explaining my situation to the man at the last window, I heard the soothing and final words in this matter: ‘Well, Thijs, you will receive your passport and visa in the mail in a couple of days. Good luck on the Pacific Crest Trail’.
I was elated, finally this situation was taken care off and way earlier than anticipated walking into the Consulate.
Everything for Portugal was booked and paid, so I will go there and give the snow in the Sierra Nevada a couple more weeks to melt. By the second half of June, I will be back on the PCT.
From a mail-in to an unplanned vis-à-vis with the kind Consulate Officer of the United States of America.
I can’t wait to pick up my PCT adventure in a few weeks. Making new friends and venturing through the Mojave Desert into the Sierra Nevada mountains and all the way to Canada.
Before doing that, I got 2.5 weeks in Portugal to look forward to. My next post(s) will be about that trip. Follow me here or on Instagram for updates.