I’m eligible to enter America under the Visa Waiver Program, called ESTA. However, the ESTA only allows stays of up to 90 days, which wouldn’t be long enough for me to complete the PCT unless I was going for a speed record!
(The current speed records of the PCT are held by Joe “String Bean” McConaughy for a supported hike (53 days in 2014) and Heather “Anish” Anderson for an unsupported hike (60 days, set in 2013).
To apply for a 6 month US tourist visa called B1/B2, I had to do the following:
Complete the DS-160 online application (this includes uploading a passport photo)
Print the confirmation page
Schedule an interview, pay the visa fee (£104) & arrange to collect my passport
Attend the interview
Receive my passport with my new visa
The DS-160 online application was an incredibly detailed and long form! I’m terrible at remembering dates, especially things like my last 5 visits to America. Luckily I could save each section, turn my apartment upside down looking for old diaries and passports and keep coming back to the application. After completing the form, the process was very simple to schedule the interview and I was able to schedule one within a week.
The day of my interview came and I was nervous that my visa application would be declined… was wanting to hike the PCT a good enough reason to be granted a visa? I followed the advice of a fellow mYAMAdventure participant (Helen “Cat” Beckers) and took along my PCT bible: Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook, as well as my notebook that was full of PCT to-do lists (get visa, permits, travel insurance, first aid course, learn what to do when you see a bear/mountain lion etc)
I arrived at the American Embassy in London at 9:30am for a 10am appointment. I lined up outside the embassy on a freezing cold January day and slowly inched forward toward the entrance as the dozens of people in front of me one by one removed their belts and emptied their pockets to walk through the x-ray machines. It took half an hour to get inside the building. Once in, I was handed a number and told to sit in the waiting room and wait for my number to be called. I sat with approximately 300 other people all staring intently at the blinking number board, all quietly hoping they would be next.
My number was called and I walked up to counter 15. The lady behind the glass asked for my passport and my reason for wanting a 6 month tourist visa. “To hike the Pacific Crest Trail,” I said. She wasn’t American, and had no idea what I was talking about. After unsuccessfully trying to explain what the Pacific Crest Trail was, I simplified my answer and told her I wanted to go for a long walk in America. She held onto my passport, handed me back a different number and told me to sit down again. I sat down and waited, and waited… 2 hours went by.
Finally my number was called and this time I was to go to counter 23. I was interviewed by an American man from California. I know this because when I told him I wanted to hike the PCT he told me he was from California and that I should be careful of the mountain lions! Gee, thanks! He asked me a few questions about what I did for work and what I would be doing when I come back (will I still be wanting to walk or will I be over walking by then?), and then he said “Good Luck, your visa has been approved.” 🙂
My passport was ready to be collected the following week with a lovely new American visa in it. If I’m reading it correctly, it says I have multiple entry status for a period of 10 years, can this be right?! … Triple Crown* here I come! 😉
*Triple Crown is to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail & Continental Divide Trail