Pacific Crest Trail update - Permit, US Visa

Today is the day when my passport came back through the post with the american B2 visa stamped and approved to use. It is a crucial part of the plan I made to hike Pacific Crest Trail in May. Here is what happened so far.

First part of the plan was to get a PCT permit, which turned out to be organised in a matter of waiting room system on the PCTA website. I had to queue up at certain time with thousands of others, and being assigned random number, wait my turn to be able to register and grab a remaining starting date slot for PCT. Unfortunately I missed the first application date in late October when first 50 applications per day were issued, and applied on 14th of January, when additional 15 slots per day were being issued. I didn't get particularly lucky at rng game and got pretty far away in the queue (number 6783, picture below), after waiting for about an hour I eventually managed to log in and book a date for a mid/late May, all things considered the outcome wasn't bad.

The whole point of the date assigning is the fact that due to increasing popularity of the trail, Pacific Crest Trail Association wants to spread the hikers starting date, so less people hikes at one particular time (otherwise everyone would start around mid April), in order to protect the trail and create a better hiking experience.

Once I got the permit through the email which took about two weeks, I could start applying for american visa as I'm Polish national living in England. Fact that the PCT takes several months to complete brings along the issue that you can't just get an ordinary 90 days tourist visa (unless you want to hike only a section of the trail) but have to apply for a 6 months, multiple entry B2 visa (little word of advice here, if you are planning to get an american visa, go directly through the US embassy visa application website as there are a lot of scammy websites i.e. charging you for copying the application form details which you can do yourself on the embassy website, it makes you lose both time and money, as they will ask you to pay an additional 160$ for it). The embassy website at the moment of writing and filling in the application was extremely slow, timing out many times, so it took me hours to fill it in.

Once I finished the application and visited another website to pay the visa processing fees, I was ready to schedule the appointment in the embassy. Here I got my first positive surprise, there was an appointment opened next week on the 18th of February, which also happened to be my birthday so I booked it.

American embassy in London felt like a city within a city, I had to through three separate checks, including an airport style security check, where they scanned everything I brought with me, it had armed guards, blast resistant glass and all that jazz, the process felt daunting. On the other hand it seemed good to queue up alongside all kind of British people to get a visa, being treated on equal terms. After 15 minutes of waiting I got to the clerks window, and after a few questions, documents check and a fingerprint scan (never had that done before), I got sent to yet another window. It turned out to be a private room, where I got asked series of very precise questions of when, where and why am I going to travel to USA, got asked to show my PCT permit, which I thankfully printed beforehand, only other this precise security check I can recall was when I was travelling to Israel few years ago. Visa took only a week to process and being delivered back to me through the post. What's interesting about it, I got granted a visa valid for 10 years - so I can visit USA throughout this time for 6 months at a time as many times as I want to, which I find very interesting, considering that I was applying for a one off visa. Result!

With all those things out of the way, only thing I need to acquire now is a Canadian visa extension, as the PCT ends on the Canadian side of the border, but luckily there's a way to apply and receive the permit online, and I'm awaiting for it at the moment.