Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.Edward Abbey
Pacific Crest Trail?
The Pacific Crest Trail is one of America’s finest long distance hiking trails. It runs over 2650 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through California, Oregon, and Washington. Along the way, it passes through the southern California desert, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Northern California, and then finally the Cascade range in Oregon and Washington.
The PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association) has a great page describing the trail, check it out here: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/
So, who in their right mind would willingly trek through 2650 miles of wilderness from Mexico to Canada?
Well, me. And a few thousand other weirdos.
Every year, a new class of bold (or perhaps foolish) ‘thru-hikers’ attempt to complete the trail in a single summer season (between 4 and 6 months). The PCTA has already issued thousands of permits for the 2019 season. One of those is mine.
April 12. This is when I’ll begin my hike heading north from Campo, CA to the border of Canada. I plan on taking just around 5 months to complete this journey. Naturally, people have a lot of questions/concerns regarding this trek.
I think the question any prospective thru-hiker dreads the most is: “Why?”
Not because it’s a bad question – it’s actually an important one. But it’s not an easy one to answer.
For many people considering a long trail like this the answer to the ‘why’ question isn’t even really that clear to themselves. And yet people feel strongly enough to give up jobs, friends, money, comfort, and entire lifestyles just to do this. So there’s something magnetic about a trail like this.
For myself I think it comes down to a few things which I’ll lay out here. Be prepared for some melodrama with a dash of quarter-life crisis ramblings.
1. I’ve become too comfortable in life. Believe me, I know how this sounds. Let me explain. A certain degree of comfort is important. For myself, I’ve noticed that too little or too much is a problem. Too little comfort makes sense. But too much? How could this be a problem?
For me, it really just comes down to growth. I am of the mind that too much comfort hampers one’s ability – or desire – to continually develop themselves. I could work at my current job indefinitely (which I do like, my coworkers especially), live in the same apartment in the state I’ve been in my whole life, hike the same trails I’ve done a thousand times over, and just continue on. It would be a comfortable life, no doubt about it. There’s something to be said for this type of living. I think it works for a lot of people – I’m just not sure about myself. I’m hoping the PCT will give me a new perspective at the very least. We’ll see. And hey, maybe the trail will show me that this way of living isn’t actually so bad.
2. Lately I’ve become much more curious about the world and our place in it. Whatever this feeling is, the way I’m currently living isn’t doing much to explore that curiosity. It seems like I am getting too far removed from what it means to just live. Spreadsheets, insurance, on-demand news, internet, social expectations, you get the idea. All of these things ostensibly serve to make live easier, but they bring with them complexity. This complexity makes it difficult to really explore your place in the world as you are constantly bogged down in the minutiae of navigating modern society.
I’d like to experience a life that is less complex even if it means more difficulty. I’m hoping to experience life in a more raw form – just me, the trail, and everything I need on my back. It’ll hopefully be a good change of pace to clear away the all accessory stuff that isn’t really necessary to life but adds convenience and comfort. Maybe then I can get a better vantage point on life and a general direction to steer towards.
3. Being outside feels good. It feels right. Like I said, I do like my job and my coworkers but I miss being outside and breathing fresh air – this just comes with the territory of working an office job. I really do enjoy hiking – although I’ve only been backpacking for the past 5 years or so. Ask anyone who has been backpacking for a little while and one of the main long trails (Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail) is probably on their bucket list. It’s just the natural progression for the hobby. Eventually you’re going to want to tackle one of the legendary trails. So I figured I’d do it now when I’m young, healthy, and devoid of substantial obligations (single, no house, enough savings).
Additionally, the Pacific Crest Trail passes through some of the most beautiful and pristine wilderness areas in the United States. From the harsh and unforgiving beauty of the Southern California desert to the jagged granite spires of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the forests of Oregon and finally to the wild and remote Cascade Mountains in Washington, this trail has it all. I’ve not had the chance to really see this area of the country much so I am beyond thrilled to finally experience it in all it’s glory.
4. This may be obvious but it’s probably the strongest and most simple reason. I want to have a good time! Y’know, have fun, type 1 and 2. https://www.rei.com/blog/climb/fun-scale. I want to see awesome things, have interesting experiences, and meet cool people. I want to be able to look back on my life and be proud I took on an undertaking like this. It’s not often that you get to have a real life adventure like the ones you only read about in books. Here’s my chance.
5. I’d like to really push myself to my physical and mental limits. To be honest I can’t say I’ve ever truly discovered the full potential of what I’m capable of physically and mentally. The closest of I’ve gotten is during the longer, more strenuous hikes I’ve done. So I figure the PCT will push me to that point and I can discover what I’m really capable of. Maybe it’ll break me down. Hopefully not. Hopefully I can overcome the challenges of the trail and discover real, earned confidence through accomplishing something great.
6. I’m excited to do something purely for myself – even if it’s a little reckless and not something society at large necessarily approves of. It’s a powerful feeling just taking life completely into your own hands and going after something truly substantial.
There are many other smaller reasons why I’m doing this hike – some conscious, many probably unconscious. I’m excited to keep this blog and I’ll try to post weekly when I’m on the trail or whenever I get internet service. Until then I’d like to do some posts about gear, training, and really anything else to keep me sane while I wait the 4.5 months until my start date.
Thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “Discussion: Why am I hiking the PCT?”
I love this first post, man. If you get a chance check out David Goggins and what he knows about mental toughness.
Thank you Billy! I’ll definitely check him out.