A Quitter’s Guide to Quitting
Disclaimer: There is a significant amount of profanity in this article. I intentionally chose this verbiage, as this is the type of speech that I was familiar with for a very recent and formative period in my life and consequentially how I speak to myself. I believe that words – especially profanity – have power, and while there are ways in which I could convey my thoughts without it, it does not accurately convey what I have to say or it lacks the same punch. Best, Alice / Tiger Blood
Thru-hiking is like eating 35 gallons of your favorite ice cream in one sitting.
Some people can slurp down a whole pint at once. Some people only want one scoop. Some people are able to emulate Kobayashi. Some people don’t even like ice cream.
And then there are people like me, lactose intolerant but still try to eat all the ice cream, because we feel like we have something to prove by accomplishing the feat even if we explosively shit afterwards.
So what happens when thru-hiking isn’t serving you anymore? Do you keep going? Do you leave a sludgy snail trail in your wake until you touch the Northern Terminus? Do you walk until you collapse in a pile of chocolate Soft Serve a la Anus? Or do you put the spoon down and say enough is enough?
In my case, I put the spoon down.
Quitting is for Pussies 101: A Pussy’s Guide to Quitting
“Do or do not, there is not try.”
“Quitting is not an option.”
“Finish what you start.”
We’ve all heard these phrases used time and again both on and off the trail. This zero-defect mentality sustained me for years, as a child and also during my time in the Navy. I was raised to believe that quitting was for the weak, and that weakness was unforgivable. I made a commitment to hike the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail in a thru-hike, and to quit trail 800 miles in would be undeniable proof of my weakness.
Full disclosure: I wanted to quit the trail since Day 2. I told myself that if I could get through 700 miles of desert, the Sierra would be the reward. After the Sierra, you may as well finish NorCal to finish all of California. And then what is Oregon and Washington after that? Sunk-cost Fallacy reasoning at its finest. Besides, quitting is for pussies! Quit thinking about it and get up over that pass! You have internet strangers to appease! You have friends and family and old white guys on the internet that will call you a pussy for quitting, and you are no pussy!
Despite this reasoning, I could not shake the nagging feeling that this thru-hike was no longer worth it for me. That it served its purpose, and that I was ready to move on to other things. That maybe this was not the right year for me, or maybe thru-hiking a long trail will never be my thing. Who cares if 65-year old John from Ohio thinks I’m a pussy?
With nothing but time on my hands, I thought more about why I was even on the trail in the first place and if those purposes were being fulfilled. But did it even matter? Quitting is for pussies, right?
Let’s Get Down to Business (To Defeat My Pride)
One of the reasons I decided to hike the PCT is because I felt I still had something left to prove, even after nearly a decade in the Navy. I joined the Navy to prove that I could “be a man”, because growing up in the 90s as a second-born child and daughter in an Asian, Midwestern household meant that I was inferior to my older, male, whiter counterparts. I was never good enough, smart enough, tough enough, pretty enough – and I certainly would not bring honor to the family with my tomboyish habits. Old habits die hard, and I felt I had to prove that I was tough enough to hang by electing to go on a 2,653 mile ruck.
In direct contradiction to this, I wanted to hike the PCT to stop the negative rhetoric inside my own head. I was tired of feeling like I had to constantly prove myself, to keep up and surpass my peers. I wanted to take my time, to stop and smell the pine trees and take in the sights. I wanted to be “complacent” (one of many dreaded words in the service), to exist and be good enough simply for being. I wanted a break from the constant grind. I wanted to strike a balance between pushing myself and rewarding myself before I formally made the transition to “civilian life”.
I expected the PCT to be challenging but rewarding. However, it was honestly mentally similar to what I tried leaving behind. I traded 4am security drills for breaking down my tent, shoving breakfast bars in my face as I chipped away at the mileage for the day, eager to beat the heat and make it to the next water source. Instead of sitting in endless meetings, I fed mosquitoes while looking at a pretty mountain vista, hurrying to make it to camp and shove some shitty instant potatoes and sweaty cheddar cheese into my belly so that I could crawl into my tent and do it all over again tomorrow.
This was still “the grind”. This was a very similar type of minutiae planning – always planning for water, for lunch, for breaks, for camp, between towns, between resupplies, and between frantic shits behind a shrub. No matter what I did, I never felt I was ever good enough – what do you mean you only walked 25 miles, you fucking pathetic bitch, you should have done more, you could have walked faster, why did you take such a long lunch break, you didn’t need to stop for such a long break, keep going. I loathed every waking minute.
The moment I knew absolutely that I was in the wrong place was on top of Mount Whitney. My tramily and I woke up at midnight to hike the summit for sunrise. Even on the summit, I felt nothing but resentment and anxiety. I felt bitter that I was still on trail and anxious that something was wrong with me that I could not feel excited like other hikers, or grateful to be able to do this hike, or humbled to be in the presence of such raw, natural beauty. Sure, I expected some hard days and I certainly did not expect the PCT to be easy, but surely I should be having fun some of the time, right? This was my vacation, after all, and although there aren’t cute cabana boys bringing tropical cocktails in coconuts to the poolside, surely I shouldn’t feel like this all the time? Would I even be excited to tag the Northern Terminus, or will it feel like the end of deployment where I was just relieved for it all to be over?
I did not have time to enjoy the sights. I was no longer spurred on by anything other than my fear of being perceived as weak. I gotten through what was arguably the shittiest part of the trail during a record dry year and should be enjoying myself in the Sierra, and all I could feel was resentment. I had not gotten away from the grind, nor would I. I had not been able to stop and smell the roses, nor would I have that opportunity if I wanted to make it to Canada by September. I came to the realization that this was really just a long ruck to prove that I was “tough” – and didn’t I just spend 8 years proving that I was enough?
So Pack Up, Go Home, You’re Through
So what did I accomplish? I would never learn to be kind to myself on trail, or at least not for now. Before the PCT, I reveled in how my body carried me and my pack to summits, but here I could not appreciate what I did but rather what was still ahead. Instead of focusing on enjoying the moment and the present, I found myself daydreaming since the very beginning about playing house with my significant other. I was sick of the rush of deployment work-ups, overseas duty, and now the trail – I fantasized about stability.
I fantasized about looking at paint chips at Home Depot under the three types of lighting, about leisurely strolls down the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond touching curtain fabrics, and touching every throw pillow in Pottery Barn ensuring that my couch would be both optimally chic and comfortable. I dreamed about job interviews, about strolling bleary-eyed into an office with a coffee to check my inbox, about calling Josh at the grocery store double-checking which brand of tomato paste to buy for dinner. I daydreamed about feeding ducks by the lake with future imaginary children after going to the local farmer’s market, and about planning a leisurely weekend hiking trip instead of a thru-hike. I dreamed about sitting in rush-hour traffic, happy hour, and cleaning cat puke off the floor. Thru-hiking was the complete opposite of stability. I resented every day I was on trail because it was also another day delayed from my domestic fantasy.
Even though I knew I didn’t want to be on trail anymore, I still had a very difficult time convincing myself that leaving was for the best. If thru-hiking the trail wasn’t serving me, then there was no point to complete it just to have that check-mark. In the end, I decided that it didn’t matter if someone else thought I was weak for giving up over 800 miles in because my time and my happiness was worth more to me than someone else’s opinion.
Perhaps what was most surprising to me was the reaction I received from my tramily and other thru-hikers. I fully expected to be called a bitch or a pussy or any slew of derogatory names – after all, I was quitting, wasn’t I? But I was met with nothing but support, even from the most vigilant purists on trail. After all, what is the point in forcing yourself to complete something you do not want to do? You aren’t going to prison for desertion if you leave trail. No one is going to die if you decide not to show up to trail tomorrow. No one is going to have to carry your extra pack weight. I was relieved to feel that my decision was validated, and it nearly brought me to tears to be so unconditionally supported.
I have been off trail for a little over two weeks now, and I have no regrets for leaving. Sure, I miss my Trail Family immensely and I do feel pangs of jealousy when they post beautiful Instagram photos and captions about trail life. Part of me still wishes I was with them, if only because I enjoyed their company. But my decision to leave trail was the right one; shortly after I made up my mind that I would not complete the PCT in one fell swoop, I was informed that my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer and would undergo surgery that same week. This hastened my departure from the PCT so that I could be there for her surgery and her post-op care.
I know thru-hiking, at least right now, is not for me – that 60 days is a lot of ice cream for someone who does not describe themselves as a “dessert person”.
After all, 35 gallons is a lot of fucking ice cream.
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Well you got the mouth of a sailor already. Couldn’t even read half of this, so vulgar. Bye.
Seriously tbis is the funniest post Ive ever read on The Trek! Made me laugh while on wirk break at – Home Depot! C’mon over, we have stuff! It also reflects my experiences in reaching too high. Thank you.
Sorry Elsie had to be such a twit to you. Not a very nice person. To me, what she said was vulgar.
But back on topic. Just to let you know. I enjoyed everyone of your postings, thank you.
800 miles on the PCT? I am 100% in awe. That is a lot of miles and 800 MORE than this old coot.
All the best to you and your mom and family
Hi. Was wondering how you were doing and hoping things were OK. You wanted to try the PCT and did, completing a very significant portion of it. That is a real accomplishment, not to be minimized. I tend to be stubborn and willful, and my mother used to say “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” If the hike was not working for you and giving you satisfaction, then bailing was the right thing to do. Remember the song, “The Gambler” – “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em Know when to fold ’em Know when to walk away And know when to run”. Very likely you will return to long distance hiking when the time is right. In the meantime, supporting your mother in her hour of need is more important. I had prostate cancer (successfully treated) and my ex told me yesterday that she may have breast cancer. More than most diseases, cancer, in yourself or others, inspires reflection and self-analysis. So, do not consider leaving the trail as failure, but just another experience that will hopefully lead to a richer life. Good luck and best wishes for your mother’s recovery.
This post was fantastic! I’m an armchair thru-hiker reading the Trek before a day at my desk job, which doesn’t sound so bad after reading this.
I just like the idea of putting on a pack and heading out with an open-ended schedule. I’m not sure how long I would really want to stay out.
Best wishes to you and your family.
60-year old white guy here echoing what most of my peers would say (not the vocal minority) – Good job! You went in with a hope, it didn’t work out, but you busted your ass trying to get to that elusive goal. And the goal changed, and so you have redirected, which is quite sensible. Good luck in everything, I hope you go where you want to be, and if sometimes that is in a desert, a green tunnel, a summit, or Bed Bath and Beyond – Great. Live Your Own Life.
Your writings are so very entertaining and thought provoking. Best wishes to your mother. I don’t know what you do for a living, but I hope writing is involved. You could make trips to Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond sound entertaining. You have a true gift for entertaining others with your insight….maybe stand up comedy?
Why are you so racist? Old white guys comments? Do you make assumptions about what this demographic might think? Have you ever talked to one?
Hey . If you are not enjoying the walk, don’t do it.