The Epic Journey to Becoming Akuna the Thru-Hiker

Hello, everyone! My name is Akuna. As in Hakuna Matata. I received this name in 2016 on my first attempt at thru-hiking the PCT because I worried about absolutely nothing. On trail as long as I know I’m going in the right direction and where the next water is I’m good. On my journey, the question of how I became an unlikely member of the hiker community constantly came up. Today is the day that I explain how a guy with almost no outdoor experience evolved into total hiker trash.

Planting the Seed

In 2003 at 22 years old I was proudly serving as a member of the U.S. Army in Iraq. Like most, I longed for anything to take my mind away from all the chaos that surrounded me daily. The best way to do this was by reading anything I could find. A common area on our base served as a library, game room, and place for all kinds of community items to collect. One day while rifling through boxes of books I discovered a PCT guide. After reading it multiple times I knew that a thru-hike was going to be part of my future. Shortly after this, I was injured, discharged from the military, and that’s when everything started to unravel.

And Then Life Happens

The next 12 years my life became a never-ending series of surgeries, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, various treatment plans, people telling me all the things I can no longer do, and an insane number of different medications. To cope with my pain and depression like most veterans I turned to alcohol. I knew it was not the best thing to do but I felt like I had nothing else to turn to for elevating my pain and frustration. As the years rolled by my post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, pain, and overall mental state deteriorated. I cut off friends, family, and stopped doing the things I once loved because I no longer found joy in anything. I went through the motions every day with a smile on my face even though I was dying inside. Anxiety made it nearly impossible for me to interact with other people so I stayed to myself as much as possible. I pretty much turned my home into a prison and was sure that it would be where this depressing life would end. Having reached my breaking point I decided that I was no longer going to live this way and attempted to end my life. When I failed my mental state declined even more rapidly, and I did not have a clue of what to do next.

Reclaiming My Life

Standing at the southern terminus of the PCT April 2, 2016.

One evening in March 2016 while scanning through the endless amount of mind-numbing television channels I came across the spark that changed everything. There flickering on the idiot box was the movie “Wild.” I watched Reese Witherspoon struggling with a giant backpack and strolling along a dirt trail and in that moment my mind went back to that guidebook that I had read more than a decade earlier. Thanks to my good buddy Google I quickly determined that this, in fact, was the same epic journey. I figured a drastic change is what I need regardless of what my doctors, family members, or even my body had to say. The next three weeks I researched gear, ordered what I thought I needed, and bought a plane ticket to San Diego. On April 2, 2016, I was standing at the southern terminus of the PCT. I didn’t know if my body would hold up or if mentally I could handle this hike. I just knew I had to try. Although an injury knocked me out of what would be my first attempt after 1,600 miles I claimed a major victory. I felt at home in the hiking community. I found my body could take a lot more than I originally thought it could. The amazing hikers and trail angels who I encountered showed me so much love that my anxiety decreased and I craved more social interactions. In nature, I learned to manage my depression and anger, which in turn boosted my confidence. The dread I felt thinking about the future evaporated and for the first time in what seemed like forever, I could see the joy in life. The next year I stood in the same spot at the southern terminus a completely different man. A man who is full of joy and who will never stop moving forward. Becoming Akuna restored life to a once hollow shell and I am forever grateful. I will never stop hiking and I will never stop being Akuna the thru-hiker!

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Comments 15

  • Barry Hudson : Feb 12th

    Very inspiring! I totally relate to that kind of depression you’ve encountered in the past. Rock on!

    Reply
    • Napoleon..PCT 16.. : Feb 18th

      Hey trail Fam. And fellow Earthling… Super dope to read this..I’m southbounding the A.T. this year..thrued the CDT this past year with my girlfriend… she is now looking to complete her triple crown..Red Cross is her trail name..I’d love to see you on trail my people..

      Reply
  • Ruth Anne : Feb 12th

    Way to go! Best wishes to you in your hikes and your every day life. So happy you have found some peace.

    Reply
  • CK : Feb 12th

    So good, so relatable!

    People, myself included, like to sh*t on wild but here it literally helped this dudes life.

    Reply
  • Canary : Feb 12th

    Akuna, you rock!! I’m so proud of you and literally have tears in my eyes. Can’t wait to see you document this hike, and know you’ll crush it!

    Reply
  • Jenny Bruso : Feb 12th

    I am such a huge fan of Akuna! I’m really excited he’ll be blogging here!

    Reply
  • Zach : Feb 12th

    Akuna-

    I’ve read hundreds of blogger intros. This is one of the all-time best. You’ve got a knack for writing and storytelling. I hope you hike far and write often; I have a good feeling about the first of these two wishes.

    Happy hiking,
    Zach

    Reply
    • Eddie Horton : Feb 14th

      While I was scrolling through the comments and anticipating my own, they were beginning to sound a lot like this… (At least in my head!!) – Very Nice!!

      Reply
  • Aaron Owens Mayhew : Feb 12th

    Thanks for sharing your story, Akuna. I hope to run into you on trail again sometime soon!

    Reply
  • uturn : Feb 12th

    A similar yet different story here. I hope I’ll run into you out there but I suspect you’ll blow by me! Thanks for the great intro. Uturn

    Reply
  • Cody : Feb 14th

    I’ll see you out there brother.
    OIF ‘06-07
    OEF ‘10-11

    Reply
  • Sridhar Saraf : Feb 15th

    What an inspiring post! Thanks Akuna for sharing your story. Best of luck for your AT through hike, I will be following your posts from AT and beyond.

    Reply
  • Arnold "Bloodhound" Guzman : Feb 15th

    Hey Acuna!
    Thanks for baring your soul, for your story has truly been an inspiration to me.

    I’m a trail angel who lives near the Smokies and am going to make a special effort be looking out for you as I’m out doing trail magic this spring

    Look for the man with two bloodhounds. Happy trails!

    Bloodhound

    Reply
  • Nelly Real : Feb 16th

    Awesome Story! I feel your pain, also suffering from PTSD, I found the wilderness, hiking, and backpacking is like a Temple. A temple where one can meditate on spiritual pains, walk the physical pain, and grow as a human with others doing the same! Good luck on the AT, I will be there hiking a section 3/26-4/2, maybe our paths will meet! Blessed love!

    Reply
  • Victor : Feb 18th

    Akuna, keep your head up, always looking at the stars. Hope to see you on the trail, i’m nobo in a few weeks 🙂

    Reply

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