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
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!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.