5 Lessons I’m Taking with Me on the Continental Divide Trail
Editor’s note: At the height of the pandemic in 2020, The Trek’s policy was to not publish blog posts on trails where the managing organization specifically requested for thru-hikers to stay home—this included the PCT. We’re choosing to leave this particular post up so as not to eliminate a chance for meaningful dialogue. Please keep your comments respectful.
When I started the Pacific Crest Trail in March of 2020, it was only the second backpacking trip I had ever been on. Needless to say, there are a million things I learned in the five and a half months and 2600 miles of hiking. Other than the obvious adjustments to gear, maps, and planning, there are 5 things I learned that I want to take with me on this next hike.
1. Carry Less
This one seems pretty obvious, but for me, it was a learning curve. Weirdly, I realized that I always had exactly what I needed. Even after ditching tons of redundant gear and extra clothes, there was never a moment when I felt I was ill-equipped to deal with what the trail threw at me. Making it work with less is just a part of the challenge. This applies to mental loads as well. Plans change, people move on, and reality sucks, but days are easier when I leave all that heavy stuff behind.
2. First Impressions Suck
No matter if it was a new hiker I met or a new trail town I stayed in, I learned to give everything a chance. Some of the greatest people I met took time to grow on me. The same goes for places. One of my favorite nights on the trail was spent behind a strip mall, sleeping on a loading dock. First impressions are important, but I’ve learned to give second and third impressions the same weight and hold back the judgment and expectations when I’m hiking.
3. Just Eat It!
I have learned that being a picky eater is not good for trail life. It doesn’t matter what it is, where it came from, or if the label says “refrigerate after opening,” I just eat it! Food is food, and hiker hunger is real. If people are generous enough to offer me food, I smile and accept it gratefully (within reason). This is a demanding undertaking, and help and hope come from the most unlikely places.
4. Feet First
Hiking 20 miles a day is painful. It’s even worse on sore feet. Taking care of my feet is my priority. When I take a break, I take off my shoes. At the end of the day, I wash and let my feet dry before slipping on my comfy sleeping socks. I replace my shoes as often as I can. For this upcoming hike, I’ve already bought six pairs of trail runners. I know my feet will be happy every time I trade the old for the new.
5. Take it Easy
This lesson applies in every aspect of thru-hiking. I need to take breaks when my body needs it. I need to stop and smell the roses when my brain needs it. When I face tough choices, I need to step back and breathe before freaking out. For me, hiking a long trail is not just to accomplish something and check it off the list. I love this lifestyle, and I need to enjoy it while it lasts. Through the heat, cold, mosquitos, bad weather, long days, and even longer nights, I like to remind myself that I missed this enough to do it again. I hike because I want to, and that means I’m going to love every single minute!
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