It’s been almost two months since I took my last steps on the PCT. I’ve been bathing regularly, my body is mostly back to normal (though there are still a few lingering aches and pains) and I’ve restarted being a contributor to the financial state of the household. And while I am certainly enjoying the comforts of home and the company of friends and loved ones, I find myself nostalgic for life on the trail. It’s as if I lived a completely different life – so much so that it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that it was actually me walking all those miles and having the experiences that I did. Even looking at pictures, while I am able to place myself in many of them, I sometimes find myself questioning, “Where was that? I don’t remember it at all!”
On the flip side, it doesn’t take much to get me talking about the trail. After all, it’s such a microcosm of life that it’s easy to relate nearly any situation to it. Talking about aches and pains? Been there. Physical activity? Done that. Quiet time? Love it! Travel? What better way to see the landscape than to walk through it? Or, what better way to meet people? If that’s your thing. And so much more. My wife jokes that if she had a nickel for every time I mentioned the trail we’d be able to retire already. She’s not wrong! I do my best not to intentionally bring it up, but if someone mentions anything related to the trail, I will happily talk to them as long as they like!
So now, looking back, I thought I’d write down some final thoughts about my experience on the trail and share a few pictures as well. My hope is to touch on a few things that I glossed over or completely omitted in my previous posts. Things that are definitely part of trail life, but are a bit tangential when telling a linear story. There’s no real story to tell here per se, rather consider this a “behind the scenes” look at some of the events chronicled previously.
I debated on whether to include this as it would be easy to sound like I was throwing shade. I’m really not and I certainly don’t mean it that way. But sometimes less than ideal conditions are a reality and there is nothing you can do about it* other than keep walking. Unfortunately I didn’t capture a lot of the tough parts as stopping to take a picture is usually not in the forefront of my mind when slipping, sliding, climbing, crawling, dodging and otherwise not simply walking. Here’s a couple examples of some spots on the trail that caused a bit of “consternation”.
*While on the trail in the moment, this is mostly true. But beyond, one can donate to a local trail group or better yet, spend some time volunteering to maintain a section of trail. The best way to give back!
More Trail Conditions
The PCT is over 2600 miles long. That’s a lot of distance to maintain, with some of it in very remote areas. So when I see some examples of the difficult work that had to be done to allow me to easily pass through, I’m always impressed and grateful. I was also lucky enough to run into a few trail crews in action. It was always nice to be able to say “thank you” to the people who do the hard work to make my hike possible.
I’m generally an independent person who takes pride in accomplishing things on my own. However, it didn’t take long to realize that it would be nearly impossible to complete a journey such as a thru-hike without a lot of help from a lot of people. It was uncomfortable at first, but I learned that it’s okay to ask for help – we all need it from time to time. And it’s okay to accept help when it’s offered. Putting aside one’s pride and accepting another’s kindness is really just an example of how we all live in a community with each other and that we all help each other out when needed. That being said, trail angels take it up a level. From things like providing food, shelter and transportation to maintaining water caches and other things hikers need – all generally at their own expense, trail angels are the ones who facilitate the journey. We sometimes speak casually about it as if we expect it to happen. But the reality is that these people are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and it should never be taken for granted! (Unfortunately, I didn’t think to write down the many names of those who helped me along the way. I now only have pictures…)
On a journey of over two-thousand miles, you’re bound to see a few interesting things. Some natural, some man-made, sometimes a combination of the two. In any case, it can be said that some scenery isn’t always “scenic” but it can definitely make you laugh or just leave you wondering.
There’s nothing glamorous about a thru-hike. Sure there are some amazing Instagram-worthy moments, but they were earned with a lot of hours of hard effort and discomfort. Also, as you might expect, many of the luxuries we enjoy at home are not present on the trail. So we improvise or just deal with it. Here’s some examples of the less than perfect parts:
One of the questions I get asked a lot is: “Did you see any wildlife?” And almost immediately after: “What about bears? Were you afraid?” For me, the answer is: “Yes I saw wildlife. Yes I saw bears. No I wasn’t afraid.” (I tell the bear story in Trail Update No. Six.) For me it was really fun to see some of the wildlife up close – though admittedly, most of the creatures I encountered were quite docile. I might think differently if it was something that could potentially have me for its next meal!
I never expected that this would be one of my favorite things about the trail. I’m a bit of an introvert, so I typically don’t socialize and making friends is rather awkward for me. In fact, I fully expected to spend most of my time alone on the trail. And I guess in a way I did that as I did a lot of my walking alone. But, at camp, water sources, on breaks and definitely in towns, I found myself easily fitting in with groups of people. I was amazed how easy it was to converse with people I had just met. For many, it was as if we had known each other for years and simply just had to meet in person. In retrospect it makes sense: a bunch of like minded individuals who are experiencing the same thing automatically have a lot to talk about. But it’s not just that. I found the people I interacted with to be some of the most kind, generous and accepting people I have ever met. There was no judgment, you could simply be who you are and know that you would fit in.
And thus ends what can easily be considered the greatest journey I have ever been on. While I didn’t technically complete a thru-hike, I think a backpacking trip of over two thousand miles is still pretty dang cool. I met some incredible people, saw sights that brought me to tears and had some fantastic experiences. Did I have any big revelations? I don’t think so. Did I learn anything along the way? Absolutely! A fellow hiker was putting together a project where he was collecting the thoughts of other hikers and sharing them with others who were interested in the trail. One of the questions was: “Have you learned anything while on trail?” This is what I sent him – it still stands today:
5. I’ve learned so much on this journey…!
I’ve learned that when the going gets tough, I’m able to really focus and do what needs to be done. I’ve also learned that my tolerance for tough going is limited and that I need to step away from it periodically.
I’ve learned that it’s ok to ask for help and to accept it when it’s offered.
I’ve learned to accept people for who they are and to look past some of the biases that I didn’t know I had.
I’ve learned that most people are generally very kind, you just need to talk with them.
I’ve learned to talk with people who are “strangers” rather than always keep to myself.
I’ve learned to appreciate everything that I have at home, particularly my loved ones and the people around me.
I’ve learned to let go of control and to trust that things will work out, sometimes way better than planned.
I’ve learned that the country is a very big place, and yet with patience and perseverance that it’s possible to walk across it.
I’ve learned that none of us is in this alone and sometimes it’s better to lean on each other for support.
I’ve learned that I actually miss being home (this one surprised me!)
I’ve learned to appreciate small things, like the comfort of a sleeping bag. Or a pillow.
I’ve also learned to appreciate the small things in nature, like the sunlight shining through hanging moss or watching a small fish in a pond.
I’ve learned how truly little I need to be truly happy.
I’ve learned to be grateful for this opportunity and to cherish each moment that I’m out here.
And I’ll end it there. To those who followed me on this journey, I hope you were able to enjoy living vicariously. To anyone who supported me, I thank you. Your words of encouragement were very much appreciated and sometimes the only thing that kept me going. And finally to my family – particularly my wife – thank you for your unconditional love and support. Without your help, this really wouldn’t have been possible!
And now dear Reader, I hope that you are inspired to go out and have an adventure of your own.
See you down the trail.
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Great article, thanks
Even though I have not set one foot on your tail I can fully relate (except for the bears). I got divorced at the end of 2022 and in September 2023 I hiked the tough Cape Wrath Trail in Scotland. It helped better than any kind of coaching. Meeting people, doing everything by yourself, suffering in bad weather, being completely alone in the wild but also meeting like-minded people, seeing nature in the most beautiful way, feeling great after a long hike.. it’s just what I needed. I lost 8 kg on the track and feel very fit and confident now. The best thing is that I feel happy again and I am sure that hiking played a huge part in my healing. In April 2024 I will start another short hike and I am already looking for more.. America would be great but it’s a little far to do it in sections but if people like you keep writing about it so passionately I might just be there soon 😄
I didn’t follow your hike; just happened upon this post while looking for another. And I’m SO happy I did. You so totally encapsulated a thru-hike! Thanks for articulating it so well!
Best wishes in your journey through life and your next adventure!
Mary, AT, class of 2000
Hi 👋 Thank you for animal pictures! & the list of things you’ve learned! Both really encouraging & lovely! I’ve been backpacking for 30years & I’m always dreaming of a long, long thru hike. Your story & many others, help keep dream alive until boots hit ground for epic adventure of my own! Thank you!!
Thanks for taking the time to blog!
It was great following along and revisiting parts of the trail that I’ve also traversed.
And great to hear your reflections of both the inner and outer highlights.