Pre-PCT Stuff, Like: Hello! (Part One)

A Circuitous Route

Like so many aspiring thru-hikers, my Trajectory-to-T-minus-ten-days-to-Trail-Time has been neither smooth nor short. My original long-distance hiking wish, formed circa early 2017, was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail; spring 2018 would be the earliest I could head out. Yet a combination of professional boredom and extreme impatience led me to quit my teaching job at the end of the school year and to head to Katahdin for a southbound hike of the Appalachian Trail. I hiked it. I liked it. I wrote about it on this very site should you care to peruse the dirty details.

When I finished the Appalachian Trail, I embodied the cliché of the post-hike “ruined” individual: I perennially posted “take me baaaaaack” pics of my MacAffee money shots, researched other hikes ad nauseam,  frantically texted friends from the A.T. (which, for the record, still happens on a daily basis), briefly debated #vanlife, lol. Hiking the PCT seemed imperative, the natural progression of my newfound path.

It also seemed unattainable. I tried and failed to get a permit. I got a permit and rescinded it due to lack of funds. I got another permit and relinquished it for the preservation of romance. 

At a certain point, I decided West Coast wandering was not for me. Too popular! So basic! Wild! Culty tramilies! Who needs sweeping views and graded trails? I wanna work for my vistas. Who needs to pare down their possessions for half a year? Minimalism is hipster clickbait on Instagram Shopping at this point. Additionally, while hiking had been newer to me, traveling and seasonal work had not. I didn’t need to hike a scenic trail in America to live deliberately and simply, with newness and excitement every day. I’d forge my own path, permits be damned! 

In retrospect, my “Decided the PCT Wasn’t For Me” manifested less as an amicable parting with an idea than it did as a scorned-lover-ranting-to-friends-after-four-mimosas type of internal hysteria. I don’t need them! I’m thriving! Serio-HICCUP-ously! These prescribed paths were barely an adventure anyway! Seriously! On a long-distance hiking trail you’re wearing the same outfit as everyone else, carrying the same gear culled from the same few websites, heading towards a clearly defined destination, and you know where you are 99.9% of the time. Adventure, my ass! Hmmph!

I don’t wish to portray my existence as mundane or unpleasant; I am a privileged person who benefits from every existing societal structure and who’s generally content, if not inspired. I’m really just talking about the post-trail malaise that comes after any major accomplishment, compounded by the fact that I kept hiking (shorter) trails and having to return and restart life on a smaller scale.

And Then, COVID

When the world shut down in March of 2020, I and my former boyfriend were around Mile 307 of the Camino del Norte in the Spanish city of Gijón. Over a confusing week-long period, exacerbated by contradictory directives from the powers that be in our country of origin, we tried to figure out what the coronavirus was, what the rules were, if we’d be able to get home. We eventually made it back to JFK, took a pre-mask Uber (crazy!) back to our apartment, and didn’t leave for a very long time.

Indeed, during the pandemic in the outskirts of NYC, our world shrank. Being in the suburbs as opposed to the city, I was shielded from the pop-up morgues, the blocks on blocks of shuttered storefronts, the aura of death and rage. But there was a sense of time stopping, a shrinking of one’s daily existence, a constant undercurrent of fear and dread as the death toll continued rising, the government spiraled out of control, and a non-COVID future seemed unimaginable. As one of those kooky individuals who decided to Stay Home, I watched – with a mix of abject horror and outright jealousy – as people shunned global guidance and headed out on adventures. When loss and sadness permeate daily existence, leaving to gallivant in a different state or country, particularly with ambiguous and stressful travel restrictions, seemed petty and pointless. My family would be worried sick, I could infect someone, I myself could end up ill.

I bartended through the lunacy, gritting teeth behind double masks as I navigated a moneyed clientele who feigned care and awareness of the global health crisis yet seemed to think that having the funds to pay for $22 cocktails exempted them from following COVID protocols and being kind to tipped employees. It was as degrading and challenging as every article and video throughout the last two years has described, if not more so.

Health, family, safety, stability – these became my new goals. I’d spent my 20s and early 30s seeing the world; I’d had my time. In the throes of the pandemic I saw my existence in New York as a non-mutable set of circumstances. I resigned myself to a lifetime of Netflix and chill, of writing essays that no one would read, of short walks in local parks, of a few square miles of existence. I’d be content, right? This could be a life, right?

And Yet!

While COVID has not yet come to an end, I will say that with my triple shot of Pfizer, the waning restrictions, and a decrease in cases, I felt invincible and free. My desire for square-mile subsistence waned rapidly; my need to be Anywhere But Here exploded; my search history shifted from “Croissant Recipes” and “Nectar Mattress” to “hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.”

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