7 Lessons from 700 Miles

As I prepare to head to the Sierra, the desert already seems distant.

The first and longest section of the PCT was not the terrain I most looked forward to (what can I say? I like trees) but it was the training ground I needed for the mountains ahead. The desert is harsh and hot, but the large trail community, frequent town stops, and generosity of the trail angels make it much more forgiving. While I’ve joked that I don’t think the trail will change me, I’ve learned and re-learned a lot. So, in no particular order, here are seven lessons from the desert:

# 1 It only takes a five-minute break to make the next few miles immeasurably better. 

I’m the kind of person who will just keep walking through misery, determined to get to camp. But elevating my feet and taking in the view makes those next steps more enjoyable, maybe even fun again, and is highly recommended by physical therapists and experienced hikers everywhere. 

# 2 I prefer to get my miles in during the morning.

 The satisfaction of 10 miles before 10 AM is enough to power me through the hottest, hardest days. I don’t do this often but will certainly make it a habit after the Sierra. That being said, I’m getting a lot more comfortable just taking the day as it happens and not being too rigid with my routine. 

# 3 The desert has a lot of cell service. 

You’re never very far from town, and therefore never far from home. On a short trip I love leaving my phone off, but, on the PCT, sharing my hike with my partner, friends, and family has helped keep me grounded and motivated. These are the relationships I’m returning home to, and the people I want to understand my experience, so it’s well worth it to me to check in often from trail. 

# 4 Thirst will always be stronger than hunger. 

This one may be obvious to people from hot climates, but the satisfaction of a cold drink is better than any town food. My tramily makes lists of all the drinks well down in town as soon as we hit the trail again. 

# 5 Coordinating visits is hard. 

I told a lot of people they could visit me, and have felt so much guilt backing out of those commitments as I realize I can’t predict my schedule or decide to prioritize keeping pace with my tramily. I’d recommend saying no more often, or setting boundaries to visits: just food in town, this section if it works, a little bit of time to hike slower. I’ve been lucky to see my cousin in town, and I’m so excited to see my family and hike a section with my partner. However, they’ve all had to wait until the last minute to book travel, and it’s been tons of communication and guesstimation. Everyone else I’ve talked to, I’m just hoping it’ll neatly line up somehow, but I can’t change my hike, and I shouldn’t pretend otherwise. I’m working on being more upfront about this. 

# 6 Thru Hiking is not a solo accomplishment 

I wrote about this earlier, but there’s no need to try and hike the PCT without help. I’d say such an attitude is dishonest and negates all the support of the trail community. Between hikers looking after one another, rides to town, special accommodations at hiker-friendly businesses, and water caches supplied by trail angels, not to mention all the random acts of kindness and generosity, there’s no denying how much goes into supporting each hiker. This selfish adventure has made me appreciate community even more deeply. 

# 7 Just because it’s hard, sucks, or is scary doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. 

Tendons, as I’ve learned, heal stronger when you use them. A hard day doesn’t predict the rest of the hike, or even tomorrow. Some days are boring, hot and all uphill. And the next day I’ll feel like I’m floating down the trail, grateful that it’s fun again. When you’re sitting on an anthill under the only shade for miles wondering what the hell you’re doing, it’s best to follow my tramily member Tank’s advice: “ants just are” and settle into the sweet relief of shade. 

Now, it’s time to wrestle my bear can into my bag, down some coffee, and see what the Sierra has to teach me. 

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