8 Things I’ve Learned Halfway Thru the PCT
8 Things I’ve Learned Halfway Thru the PCT
1) The trail will not “fix” you.
At some point, many of us have this romanticized idea that we’re going to come out here into the wilderness and experience a series of Thoreau-esque epiphanies about who we are, or what it means to live a good life. What I’ve found is that the trail can be used as a mirror to examine yourself and determine if there is anything you’d like to change. Whether or not you decide to do anything about this is entirely on you. The miles won’t do it. The people you meet won’t do it. The sunset won’t doesn’t give a good goddamn about your personal growth. You think you need a sunny day? Have fun in the rain, buddy. You alone need to do the work in order to change whatever you believe needs changing within yourself—and even then, you probably won’t be done at the Northern Terminus. The trail is a teacher, not a doctor.
2) Nobody gives a shit about your base weight.
Before the trail, I was a little nervous about coming across “ultralight purists” who were going to shame me about carrying paper books, or Crocs, or whatever stories you might hear about in blogs or on YouTube. Sure, we all talk about what’s in our pack, but everyone I meet admits to carrying something a little extra. My rule of thumb is: if you can carry it, it’s not too heavy. If you are one of those purists who shame other people about weight: Congratulations! You suck! To those with a million luxury items: Bouge it up, baby! This is your hike!
3) Talking about backpacking on the trail is boring as hell.
Sometime in the Sierra it became apparent that talking about gear and miles was the equivalent of asking your coworkers what they did over the weekend. No one wants to talk about gear, or miles, or weight, or anything like that (I swear to god, if one more person asks me about my tent…). Sure, we’ll talk about food from sunup to sunrise, but after hiking over 1300 miles, most people I’ve met are ready to go below the surface. We’ll give a little leeway to “townies” about what kind of tent we’re carrying, or if we like our Altras, but among hikers it’s surface level small talk and we’re all sick of it. We want to know who we’ve been hiking with for the last X amount of days. What do they love? What do they believe in? How are they feeling? One of the best conversations I’ve had was about our favorite cartoon characters as kids. We’re all just kids out here. Have you ever met a kid who doesn’t cut right to the chase about whatever’s on their minds? Didn’t think so!
4) I’m 100% sure I will have more questions than answers at the end of this trip (spoiler: I already do).
I’ve given up on trying to figure out who I really am, or what my “purpose” is, or what I’m “meant” to do with my life. I’m much happier asking questions like, “Who are my favorite people?” and “What brings me joy?” and “Do I have enough time to make it thru this ridge before diarrhea erupts out of me like an angry volcano?” My point is, answers may or may not come, but it’s important to keep asking questions if you want to find any answers at all. It’s important to be at peace with the uncertainty of everything, or else you’ll drive yourself nuts. There is nothing certain about a thru hike and, in my opinion, every day hike is a thru hike. Dig?
5) People are still people.
Most people you meet on a long trail are amazing: hikers, townies, trail angels. Most people are kind, loving, funny, patient, friendly, and willing to include you in any activity. Aaaaaand some people refuse to say hi to you when you pass them multiple times throughout the Sierra. Some people look down on first time distance hikers because they haven’t completed a thru hike yet. Some tramilies are cliques. Some people are clingy. Some are distant. We are all human beings out here and not a single one of us is perfect. Yes, there is a certain level of kindness and joy out here that one tends to have a harder time finding in the “real world,” but there are still some a-holes out here, too, and, yes, even the good ones are sometimes a-holes—myself included.
6) 90% of thru hiking sucks ass.
Sorry, but it’s true. You hear it all the time: Darwin’s said it, Dixie’s said it, Starburst and Second Chance have said it (these are all well known YouTubers, by the way, and they all have wonderful videos about their PCT trips). Thru hiking is mostly terrible. It’s usually too hot or too cold. Something almost always hurts or is at least uncomfortable. You’re hungry all the time and usually sick of all the food you have to eat. Birds wake you up at stupid hours. Climbs are endless, descents are relentless, and elevation can make or break you. The crazy thing is, when you get to those 10% moments, it puts everything into perspective and, in a weird way, you start to look forward to the 90% because you know the 10% is coming—you just don’t know when. That being said, it’s totally within reason to make the most of the 90%. To “embrace the suck,” as Darwin says. In fact, if you aren’t able to embrace the suck, there’s a good chance you won’t finish the hike. You need to adapt out here. Period.
7) There really is nothing else I would rather be doing with my time right now, and there is so much more to learn.
So far, after three months of hiking and living like a bum, I can say with certainty that this has been one of the most important experiences of my life. I’ve met amazing friends, learned a lot about myself, hiked crazy distances, and have watched everyone around me grow as people. With less than half the trail to go, I’m starting to realize that the journey is really just beginning, and that everything before was just a warmup. We all have a much better sense of what we’re doing out here and that means the second half is going to fly by. This is both exciting and sad because it does have to end eventually. For me, the trail has been one long exercise in letting go, both of people and experiences, and sooner or later you have to let go in order to move forward. I am extremely impressed with everyone who has made it to this point and I am rooting for every single one of these people (yes, even the a-holes) to make it to Canda—or as far as they need to go to get the fullest experience possible. The trail provides. You just need to have faith; and of course: never quit on a bad day.
8) You should ignore everything I just said.
None of this is meant to be taken as advice or to provide an objective view of what a thru hike is or isn’t, should or shouldn’t be. This is only my experience and my experience of talking to people I have met so far. Everything above is meant to be challenged and taken with a grain of salt. Your experience of a thru hike might be vastly different than mine—and in some ways I hope it is! Maybe you meet zero a-holes. Maybe it’s 90% awesome, 10% suck. Maybe you do care about your base weight and maybe you will find out exactly who you are. Most of those who create any kind of content in the hiking community are just trying to portray their own experience. I’ve come across very few blogs, vlogs, memoirs, and other hikers who say, “This is the way to do it.” And those who are absolute? I tend to not listen to those people, because there is no right way. There is only the way that gets you thru. In other words, hike your own hike.
Except for the diarrhea part.
I promise you you will experience it at some point.
“Swallow it down,
what a jagged little pill.”
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.