How a 9-5 Job Led Me to a Thru-Hike of the PCT

As I’m preparing for my thru-hike of the PCT this summer I’m getting all the usual questions. Are you going alone? How long does that take? What about your job? Aren’t you scared? But what about going to the bathroom? What do you eat?

These questions are easy because they’re practical. I’ve either extensively researched or inherently know most of the answers. The harder question (always from people who are deeply invested) inevitably follows. Why?

The Answers

There’s not one easy answer. It’s a combination of factors that have been building throughout my entire life and have come to a culmination over the last year. Basically up until I got my first full-time job I’d been in the process of working toward some elaborate, long-term goal. From graduating high school to actually landing that first full-time job, I’d never really been in a period of time when it was unclear what I was working toward. I kept myself satisfied for a little while—working toward a promotion, fitness-related goals, or even starting my own writing—but I still felt unsatisfied. When I woke up to make my commute, go to my office, and do the same thing I did yesterday all over again, I found myself repeatedly asking: Is this really all there is? Is this what I’ve been working toward my entire life? I looked at my boss and my boss’s boss and asked myself: Is this what I’m working for? Is this really want I want to spend my next 20 years becoming?

I got really discouraged and entered a pretty deep depressive episode (thanks a lot, inconsistent brain chemicals). It was a depressive episode unlike any other I’d experienced before, which made it hard to recognize. I wasn’t extremely sad or sensitive—I was overwhelmingly numb. Nothing sounded fun, nothing seemed worth doing. I couldn’t put any time or energy into anything and it made me feel helpless, and worse, worthless. I remember talking to a close friend expressing how I was feeling and he asked if I’d be interested in a spontaneous backpacking trip through Europe (a lifelong dream of mine) and I just remember thinking about how absolutely exhausting it sounded.

Somewhere in the middle of it all I realized that I desperately needed to take back control of my life. It was well overdue time to try to turn off autopilot. Everything still sounded pretty unexciting and useless, but I’d felt excited before, and I knew I could get there again. I needed a goal. I needed something to prove to myself that I was still capable of conquering my dreams, no matter how damn tired I was. That’s when the idea of the PCT, something planted in my brain by a lifelong best friend many years ago, crept back in. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop. I went to the doctor and started on SSRIs. I started planning. I started realizing that this crazy, once in a lifetime adventure—this abnormal lifestyle free of a 9-5—was startlingly possible for me.

I let go of a lot of things as I began to realize the PCT was something I really wanted. Leaving my job was a terrifying thought. What if I get back and I can’t find another one? What if this is the best job I’ll ever have and I’m giving up a rewarding, lifelong career? But I knew those thoughts were invasive and really just excuses because of how seriously scared I was (and still am). But even just planning for this hike has infused me with new life. I get excited every time I research and purchase new gear. I force myself outside to train and I’m happy about it. Heck, I find myself (on basis more regular than I’m willing to admit) crying at former thru-hikers’ Instagram posts (shout-out to Heaps).

Yes, making the decision to leave your normal life, a comfortable and secure 9-5 salaried job, is fucking terrifying. But I sure as hell know it’ll be worth it.

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Comments 2

  • Alex : Feb 22nd

    Nice post!

  • Michael Carnell : Feb 23rd

    I think you hit the nail on the head for a lot of folks these days. I am decades older than you, but in the same spot. Is this all there is? Is this what I am working for? Am I putting in these days and years just to get more of this? A goal like the PCT, CDT or AT can provide meaning to all the other areas of your life. It can give you a reason. And the great thing is, there are plenty of trail out there to shoot for. Concrete goals with endless possibilities.


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