Acceptance and Rearranging Expectations
I’ve been seated next to some interesting folks over countless miles across the skies, but my absolute favorite to date was next to a cargo pilot from California, let’s call him Bob. I took one look at him and just knew he was a talker. Before the plane even departed, we immediately bonded over our love of shitty red airline wine and made a pact with the flight attendant to keep the good stuff flowing.
Bob, a former passenger pilot who switched to cargo when he quickly realized boxes don’t complain, felt more like an old friend than a stranger I met ten minutes ago (shitty airplane wine has magical powers). I heard all about his lovely wife and two children, the oldest with autism, their family vacations, the non-profit arts and crafts shop he and his wife hold in their garage for autistic children. I learned about his love of surfing and how he takes as many friends as he can fit into his private plane and lands on remote islands, chasing the big waves. How they load up dune buggies and tear across Death Valley, spending nights camped out in the desert. I probably saw over 100 family photos on his iPad as he hopped from adventure to adventure, revealing a life made of dreams.
At some point the conversation turned to the Appalachian Trail of my past and the Pacific Crest Trail of my future. Bob heard a little about my journey, asked a few questions, and excitedly concluded:
“Oh, so you’re a prepper.”
“I’m a-what now?”
And that’s when I met my first real life Prepper. Bob has a few RVs hidden all over the country, stockpiled with the ten essentials, some questionable essentials and some definite nonessentials. He’s also a part of several groups located all over the country. So for example, if he finds himself in New York if/when whatever he is preparing for actually occurs, he’s got a New York group to take him in until he can make it to home base. What is he prepping for exactly? Doomsday? A government overthrow? Aliens? I didn’t ask, I didn’t care, I was just thrilled at the unexpected turn our conversation had taken. Fascinated and a bit terrified my eyes would give my inner thoughts away, I immediately asked if I could be a part of his group. He gave me his card.
Don’t worry, I haven’t actually contacted him…yet. But it’s interesting how he connected his life, preparing for the end, for civil unrest, for something bad, with my life on the trail, preparing for the beginning of something great, an adventure by choice, one I make happen.
As a long distance hiker, I prepare myself the best I can, do the proper research, get the proper gear, but you simply can’t prepare yourself for everything that crosses your path walking over 2,650 miles through every single (save one) ecosystem North America has to offer. Shoot, you can’t even prepare yourself for the things that happen before you take your first step on the trail.
I mean, just a few weeks ago, my better hiking half Emily and I were giddy over the approach of Day 1 just over the horizon, but now due to unforeseen health concerns, I may or may not be walking toward Canada alone. How do you prepare yourself for losing your adventure buddy, cribbage rival, personal motivator, logical voice of reason, wine-guzzling, Bachelor-watching, partner-in-crime? You can’t. You just sort of have to accept reality and rearrange expectations.
Was I prepared for a solo hike? No. Can I do a solo hike? Yes. Reality accepted, expectations rearranged.
Obviously it’s not that simple, and I am still accepting and rearranging, but that’s sort of what thru-hiking is all about. Encountering challenge upon challenge and figuring out how to successfully move on, move forward, reach your goal (but not the end, I’ve learned there is no end in thru-hiking, just a lot of new beginnings), even if you can’t do it the way you imagined.
This year, I expect to do a lot of accepting and rearranging. The Sierras currently have 164% average snowpack or something insane like that. I’ve read several articles that mention hiking the PCT this year will be closer to mountaineering than hiking. I picture deep snow on the mountain passes, rushing rivers I will have to ford as all that snow melts, the cold, the wet, the endless postholing, slipping, cautious stepping, questioning my sanity, ability, and strength. I may be forced to turn around, walk miles upstream to find a safe place to cross, spend hours covering one mile. I may get injured, run out of food or water, lose the trail, lose my footing, lose my mind.
And I quite literally cannot wait.
Am I fully prepared for everything that can happen out there? Nah, I can’t predict the future. Who knows how these next five months will play out. But I believe with an open mind, some acceptance and rearranging, everything will work out just fine. Also, we’ll define “fine” at a later date.
On another note, I do now have a rooftop tent on my truck and I am road-tripping to Campo with a man who lives in a converted Sprinter Van. I may be more of a prepper than I thought.
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