A Dream Deferred

The dream was born in the fall of 2008. It was a year after Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn, came out on DVD. We were still renting movies via the mail through Netflix in those days. My roommate and I settled in for a lazy night of watching films we had missed, which is something we often did in those days when money was a little tight.

After escaping Atlanta, we see Alexander Supertramp in Northern California running along a downed tree on the Pacific Crest Trail. At that moment in time in the comfort of my living room, this twentysomething kid from Oklahoma didn’t know anything about the PCT. I just knew I was hungry for adventure and I needed something more than an 8 to 5 job to feed my appetite.

In the days that followed our viewing of the film, we began making plans for what we were calling the “Epic Journey.” Our adventure would consist of hitting the open road, backpacking through the Smoky Mountains, sightseeing around Washington, D.C., and finally getting ourselves lost under the bright lights of New York. For months, we prepared, planned, and saved. Then, our journey came and went. With it, I was supposed to return to my normal life. Life demanded I find satisfaction in the expected. Life screamed that my two weeks of vacation a year be enough. It wasn’t. Not even close. That trip taught me to reject the tyranny of the expected.

In January 2011, still yearning for something more, I packed up all my belongings and moved to Seattle, Washington. There were no friends or job waiting for me in my new home, but there was an opportunity to connect more deeply with myself and surroundings. For six years, I hiked the trails of Washington state and fell deeply in love with the great outdoors. There, I rediscovered the Pacific Crest Trail and got really close to making my dream a reality until life got in the way.

Toward the end of the summer of 2017, my partner and I moved to Los Angeles. We both needed a change and I needed to find myself in an uncomfortable situation once again. Within months of arriving in LA, a friend of mine and I began to seriously consider attempting a thru-hike of the PCT in 2020. After some serious thought, we decided to pour our hearts and souls into the endeavor. Over the next two years, we researched, saved, hiked hundreds of miles, and planned. In the midst of a job that was less than emotionally satisfying, the thought of hiking 2,650 miles is all that kept me going.

With each passing week, we got closer to our goal. The trail had become a consuming thought. Every interaction, every conversation, every choice I made during my last year in Los Angeles was about hiking the PCT. As I packed up my apartment, said goodbye to friends, and finished work focused on the homelessness crisis, I felt an immense sense of pride wash over me. Soon, I would be standing at the Southern Terminus of the trail with Mexico behind me and a whole world of possibility before me.

On March 13, we arrived. As I pulled my pack from the trunk of my friend’s Honda Civic and saw the concrete statue marking the beginning of this journey before me, I cried. For the first time in a long while, I was proud of myself. For 12 years, I had dreamed of this moment, and now it was real. I could see it before me, smell it in the air, and feel it beneath my feet.

Over the next four days, we moved slower than I expected, but I didn’t mind. We were taking it easy. Closing in on Mount Laguna, I knew we were building strength and routines that would help us crush big miles in the future. Arriving in Mount Laguna, we chose to take our first zero to wait out a passing snow/rainstorm. As we checked into our room, the reality of what was occurring in the outside world came crashing down all around us. COVID-19 was everywhere. There were rumors of the trail closing, parks shuttering, campgrounds being closed, small mountain towns requesting outsiders not visit, and resupplies being hard to find. At first, we treated these as rumors and nothing more. Like most people, we thought a thru-hike in the woods would be the safest place to be in such uncertain times. Then reality became apparent. Unknowingly, we could be carriers of the virus, spreading it to small mountain towns up and down the West Coast, towns with significant elderly populations and a serious lack of medical resources. As badly as I wanted to be selfish in this moment, I thought of men and women like my dad; people with underlying health conditions where something like COVID-19 could be the fatal nail in the coffin. I couldn’t do that to a family, no matter how badly I wanted to hike.

On March 19, my hiking partner and I made one of the most difficult decisions of our lives. We chose to walk away from a dream and into a world of the unknown. Before us would be joblessness, homelessness, social isolation, and distancing. Yet, we left with the hopes of being able to come back later this year to continue our journey or a plan to conquer this trail in 2021. At this moment, these feelings of hope are all I have, and they have to be enough.

I don’t know what will happen over the next few months. I am no epidemiologist. I am an eternal pragmatist. I trust people to do the right thing, listen to the scientific community, and follow the orders of public officials. Selfishly, I want this to be the case. I was only offered a small taste of the Pacific Crest Trail, but in those four days, I found myself hooked. I felt at ease and at peace. I felt a community beginning to take shape. I was being tested beyond my wildest expectations. I could feel my creative mind wondering to some exciting places. I want all those moments, people, and places back as soon as possible. So please, shelter in place, wash your hands, maintain your distance, and think of others. If we can all do that, the sooner this thing can be over and the sooner I can get back on the trail.

Be good to each other,

Nathan

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Comments 4

  • Allison Gonzalez : Mar 26th

    Nathan,

    I feel so bad for you yet I feel you did the right thing. I started my first thru-hike March 13 as well. We made it 8 days on the AZT and decided to go home. The AZT will still be there and I’ll prob section hike it as soon as I can.

    Will you get back to the PCT?

    ~Allie

    Reply
    • Nathan Box : Mar 27th

      I am sorry to hear about your hike! I hope you can get back out there as soon as possible.

      If it opens again this year, I will get out there as soon as possible. If not, I am going to hike SOBO in 2021.

      Reply
  • M-E : Mar 30th

    OMGGG my exact thoughts…

    (…)made one of the most difficult decisions of our lives. We chose to walk away from a dream and into a world of the unknown. Before us would be joblessness, homelessness, social isolation, and distancing. Yet, we left with the hopes of being able to come back later this year to continue our journey or a plan to conquer this trail in 2021. At this moment, these feelings of hope are all I have, and they have to be enough.
    (..)So please, shelter in place, wash your hands, maintain your distance, and think of others. If we can all do that, the sooner this thing can be over and the sooner I can get back on the trail.

    Hope or grief, my heart is a mess right now. Thanks for sharing your feelings, they helped.

    Reply
    • Nathan Box : Mar 30th

      Thanks for reading. Take care of yourself..

      Reply

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