Advice to the PCT Class of 2019: Don’t Worry
Ladies and gentlemen of the PCT Class of 2019:
If I could offer you only one piece of advice for the PCT, not worrying would be it. The benefits of not worrying have been echoed by previous year’s PCT hikers, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own experience meandering.
I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the beauty and freedom of the trail, but never mind. You will not fully understand the beauty and freedom of the trail until you’re back in society. But trust me, in less than a month after you return home, you’ll look back at photos of the trail and realize in a way that you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how incredible an experience it really was.
You are not as unprepared as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the conditions report. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as hiking into the Sierra and trying to melt the snow yourself with a portable hair dryer. The real troubles on the PCT are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, such as how to be certain your water filter still works after an unexpected freeze, or how to get the smell out of your sleeping bag when your garbage bag full of old tuna packages breaks inside your pack.
Do one journal entry every day, no matter how tired you are. It can be three sentences or a miniature novel. Write something down, even if it’s the number of blisters on your feet that day. Believe me, the PCT is too enormous to remember and it’s something you’ll want to revisit once it’s done.
Sing. Even if people are around.
Don’t envy the hiker couples. Don’t gossip about trail hook-ups and don’t feel bad if you’re lonely. The right hiker may come along to warm your tent, or you may spend all trail learning to be enough for yourself.
Brush and floss. Some rules of hygiene still apply.
Don’t compete with other hiker’s mileage, especially at the start. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. You’re hiking your own hike, it’s a marathon, not a race, and no one ever crossed the finish line by injuring their knee at mile 11.
Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a mental health day or you need to hike alone, but don’t give up during hard times. Burnout is temporary. If you leave the trail, it’s permanent.
Spend time with your new trail friends, but limit your town time. Hotel rooms and bars are nice, but once your budget is gone, so are you.
Hike at least one night hike. Look for the galaxies above and look out for the rocks below.
Maybe you’ll flip-flop, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll end your day at 2 p.m. as the snow starts to rot, maybe you’ll road walk the fire detours for half a state. Maybe you’ll photograph yourself at the Northern Terminus in the first October snow, maybe you’ll hit the Canadian border in August and return to the Sierra.
There is “True to the Thru” and there is finishing your hike. Choose the one that best suits you and never let anyone tell you different. The trail is only what you make of it, just like everyone else.
Prepare yourself as best you can, and know that you’ll have half a year to figure out the rest with plenty of help along the way. Be excited. You are embarking on the journey of a lifetime. You are stronger than you know, and may be stronger than you imagine.
And of course, like the advice this is parodying, wear sunscreen 😉
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Great advice for anyone, anywhere.