A Backpack and a Dream: How the PCT Chose Me
I’m taking a detour from the path that I’ve been on for the past few years. It’s not that I was heading in the wrong direction, but I find greater fulfillment in taking the unconventional route. From my perspective, in life, the narrative outweighs the destination. At this point in time, I have other aspirations to pursue and I’m seeking a personal journey that feels larger than life.
As a result, I’ll be attempting to thru-hike northbound (NOBO) on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) this year. The PCT is a national scenic trail that extends from Mexico to Canada, covering approximately 2,650 miles with a total elevation change of 420,880 feet. On average it takes five months, a bit of luck, and a great deal of resilience in order to finish. Sounds awesome, right? Maybe yes, maybe no, or maybe you’re trying to figure out the motive.
The PCT has been on my mind since the summer of 2011, when I ran on a portion of it with my cross-country team in Big Bear, California. Once I understood what the PCT signified, a wave of fascination rapidly consumed my mind. Over the years, my heart has always held a place for the PCT following that experience. In retrospect, when I look back on that day in 2011, I didn’t choose the PCT, but the PCT chose me.
With Clarity Comes Vision
I’ve been considering options for my future that revolve around travel and new experiences. These desires have always existed, but I didn’t embrace them until now. For so long my plan was to finish my undergraduate degree before taking a gap year to prepare for graduate school. I fulfilled all that was required of me in order to apply, but once that day arrived, I wasn’t excited. I felt deflated, confused, and directionless. Midway through those applications, I closed my laptop, went for a run, and these were my thoughts:
If I were to start a graduate program right now, my desires for travel and exploration would continue to linger in the shadows of my mind. I can’t anchor myself and be left wondering “what if” every time I look out the window of a classroom or java shop. It wouldn’t be fair to me, the program, or the other students competing for that same seat. Simply put, I can’t do something if my heart isn’t fully in it. I don’t want to look back and regret not capitalizing on this period of my life. With that being said, the PCT is an opportunity worth taking a chance on. I’m committing and I’ll see where it takes me. This decision is accompanied by some risks, but they’re worth taking in exchange for what I’m pursuing.
Why Do I Want to Hike the PCT?
2011: You know the story.
Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed: This has been a dream of mine for years. As cliche as it is, we have one shot at life. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee, and you best believe I’m maximizing the time that I have.
Discomfort: This trail will test me in ways that I can’t comprehend. It won’t always be comfortable out there and I know that I’ll have to dig deeper within myself than ever before. It’s time to see what I’m made of.
Memories and growth: If I stay the course, this is going to be an experience that I’ll cherish forever. The opportunity for growth feels limitless because of the many challenges that the PCT presents.
To become a part of a unique community: For those who have done a thru-hike, they always talk about the people they met on trail. This is a community that I want to be a part of because there’s nothing else like it. The narratives are intriguing, and the authenticity within the trail community is unrivaled.
It won’t always be realistic: My dreams and desires are constantly evolving and who I am today is far different than who I was five years ago. With that understanding, I recognize that the time will come when my responsibilities and aspirations will shift in favor of things beyond the PCT. Especially when I have a family one day.
Turning the page: It’s time to figure out what I want to do in the next chapter of my life. In order to make that happen, I need to develop a deeper understanding of myself. The PCT will offer me that opportunity.
Perspective: There are lessons to be learned that only the trail can teach. My overall perspective on life will improve and my appreciation for the little things will go far deeper because of this experience.
The big picture: Ultimately, the PCT will leave me a better man, son, brother, cousin, partner, friend, and community member that’ll be sustainable for the long haul. That in itself is worth everything.
When I think about the trail, it’s equally as exciting as it is frightening. There will be harsh lessons along the way, but all I can do is keep moving forward. This decision has also been accompanied by a wide range of opinions. Some people have expressed mutual excitement for the journey, and others don’t see the purpose. Regardless, I can honestly say that I’m not bothered either way.
Because I understand myself more than anyone else. It seems simple, but it’s difficult to balance the internal feelings with the opinions of those around you. Although what I feel doesn’t always lead me in the right direction, it has led to more good than bad and I’ll take that over pondering “what if” every time. It’s important to believe in what you’re doing so much that everything else outside of your goal doesn’t matter. Everyone has an internal compass and we owe it to ourselves to follow it.
Moving forward I’ll provide some updates on my preparation and gear before I get on the trail. I am excited, nervous, and feel blessed to have this opportunity. My goal is to soak it all up and somehow accurately depict it for you all. I appreciate the support and hope that this will inspire somebody else to chase a dream that they perceive to be worthwhile.
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