Buckling Down, Staying NOBO, as Others Leave

Somewhere around South Lake Tahoe, it seemed most of my friends were suddenly getting off trail. The vibe of the trail is changing daily, and I’m starting to realize I’m pretty dedicated to this thing. I wrote the following in my tent after hiking out of Burney, CA.

Tahoe as a Turning Point

South Lake Tahoe sits near mile 1,000 on the PCT; it’s one of the biggest cities on trail so far, and a lot of people celebrate the end of the Sierra there. When I got to town, I met up with Tiny, Smurf, and Smiles, who I’d hiked with from Tuolumne Meadows to Bridgeport. Tribute got to town the next day! She’s a trailsister from the early days on trail; I’d hiked with her, her mom, Fireball, and our friend Too Far, from Idyllwild to Big Bear. I was excited to find old friends after hiking solo for a bit, and I started asking them about people we knew, wondering how and where everyone was.

Reuniting with Tribute in South Lake Tahoe.

Most of the news was disheartening. It was rumblings about people leaving, or considering leaving, or worrying about pace, or not having fun, or wanting to adapt their leftover budget to a new trip. Initially, I was stunned. We’d just hiked a thousand miles, and we weren’t even halfway done. I realized that I was starting to feel galvanized by that idea, but lots of other people felt lots of other ways. In one night, I got word that five friends were done and leaving, only one of which I got to say goodbye to.

Realizing I Might Just Do It

Everything got weird. I’d read that typically no more than 20 percent of people who start the PCT finish, but I hadn’t realized the gravity of that yet. If I want to finish, that means at least 80 percent of my friends won’t. I spent the first thousand miles just trying not to get hurt, trying to figure out how thru-hiking works, trying to get good at this. I never gave much thought to who would make it all the way, or which of my friends would leave. I’m only now beginning to imagine myself at the terminus, to acknowledge how desperately I want to finish this thing.

Our group from Scout and Frodo’s, getting ready to leave the Southern Terminus on April 4. Statistically, only five of these people will finish the trail. I’ve lost track of a few, but last I heard, there were six to eight of us left.

I lost more friends in Chester, the PCT halfway point. And even more people are hitch hiking around sections of trail and contemplating side trips to avoid the smoke in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Hat Creek Rim is reportedly the longest dry stretch in Northern California, and the sole water cache there cannot be refilled because the truck that fills it is off fighting fires. I knew lots of people who skipped that section, and I only saw a few hikers out there.

Empowering Each Other

My PCT experience is morphing from a tramily atmosphere, where I just wanted to catch my friends, into an intensive exercise in individual decision making. Respecting each other is paramount. Everyone is having to make daily decisions that drastically change their hikes. The people I met a week ago are hitching to the coast to check out the Lost Coast Trail. Others are skipping up to Seiad Valley or Ashland or Crater Lake. I’ll be headed north on the PCT until the smoke stops me, with no way of knowing if, when, or where that may be. There are plenty of others with the same plan as me, but all of us know our plans may be different by tomorrow. So for now, we’re meeting new people each day, encouraging and supporting each other’s decisions, doing a lot of math, and poring over maps. For now, I’m staying the course and keeping the faith.

When the trail is this smoky, you can’t blame anyone for skipping northward.

An Update

I’m still northbound! There are days I feel pretty far behind because so many people have skipped northward. I hiked my first 30- mile day a couple of weeks ago, and didn’t see another human all day. A few people are still trickling home, but the exodus seems to be over. The trail vibe is still changing, people seem to be buckling down and getting more serious. I meet new people who ask me under their breath, “So, are you in it?” I feel a little more resolved every time I whisper, “Hell yeah.” The longer I’m out here and the harder the hike gets, the more dedicated I feel. I am mentally, emotionally, and physically invested in the PCT. This shit is important to me, and I’m in it for the long haul. I know I may have to skip more miles eventually, either because of fire closures or pacing issues. But until that happens, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. Happy trails, y’all.

Hiking solo means silly selfies. This is the 1,500-mile marker, near Dunsmuir and Mount Shasta, CA.

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Comments 2

  • Karen : Aug 20th

    Hi Katie! So glad to hear you are still out on the trail. I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your posts. We started together. I’m standing to the right of the monument with the pink hat on in the photo above (Karen). Three weeks into my hike, near Big Bear, I suffered a stress fracture in my left foot and had to come home to Kent, WA to recoup. Kevin made it to the Sierras but had to leave near Mt. Whitney due to intestinal issues. We tried to get back out there again on August 1st but both Kevin and I had another injury that took us off trail a second time. I miss the trail, the hikers we met and the support community that surrounds it. I’ve been following your posts and am hiking the trail vicariously through you and other hikers still out there. I admire your tenacity. You are amazing! As my partner’s 4-year old great granddaughter would say “You got this!”

  • Leslie Miller : Oct 11th

    Hey Spirit, it’s Smalls!!! Ended my hike at Crater Lake after suffering from severe tendinitis of my achilles in Yosemite & realizing that I wouldn’t be able to make up the miles after getting off trail for a few wks. I still have my patch, thank you xoxo.


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