Can a Thru-Hike Change You Even Before You Hike?

I think most of us can agree that most thru-hikers experience some positive effects after their hike. A sense of confidence that they can accomplish anything. An appreciation of simpler living. A renewed belief in the goodness of our fellow man. All good things. But what we may not think about is the effect the thru-hike has on your life even before you set foot on the trail.

Lately, I’ve begun to notice more and more the ways in which the mere planning of my PCT thru-hike is changing the way I live now.

Way #1

In a literal, more tangible sense, the preparation has forced me to simplify and remove the clutter of my life. Specifically, I’ve been on a cleaning and purging kick in my house. If I can live out of a backpack for five months, I can surely get rid of 20 years of accumulated crap that never gets used. What in my life is truly “essential”?

Way #2

In a more abstract sense, having a mission gives clarity to your life. We do so many things (buy a house in the suburbs, get an office job, plan your retirement) because that’s the way it’s done and everyone has always followed that script. But what if the movie of that script is boring and predictable? Write your own script.

Having a singular focus on something (it doesn’t have to be a thru-hike) gives a direction forward. In our normal day-to-day lives, we tend to multitask.  And we all think we are good at it.  But we’re not.  We flit about from project to project, starting and stopping, restarting, and never giving each thing the focus it deserves. Since I committed to hiking the PCT and especially since the permit application process, I’m more aware of what is important and what is fluff.

And I’m not the only one that notices a difference in my life. When you are happy and have a sense of purpose, you are more pleasant to those around you. We all can tell the difference between people that are just punching the clock and those that actually enjoy what they do.

A Sense of Purpose Improves Off-Trail Life

Having a sense of purpose doesn’t mean that you are abandoning the vagaries of a “normal” life. On the contrary, I’ve found that this purpose has given each interaction (work or personal) more meaning. Life is short, and others may not share my purpose, but if I am giving my time to something, then that moment and that person deserve my full attention.

Sadly, a personal awakening may not be universally appreciated by those around you. Some may doubt you or will project their own fears onto your plans. But that moment can be clarifying as well.  Someone that won’t support your dreams may not be as much of a friend as you thought. I’ve been lucky, though, and have not had any negative reactions.

Being a middle-aged, first-time thru-hiker, deciding to do something so momentous opens your eyes to the fact that maybe a good part of your life has been on auto-pilot. It is exciting to be living a more purposeful life. To quote Cheryl Strayed:

“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to

tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”

I plan on it!


(Thanks to Erin, a fellow ’20 PCT thru-hiker, from @hikingthrupodcast for exposing me to the Cheryl Strayed quote)


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Comments 6

  • Turtle Hiker : Nov 23rd

    Great post and so true! Go for it!

  • Lance A Goehring : Nov 23rd

    Thanks, Turtle! I love reading your posts. Keep up the good work! Looking forward to following your hike. The AT is in my future (not sure how soon).

  • Shannon : Nov 24th

    Great article, Lance! You beat me to it! Haha! I’ve been mulling this idea over as a subject of a blog. But, now, I don’t have to write it! I really appreciate your POV and look forward to more!!

    • Lance A Goehring : Nov 24th

      Thanks, Shannon! I think we are all going through similar emotions in anticipation of the hike. Everytime I read one of your posts, I’m going, “Yep, yep”.

  • Kevin Neft : Nov 29th

    So spot on! I’ve had this idea for awhile now, but this year when I made the idea into a plan I have already seen changes in my life. The idea of concentrating on one goal and not many is a beautiful thing.

    • Lance A Goehring : Nov 29th

      Kevin, I think that is one of the things I’m most looking forward to on the hike … being able to just be in the moment and to fully concentrate on something. Whether it is a view, a thought in my head, or a conversation with a fellow hiker.


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