How I Didn’t Decide to Hike the PCT
When I tell people I am going to walk from Mexico to Canada, they often ask me how/why/when I decided to do so. My answer usually includes the fact that a) I have dreamed of thru-hiking the PCT since I was a child, b) that now (before I start law school) is the perfect time to do something like this, and c) that I want to hike the trail before it gets even more crowded and popular than it already is.
But these facts, while true and valid, are merely reasons why I think I should hike the trail in 2020. While “reasons” are exactly the type of thing that drives a decision, they alone do not create one. A decision requires intent. This distinction, while a bit pedantic and admittedly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, leads me to a startling truth and the topic of my inaugural blog post: I never decided to hike the PCT.
Now I can assure you, barring some unforeseen disaster (and now COVID-19 is certainly providing the potential for one), I will be hiking the trail. My plane tickets are bought, my permit is approved, and I will be turning in my two-week notice at work next Wednesday. But there was never a distinct point at which I made the decision to go. If you were to review my stream of consciousness over the past year—during which the “Forrest is going to hike the PCT” reality has come to exist—you would never find a moment in which my mind changed from “perhaps I will hike the PCT” to “I will definitely hike the PCT.” Instead, you would find many smaller decisions that have slowly, over months, made hiking the PCT a concrete plan.
While one is in the midst of making them, these atomized yet directional decisions can seem insignificant, noncommittal, and safe. “Oh sure, I guess I’ll just have my lease expire at the end of March just in case I want to hike the PCT.” No PCT decisions there! “Yeaaaaah, I should just leave most of my belongings at my parents’ house so that if I decide to hike the PCT, sending my stuff home for storage won’t be too big a problem.” Just in case!
However, these many small decisions added up over time. So much so that by late fall of 2019 my brain had begun to subconsciously aggregate all these micro-preparations until it implicitly assumed that I must have made the macro-decision to actually hike the trail. And, as it turns out, when your brain believes that you have made a decision, you essentially have. That’s how I got here.
This decision-making process has a lot of parallels in life. Relationships, projects, and beliefs can all progress similarly. However, since this is a blog about the PCT, I think the perfect application of the phenomena I’ve highlighted here is to think about the actual hiking of the PCT. If I am fortunate enough to complete the trail this year, I don’t think I will have done so due to any overarching determination or decision to walk 2,650 miles. Other than the massive amount of luck at play and the support of those around me, any success I have will be owed to thousands of little decisions I make each day on my trek.
While some hikers I’ve heard on Backpacker Radio, Reddit, or YouTube are reportedly able to enter a mindset where they do not let failure/quitting even enter their mind, I know that I am not like that. I know that when I experience extreme pain, hunger, thirst, boredom, anxiety, hopelessness, sorrow, or fear, the idea of getting off trail will present itself to me as an alluring option. In those situations, my grand intention to hike the PCT will not be able to help me. Instead, it will be much smaller decisions that keep alive the possibility of reaching Canada. It will be tying my shoes. It will be leaving a town. It will be one more mile before camp. It will be following a friend. It will be remembering to eat a chocolate bar. These decisions (besides the chocolate bar one) will be far harder than asking for micro-spikes for Christmas or adding freeze-dried vegetables to a few Amazon pantry orders. But, in principle and function, they are the same.
Hopefully, if all else goes well, those small individual actions, when combined over months, will deliver me to Canada without ever even deciding to make it.
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