I Don’t Need to Hike the PCT

I don’t remember exactly when I learned about the PCT. It wasn’t a profound, transformative moment for me. I do remember the exact moment I decided I was going to thru-hike the PCT. It was December 2017, and I was decorating Christmas cookies in my kitchen. 

Craving Time to Heal

For me, the idea to thru-hike the PCT was born when I found myself craving time away from “normal life.” Like many others, I have to manage my mental health actively. A few years ago, I found it increasingly difficult to cope with daily stressors. Happiness seemed impossible. Vacations, time spent with friends, therapy, and medication helped me to feel better, but the relief was temporary. I began to feel desperate. Above anything else, I craved time. If I only had some uninterrupted time to focus internally, maybe I could heal.

I lusted after the idea of taking an extended break from the rigors of my daily routine. The idea followed me everywhere and ballooned into an obsession. Guilt wasn’t far behind, though. The voice in my head told me I wasn’t special enough to deserve that sort of time away. So I bargained with myself. I told myself I could justify taking time for self-reflection if I also used that time used to do something tangible to prove to others that I wasn’t weak. Enter the PCT.

Help Me, PCT. You’re My Only Hope

What better way to show people how strong I am than to walk the entire length of the West Coast? I already loved backpacking. A physical journey to accompany my mental one sounded perfect. The PCT would heal me! I needed to hike the PCT. 

And so, in late December 2017, while baking Christmas cookies, I resolved to thru-hike in 2020. I’d heard that you should write down your goals for a better chance of achieving them, so I used red and green decorating gel to write my thru-hiking goal on a sugar cookie. (There’s no rule against eating your goals, right?)

Here’s the thing, though. When I traded one obsession for a new one—the PCT—I was still focusing in the wrong direction. I looked outward for a solution to my problems when I should have looked at myself. I failed to see that the need to prove myself to others was a symptom, not a cure, for what ailed me. 

The Trail Is an Opportunity

The PCT isn’t a healer. At its most basic, it’s a 2,650-mile ribbon of dirt. Don’t get me wrong. I look forward to creating space for myself to self-reflect and heal while I’m on trail. Instead of relying on the trail to heal me, I now think of it as an avenue (literally) for healing. The PCT will be a part of my journey, but it isn’t the whole journey. I am privileged to have the opportunity to break from routine and do something I love while working on me. But I can’t neglect the work itself. 

Three weeks away from my start date, I no longer need to hike the PCT. However, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been to start my long walk and to welcome the physical, mental, and spiritual challenges to come over the next six months. 

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Comments 12

  • Jackie : Mar 4th

    Yes, yes! I love this Stephanie! Can’t wait to follow you along on your journey 😊

    Reply
    • Stephanie Grace : Mar 4th

      Thanks, Jackie! 🙂

      Reply
  • Tracey : Mar 4th

    Good luck. I hope you find what you are looking for and get to enjoy the trip along the way. Maybe I will see you in Northern California, I sometimes provide Trail Magic on a section of the PCT that is near my home.

    Reply
    • Stephanie Grace : Mar 4th

      Thank you, Tracey! Thanks for all that you do for PCT hikers. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of trail angels like you. I hope to meet you this summer!

      Reply
  • Molly : Mar 4th

    You got this, Coach! Can’t wait to follow along with you 🙂

    Reply
    • Stephanie Grace : Mar 4th

      Thanks, Molly! I can’t wait to spend some trail time reminiscing about all my novices. 🤗

      Reply
  • Warren : Mar 4th

    Perhaps I will see you on your way through. I plan to host for about a week at the Mountaineer’s Lodge at Stevens Pass in Washington state. (We are open from early August through the end of September.)

    Reply
    • Stephanie Grace : Mar 5th

      I hope to see you there! I’m looking forward to that area – it looks so beautiful in all the photos I’ve seen.

      Reply
  • Srdjan Batosic : Mar 5th

    Good luck on the trail! Nature is America’s best facet. It is smart to enjoy it while it’s still there.

    Reply
    • Stephanie Grace : Mar 5th

      Thank you, Srdjan! I’m so appreciative of this opportunity to enjoy the land.

      Reply
  • Raven : Mar 5th

    This is not criticism of Stephanie, but I’m starting to wonder if anyone hikes long distance trails just to enjoy nature and experience a certain amount of solitude.

    Reply
    • Stephanie Grace : Mar 5th

      Thru-hikers hike for myriad worthwhile reasons, including the ones you mentioned! For me, I’ve found that after about a week alone in the backcountry, my mind wanders well beyond my immediate surroundings, but I still cherish those things nonetheless.

      Reply

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