I Dropped Out of College to Hike the PCT
Hey everyone! My name is Caroline – trail name Lone Wolf – and I’m a little late to the blogging game on The Trek. I started my PCT thru hike on April 16th, and am now around mile 650, only 50 miles from Kennedy Meadows. To make up for lost time I thought I’d talk about why I decided to go on this journey in the first place, and in future blog posts jump right into where I am now.
My parents drop me off in Scotland for my first year of university at St. Andrews. I’m not sure I want to be here. When I was a preteen I sailed around the world with my family, during which I’d completed three years of a self-directed homeschooling curriculum. What followed upon returning to traditional high school in the U.S. was a lot of disillusionment, a feeling that teachers didn’t give my peers and me enough space to realize how competent we were. I was afraid college would be more of the same— a flurry of impractical courses that wouldn’t prepare me for future success beyond giving me a degree that would tell the world I was “qualified.”
But I go to college anyway, because I’m scared not to and have no idea what I’d do with myself otherwise. And I don’t love it. My whole world feels numb. I stop going to lectures when I realize everything I need to know for my courses is available online. I hole myself up in my room, where I lose myself in thru hiking memoirs. I skip classes to section hike the Fife Coastal Path, and spend whole days walking 20 miles. I walk by myself next to the sea, through rolling green farmland, and past castle ruins. Sometimes I encounter quaint old villages, and stop at bakeries for a treat. It’s when I do these hikes that I feel the most free, empowered, and independent. I desperately want to get away from academic drudgery and live a life of adventure—to feel this way all the time.
And so, after a semester of college, I drop out. I am confident that at some point, I’ll be able to figure out a suitable career path without a degree. But the short term game plan? Give myself a year to get acquainted with life in the real world, and in the spring of 2017, hike the PCT.
It’s a whirlwind year of experiences, and I push my impending thru hike to the back of my mind. I move to Colorado on my own, and live and work at a seasonal guest ranch as a kitchen assistant. I get up every day before work and hike through pines and creeks along the horse trails. I wash dishes, learn how to carve melon for fruit plates and make the perfect pie crust, and mop the kitchen floors at the end of every night. I move in with a guy, go on road trips and soak in hot springs. It seems like as soon as I start doing what I really want to with my life, everything falls into place.
As my “year in the real world” continues, my PCT start date looms nearer. I start getting antsy in Durango, itching for something new. The life I’ve made for myself has become routine, driving to and from town every day to my winter job at a restaurant, hiking the same couple trails over and over. I think I’m ready for this thru hike, I tell myself.
I go on one last weeklong road trip, through Arizona saguaro country and down to Baja. I lie on the beach and drink pina coladas out of pineapples, knowing this is the last time I’ll live in luxury for quite awhile. And then I am at the southern terminus. I put a big smile on my face and stand for some photos by the PCT monument, even though there is a terrible nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I say goodbye to my right-about-to-be-ex boyfriend, and as I watch him drive away, I begin to hike.
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