How We Ended Up on the PCT Together: Nolan’s Story
Being from the Midwest, hiking wasn’t something I grew up doing. Sure, I had gone on a couple weekend trips to some national forests when I was in Scouts, however long ago that was, but that was the extent of it. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest and did a few single-day trips that I really figured out what I had been missing out on. As my interest in the activity grew it rejuvenated my love for the outdoors. Before I knew it I was spending most of my free time looking at all of the cool pictures people posted on Instagram of spectacular views on top of mountains, overlooking canyons that would hide the tallest buildings in New York City, gazing upon majestic remote waterfalls. My scrolling turned into yearning to see these places for myself. It wasn’t long after that that I learned about the John Muir Trail (JMT), a 211-mile trail through the Sierra and some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen. “I’m going to do that one day,” I told myself.
At the time I was working at my first job as an RN in southern Oregon. One slower night at work a coworker and I got to talking about hiking, sharing past experiences and future aspirations of adventures we one day hoped to go on. I, of course, brought up my dream of one day hiking the JMT. He promptly asked me if I had ever heard of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had not. With what I can best describe as a “wait till you see this” kind of smirk on his face he began to pull up a window on the computer. “Ha! Mexico to Canada. 2,660-plus miles, Yeah, right!” I said, “Who on earth would be crazy enough to do something like that!”
And that was my first impression of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
Little did I know at the time that the answer to my own question was me. I would be crazy enough to do something like that. With my newfound love for hiking and my rejuvenated spirit for the outdoors acting as the fuel, that conversation and learning about the PCT was the spark that set me ablaze. I would spend countless hours over the next few months learning about the PCT, reading people’s stories about the PCT, looking at pictures and videos of the PCT. I was obsessed. My mother, who was thrilled (sarcastic tone implied) to hear this idea by the way, can vouch for me on that.
Upon hearing what I wanted to do she initially thought I was joking, and became more and more concerned as she found out over the next year that I indeed was not. I love my mother to death, but she has a tendency to be one of those “worst case scenario” kinds of people. It seemed as though in her mind if I was going to thru-hike the PCT, I was going to die on the PCT. Whether it was by dehydration, snakes, bears, running out of food, falling off a cliff, getting lost, stubbing my toe, sneezing too hard… anything and everything was going to kill me. But over time and realizing that this was something I was going to do regardless she eventually warmed up to the idea, or at least pretended like she did, and has been invaluable in the preparation process. I can’t thank her enough. (I love you mom.) Her one wish was that I didn’t attempt to undertake this adventure alone. I did everything I could to try to find a hiking partner, knowing that this would ease her mind. I reached out to any friend that I thought might be interested personally, and even went as far as posting an open invitation on Facebook to anyone it might interest. I had a few nibbles but to neither of our surprise there were no takers. So she finally agreed (not that she truly had any choice in the matter) to let me do it alone. Or so we both thought.
Given the nature of my career as a travel nurse who moves from one place to the next every few months, it can be difficult to meet people outside of work. So I would use social networking and dating apps to try to find similarly minded people to explore whatever local I was working in. In early February while finishing up my last contract in Grand Junction, Colo., before my planned solo thru-hike of PCT, I went on a date. She is a traveling occupational therapist who had spent a few years working in Oregon not far from where I used to work. As we sat and talked over a few beers, one conversation led to another and I asked if she had heard of the PCT. She had. So I asked, as I had half-jokingly asked countless friends and acquaintances before, if she wanted to join me. She, like all the others, kind of laughed and said something along the lines of, “Yeah right, I wish.” We talked some more about my plans to hike the PCT, in which she did seem to show genuine interest but naturally the conversation continued to flow elsewhere and that was that.
At the end of the night we made plans to see each other again as we were both in the same boat and just looking for an adventure buddy. Meanwhile, in the back of our minds we both knew that nothing serious would come of us as I would be hiking the PCT this summer and we were both OK with that. With both of our schedules being relatively flexible it made it easy for us to take two, three, or four day trips to explore the area together, going snowshoeing on the Grand Mesa the following weekend, then to Moab,, Utah, and Monument Valley in Arizona the next. We were about three weeks into our little adventures and on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, when out of nowhere Michelle turned to me; her eyes lit up and a smile I’ll never forget and said, “Well, I hope you were serious. I just got an email containing my permit to hike the PCT.” So that was that. My mother’s prayers had been answered!
Read Michelle’s story here.
Future post’s will contain more pictures and fewer words… 🙂
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