How to Handle a Mid-Career Thru-Hike

When you finally take the big plunge and decide to undertake a thru-hike, you’ve only begun to make the tough decisions.  What the hell do you do about your job, and about money?

We’re all sacrificing something to hike the PCT (or AT, or CDT). Despite what some may think, most of us are not trust fund kids. I’ve scrimped for over a year, not only saving for what I will spend on trail but for what I will not be making at home and that will be needed there (mortgage, car payment, utilities).

In online forums, you’ll invariably get the, “I work for a living” comment from those critical of your decision to undertake a thru-hike, and as a means of defending their decision not to.  We’re all “working for a living.” Everyone has to prioritize what is important to them, and that’s OK.

Some people save for an RV, a fancy car, a European vacation, whatever. Thru-hikers are just working and saving to experience something that they feel will fundamentally change their lives.

Small Business, Big Choices

Regardless if you are hiking at a pivot point in your life (pre or post college, retirement) or mid-career, it’s still a tough decision.  In my case, I have a fairly successful (21 years and counting) single-person computer consulting business. It’s a big deal to tell my clients that I will not be able to help them for five months. I don’t have contracts but have repeating business for many customers that I’ve had for 15+ years.

I’m not abandoning my business; I’m pausing it. The trick is in how you break that to your clients. This is a test case that I have nothing to compare to.  The longest vacation I’ve had in all those years is about a week and a half.

 

I’ve been telling some of my clients about my intentions for about six months.  They are clients that I’ve had for the longest period of time, and I consider many of them friends.  The clients that I have told about my hike have all been supportive and almost universally are excited, wanting to follow along with my progress.

About six weeks before my departure, I’ll be sending out a letter to the balance of my clients, telling of my journey, and giving the opportunity to schedule last-minute checkups and updates at a discount.  Those who want to will be able to view weekly updates on my business Facebook page. And upon my return, those who ask me about my hike will also get a discount. By including my customers into the process and the journey, I hope to have them feel like partners.

Will This Work?

Will my business recover? I think so. I hope so. Am I going to do this hike regardless?  Yes. I think a lot of us can identify that this isn’t really a choice, but rather a calling.  We can’t imagine NOT doing it. It’s just a matter of rearranging life to allow it.

We too often settle for the comfortable and the familiar. The hiking will be hard.  It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy to put your life on hold for five to six months, live out of a tiny bag on your back, and cross the country, would it be as fun and rewarding?  Lifelong memories and inspiration have to be earned, not given to us.

Passion, Honesty, Integrity

I can only approach this like I approach everything else:  honestly and with integrity. For good or bad, I’m going to lead with my heart.  People generally appreciate passion, no matter what it might be for. They see that you are enthusiastic about something and they want to share in it.

It’s OK to use your journey as a transition point to that next stage of your life.  Just don’t use a flamethrower approach to the path behind you. Always try to leave a job or situation on a positive note. Support often comes from the most unexpected places.  Letting someone into your world will often reap unimaginable benefits.

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Comments 4

  • Kirsten : Feb 24th

    Really great post! I’m planning a mid-career PCT hike for next year and same as you, I’ve been planning, scrimping and saving for four years now, spending money on gear and very little else. I also let my line manager know two years in advance. I really appreciate how you put it, that we’re all working for a living but some of us have different priorities. I don’t mind not buying new clothes for a few years and not contributing as much to my retirement while I get ready to have this adventure that – you’re totally right – feels more like a calling than a choice. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    Reply
  • Lance Goehring : Feb 24th

    Thanks for the comments, Kirsten! Congrats to you on taking the plunge. The waiting will … drive … you … nuts. lol. As you can see, it’s driving me nuts.

    Your planning several years ahead (both job-wise and money-wise) is smart. I can’t wait to hear about your hike (and the prep).

    Reply
  • Felix : Feb 26th

    How inspiring Lance! I am beginning to seriously contemplate and plan doing the PCT either thru or by sections. Last week I hiked Vasquez Rocks trail in Agua Dulce with my family, unbeknownst to me, Vasquez intersects the PCT. When I saw the PCT marker I let out a scream of excitement.. I wanted to keep going and follow that marker 😀 happy trails! Enjoy!

    Reply
  • Lance Goehring : Feb 26th

    Thanks, Felix! The encouragement means a lot. I hope you get the opportunity to hike more of the PCT.

    The Vazquez Rocks section looks very cool and is so iconic because of how often it has been used in film and TV. I can’t wait to see it in person.

    Reply

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