Hashtag Goals: Setting Intentions for the PCT

Hiking is Hard, and More Than Enough

Completing a trail, whether it’s 26 miles or 2600 miles, is a challenging and respectable goal, to say the least. And whatever adjectives you use to qualify a hike, “insufficient” and “lazy” are probably not among them. Making the decision to undertake an extended physical challenge, planning for said endeavor, and then actually doing it constitute a more-than-significant goal.

On Writing, But Not Actually

In 2017, I attended a panel at a writing conference wherein different authors discussed ways in which they wrote while being outdoors, specifically in parks and on trails. One writer talked about how she’d spend her weekends doing multi-night backpacking trips, hiking during the day and writing on a small laptop in her tent at night. At the time, I was a public school teacher frustrated with, among other things, the ways in which my money-earning life was encroaching on my writing life. I originally saw long-distance hiking as a way to create a long-term, peripatetic writing retreat. I hit the Appalachian Trail with my notebook and pens, ready to scrawl my way down the spine of the country, observing and analyzing.

Yet the reality of a long hike is that you’re occupied from sunrise to sunset and then some, perpetually moving forward, weather on the brain, camp chores galore, chatting with the flurry of humans you pass on a daily basis, studying maps, doing mathematical gymnastics to figure out resupplies, being generally engaged in the all-important activity of Living in the Moment. On the rare evenings of solitude, an end-of-night reflection is generally superseded by sleep; I’ve woken up countless times with my pen making an indent on my cheek, no ink spilled. The days are long out there, and breakfast-era events are often forgotten by dinnertime. When I’m out for extended periods of time, I find myself saying, “Was that today?” constantly, never mind the fact that no one ever knows what day it is.

In Addition to Hiking

When my friends asked me what my hiking strategy was going to be, I told them that my main plan was to speak to no one for the first month. Anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes with me has just choked on their coffee at the impossibility of this idea. Anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes on a trail in hiker season has done the same. I guess what I mean is I’m not aching to join up with other people for the sake of not being alone; after two years of pandemic-era public-facing professions, I’m ready to be alone with my thoughts. I’d like to be able to  finally adhere to the plan of a hike being, at least in some respects, a walking writing experience.

On my first long hike, I didn’t not write. I wrote, umm, internet essays (saying “blog,” “blogger,” or any derivative therein still makes me physically uncomfortable; blame the episode of The Office when Erin puts on giant black glasses to seduce the tech bloggers when Sabre releases the Pyramid…) for this very site. I wrote sporadically and frantically every month and a half, trying to cram lifetimes of living into small paragraphs. So much was happening, and so quickly, that codifying events seemed to trivialize them, similar to the way in which taking a picture of an expansive view does nothing but shrink it and make it dull. 

On subsequent hikes I managed to bang out daily updates, often half-asleep, often in the throes of post-hike rage. On the Camino de Santiago, I wrote in semi-code, wanting to transcribe the events of every day but, for various reasons, not being able to be full honest (See? Kind of like that.). In my Long Trail journals, hiking southbound in October through challenging weather, I do not sound okay. 

At this point, I believe I’ve walked enough to be able to balance a day of hiking with an evening of writing in my tent. I’d love to be able to record this hike with clarity and consciousness, both for my own inevitable nostalgia and perhaps for other people to have a potentially entertaining source of information about a much-discussed trail. In addition to hiking 2,650 miles, I’d like to write a large number of words while out here. I’d like it to be more than a stream-of-consciousness present-tense log of every day. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the juxtaposition of intellectual motivation and physical exhaustion manifests itself out there in those hills…

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