Hiking The PCT With Anxiety: A Paradox Of Planning
I am, by nature, a planner. I have loved planning activities with my friends and family for as long as I can remember and, more recently, I have enjoyed planning solo adventures. The feeling of excitement I get when planning out my next big thing is sometimes only barely surpassed by the experience of going out there and doing the planned activities themselves. I am also, by nature, an anxious person. Just as my love of planning dates back to when I was a kid, so does my struggle with anxiety. The externality of this anxiety in my day-to-day life is that I struggle to remain present and enjoy the moment because my brain is always thinking about the next thing and how to deal with it. These powerful forces meet in that one is a coping mechanism to deal with the other: when I am feeling anxious about something, I make a plan, and doing so helps me be present in the moment. In the context of hiking, when I am anxious about a trip I tend to try to plan out each detail. For example: getting from where I currently live in Northern California to the Southern Terminus of the PCT is something that has caused me a lot of anxiety because I don’t exactly know how I am going to do it. To process this anxiety and quell it, I created a plan in a Google Doc and have bullet-point steps for when I am doing what and how culminating in my arrival at the Southern Terminus on April 28.
It is for these reasons that hiking the PCT in 2023 has become, for me, a paradox. Every single day on the PCT is full of unknown things – countless variables entirely outside of my control – and that fact causes me anxiety. Further, one of my greatest fears of this endeavor is that my anxiety will win day-to-day and I will not be present. The people who I have turned to for advice have told me: do not plan too much! The paradox of having anxiety on the PCT is that you shouldn’t plan too much, but I have to plan somewhat in order to ease my anxiety. So, today, I want to sit in this paradox and outline how I plan to deal with it while hiking the PCT.
My plan is straightforward (sorta?) and focuses on three pieces of advice that I have received along the way:
- Three water sources, two campsites, and one resupply
- You can plan a place or a time, not both
- Outline your fears: what are they and what are you going to do to address them?
Three water sources, two campsites, and one resupply
There are too many variables outside of your control in your day-to-day life on the trail, so this moniker pinpoints which variables are the most important – water, shelter, and food – and how much control over these variables you should exert. This moniker is helpful for me because it simplifies everything and gives my planner brain boundaries for the day-to-day, freeing up mental bandwidth so that I can remain present.
You can plan a place or a time, not both
This moniker says that when you are hiking, the many variables outside of your control make it so that when you would like to meet up with someone – be that someone from the trail or from your outside life – that you should only attempt to make a plan around either of the aspects: a time OR a place. How I interpret this for my planned life on-trail is creating plans with friends, family, and my girlfriend that center on place – not time – because their ability to get to a specific place on the trail is higher than their time flexibility. I think that an important caveat to this saying is that you should try to give an estimated time range to the people you are trying to make plans with, mainly so that you have something to hold you accountable and ensure the safety of those involved.
An example of this is that we will all likely experience on-trail: you plan at the start of the day to meet up with your new hiking partner at a defined campsite. Rather than just saying “I’ll see you there”, do your best to give them a time estimate so that they know a general range of when to expect you and, in the case you don’t show up in that range, they know if (or when) to start looking for you. As time goes on, we will be able to infer our hiking partners’ paces, physical and mental limits, and the general risk factors associated with day-to-day life on trail, making the need for worry a lot less, but until then I am going to follow this moniker closely when on-trail.
Another example of this, but this time for off-trail meetups, is that I have plans to meet up with my parents and girlfriend in South Lake Tahoe the week of June 26th. This holds me accountable for my pace, communicating with them about whether this timeline will be achievable, and setting the boundaries for when they should take action if they do not see me or hear from me by the end of a specific time range. I firmly believe it is our responsibility as the person hiking to take steps to help mitigate our loved ones fears and anxieties – not just our own. As such, this moniker is one I plan to lean on often during my hike.
Outline your fears: what are they and what are you going to do to address them?
The final piece of advice that I have received is actually not related to hiking the PCT, but I think the PCT is a perfect topic to apply it to. Just as it sounds, the point of this is to write your fears down and take the steps, manually, for how you are going to process and address them. So, here are mine:
- I am concerned that I will not be present day-to-day and that this will distract me from the journey.
- To counteract this, I am going to be journaling every night and writing weekly blog posts about my experiences the week prior. Coupled with the above monikers, I think this will keep me present and enhance my experience.
- I am worried that I will get injured on the trail and that it will prevent me from finishing.
- I have a history of overuse injuries and so, knowing this, I asked my primary care provider to refer me to a physical therapist who specializes in endurance sports to assist me with creating a training plan to make my body as ready as possible for the rigors of the trail.
- I am concerned that my desire to be engrossed in the experience will cause me to not communicate clearly, frequently, and effectively with my friends, family, and girlfriend. These three groups encompass the most important things in this world to me (Gordy is family) and want nothing more than to support me and be a part of this journey. I cannot let them down.
- I took a page out of Pony’s book and created a relationship plan (s/o episode 155 of BPR) with my girlfriend to address these concerns. The question at the core of this plan is, how are we going to stay connected while I am on trail? While sharing every detail is not necessary, nor is it likely relatable for some of you, the basic tenets of our plan are: plan out as many locations when we can meet up, facetime them in private when I resupply, introduce them to my tramily as soon as possible, and center their feelings and experience when we are able to talk.
I hope that you find this helpful in your planning – whether that is for your day-to-day life or your PCT hike. More so than anything else I have written on this website, this piece was cathartic for me and helped spark and address some incredibly important topics with the people in my life.
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