“I’m pretty tired I think I’ll go home now” (Mile 946)
After walking over 3000 miles in the last 14 months I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a break. Deciding to end my PCT thru hike took a while to commit to but now a few weeks removed from the trail I couldn’t be happier with my choice.
I first started to think about quitting my hike shortly after starting the Sierra’s. The first option I thought up was to hike all 1700 miles of California and then go home. A few days later I decided to only hike to mile 1100, the northern terminus of needing to carry a bear canister. As I started to think about this plan I knew once I had made up my mind to not hike the entire PCT this year, that I was officially done and there was no need to push for a few more miles. After I discovered that I could get a bus ride out of Yosemite National Park and find an airport that way, I knew this was where I should end my hike. Fast forward two weeks, everything went to plan and I am back in Madison, WI.
What made me first think of ending my hike in the Sierra’s was not the weather, snow or challenging terrain but was instead due to the clarity I had found in the Sierran Wilderness. One day in particular I spent the whole afternoon not hiking but instead typing on my phone, recording my plans for my future that had become so evident to me while on this hike. In fact there were multiple days I spent in the Sierra’s where the miles and time flew by as I intently focused on plotting my future and what I would need to get started on once I got back home. These thoughts grew so strong that they became more important to me than finishing the trail. Once I accepted the fact that the PCT would always be there to finish it was easy to be at peace with my choice to go home early.
One thing I did differently on this hike compared to the AT was primarily hike alone. Looking back, it was one of the best parts of the experience, as I was able to essentially hike my own hike. I rested when I was tired, hiked long days if I felt I needed too, stayed in towns for extended periods and ended up meeting many more hikers this way. During those times when I walking through the desert and eventual snow all by myself I had unlimited time to find real transparency in my thoughts regarding my future. At times I even composed a few ideas I had for books in just an afternoon of hiking. The clarity I found reinforced to me that I needed to be back in Wisconsin to get things rolling instead of hiking for a few more months.
A lot of thru hikers and myself included get caught up with the thought that a long distance trail has to be hiked in one year to be a real accomplishment. At times this is what drove me to get through the difficult days on the AT but I discovered quite the contrary on the PCT. A popular quote mentioned on the AT rather frequently is: “It’s not the destination it’s the journey”. Hikers get so focused on reaching Canada or Maine that they don’t take the time to enjoy the trail or towns along the way. As I began to really understand the meaning behind this, I realized that my journey could be complete once I reached Yosemite.
My PCT hike only lasted 60 days but my journey brought me from the vast desert to the remote High Sierra’s. I hiked through one of the most scenic wilderness areas in the US and experienced high elevation backpacking. I dodged rattlesnakes on the trail, dealt with scorpions in my tent and snow heavy enough to collapse my tent. I walked through such hot and dry desert that the only thing keeping me moving was my quest to find some precious shade. I experienced extreme snow and cold that at times made me question my preparedness and concerned me as to whether I could continue on or not. Lastly, I met so many wonderful and generous people both on and off the trail who had a profound impact on me. The PCT attracts many hikers from outside the US, and with that I was able to meet and hike with people from England, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Canada, etc. In addition to hikers I met some amazing trail angels throughout my hike that really made my journey special.
My visit to Wrightwood, CA stands out as one of the highlights of my hike. I’ll elaborate in a future post but I met a few people in town that really restored my faith in others and left me in a great mindset for days to follow. My time in Wrightwood along with my trail magic experiences in Maine on the AT will stay with me forever, it is moments like these that make hiking the AT and PCT so influential and life changing.
While I will no longer be posting amazing images from the PCT I will continue to share my experiences as I recap my journey in the weeks to come. I would like to thank everyone who offered to meet and hike with me further north along the trail, I would have liked to meet up and share some stories but I will return to the PCT someday. I couldn’t have made it these 946 miles without help from so many kind people. Those who supported me and other hikers along the PCT were unbelievable, I never found myself in need of a place to stay or a ride to town as things always worked out.
I hope my posts have provided a little insight as to what hiking the PCT is all about. The PCT brings unique challenges and requires you to plan ahead and be adaptable but rewards you with some of the most scenic landscape in the country. While I may not have hiked the entire trail my time spent on the PCT quickly reinforced everything I had learned from hiking the AT. I know I will be back to the PCT soon as a few days in wilderness can do wonders for your mind and body.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
Main image courtesy of: Pinterest
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Jesse, I’m dying to know what about your future became so apparent and clear that you got off the trail. Ending a journey, and convincing yourself that it’s for the better, can be very challenging and take a lot of courage. What epiphany gave you that courage and convinced you you were on the wrong path but knew where to go?
I really appreciate this post – there is definitely still a culture around the thru-hike being the ultimate experience which I think gives a discredit to those shorter journeys that can be just as worthwhile for an individual. I struggle with this all of the time and have had experiences ending a thousand mile trek early too. Sometimes it becomes clear that other things are more important. Like Alan above, I would love to hear more about the ideas that formed for you out there… good luck in the next chapters of your life 🙂 -Sprout
I experienced something very similar during both a PCT thru-hike attempt and a second AT thru-hike attempt. My mind just drifted to and got hugely excited for the possibilities of things that I could do – grad school, career, hobbies, art. I wasn’t mad or sad or pissed. I just wanted to do things that I couldn’t do on the trail, and the idea of postponing it to hike 1,600 more miles seemed silly.
Sorry you failed the PCT
I don’t think it’s fair to say he “failed” the PCT; 3,000 miles in a 14 month span can’t be easy. If anything, I think it’s commendable that someone would embark upon another long journey after recently completing one. Go you, Jesse. I think you made the right decision and still think what you did is inspirational. It took me a while to live presently within my current thruhike of the AT. I think your blog entry poses many great perspectives for not only current thruhikers, but also for the great thruhikers of the past and the aspiring. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the future, and hard to enjoy the present by losing sight of it. Thank you for sharing such thorough, raw honesty.