Why I’m Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

The cat is out of the bag. Well, if you follow me on Instagram, the cat has been displaced from its bag for quite some time. Let’s just leave cats unbagged from here on out.

This year, I will attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

It’s been six years since I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. In some ways, it feels like only yesterday that I was chasing white blazes. Certain moments throughout the day serve as an instant portal back to a time, location, and emotional state from the trail. These memories are paradoxically unexceptional and vivid.

At the same time, it feels as if it was a different person altogether who trudged through the woods for five months. I have completely re-acclimated to a world full of stuff, stress, hygiene, artificial noise and sound. My current day features a pair of showers, attire that smells like Lavender Tide, and fresh foods that have been prepared in a Vitamix.

Although my pre-AT days and current life have many similarities, the differences are far more evident.

In early 2011, I was unhappy, anxious, lost, and embarking on what I considered to be a necessary challenge to dig myself out of a rut. Today, I am fulfilled, content, confident, and embarking on an extended trek because I want to, not because I need to.

It is for that reason, in many ways, I think this journey will be harder.

Let me explain.

In 2011, as I staggered onto Springer Mountain, all I could think about was the near unfathomable distance that separated me and my goal. I was incompetent in all things outdoors, and incredibly anxious about the undertaking ahead of me. But none of that mattered in my mind. I had decided that I was going to thru-hike the AT or die trying. I succeeded (at thru-hiking, not dying).

One key factor in my success was an unenticing alternative. Leaving the Trail meant that I’d be going back to an existence I was determined to escape. Smelling like a hot sewer and/or being borderline hypothermic somehow still felt preferable to blankly staring at a laptop all day everyday.

Today, although I can pinpoint elements in my life that are less than ideal, my resting state is gratitude. Some of this is a conscious decision, a perspective I gained on the AT, but a large element is circumstance.

Said differently, my life is good, and I’m leaving it behind. And that scares the ever living shit out of me.

Don’t cry for me Argentina. In this instance, leaving my good life behind translates to going for an extended walk through some of the most beautiful terrain in this country with a friend (more on that below). But I’m fully aware there will be days where I will long for the world I’ve left behind. There will be days where I ask myself, Why am I doing this? Luckily, this is a subject I’m well versed in.

To the Point: Why Am I Hiking?

There is an incredible tradition on this site for Bloggers to share their “Why I’m Hiking Lists.” This fills my heart with joy jelly. I’ve had countless thru-hikers tell me this practice played a huge role in their success- watching it come to life on this site is a beautiful thing.

I am honored to participate in this tradition, although my participation will be a heavily watered down version of my actual lists. These lists have been crafted carefully and with much consideration, but I’m opting to keep much of my reasons closer to the chest. If you really want to know more, get me drunk. 

I am thru-hiking the PCT because:

  • I crave an imposing adventure.
  • I want to test my limits.
  • I co-wrote a book about it.
  • I want to feel invincible again.
  • I want to feel zen again.
  • It would be incredibly easy for me not to.
  • I need more story fuel for my future rocking chair.

When I successfully thru-hike the PCT, I will:

  • Throw a big ol’ bash y’all.
  • Better appreciate the thing I take for granted on a daily basis.
  • Have ironclad legs.
  • Have more than 5,000 miles of backpacking under my belt, which seems significantly more gangster.

If I give up on the PCT, I will:

  • Probably have to find a new career.
  • Most likely try again, which is expensive and emotionally draining, so get it right the first time you dumbf*ck.

Other items to note:

I will be joined by good friend and bonafide crazy person, Jabba, aka The Real Hiking Viking. We will be hiking southbound, leaving from the Canadian border in about six weeks.

Because the Cascades got a lot of snow this year, we have to start a couple weeks later than the typical SOBO kick-off. Additionally, it’s advised that hikers finish the Sierra section by October 1st, or face potentially lethal wintry conditions. Combine these two factors, and we’re going to have to haul major ass in order to accomplish a continuous SOBO thru-hike.

Specifically, we’ll have to average ~26 miles per day for the first ~2,000 miles. This includes off days. At this rate, we would complete the trail in about 100 days. The typical NOBO PCT thru-hike is closer to 150 days. For this reason, my physical, logistical, and nutritional approach to this trek has been radically different than it was for the AT. More on that in forthcoming posts.

Actively practicing my “don’t die” technique. ? @therealhikingviking #pct2017

A post shared by Z D (@zrdavis) on

In the meantime, if you’d like to track our journey (including our remaining preparation and likely a healthy dose of beer drinking), please feel free to stalk us on the below social medias.

The Trek: PCT
The Real Hiking Viking



With much love,

Featured image courtesy of the immensely talented Tommy Corey.

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Comments 9

  • Joe Motha : May 29th

    Most s3lf-indulgent article i have read this year.

  • Michael Sweet : May 30th

    GET IT!

  • Kerry "Scribbles' Smithwick : May 30th

    Good Luck Zach! I was hoping you were going to say you are doing the PCT next year as that’s where I’m headed. Would be a kind of karma that we would do the AT and PCT in the same years. I’ll be following your posts so make them good and useful…Scribbles

  • Marcia Powers : May 30th

    Wishing you a grand adventure with all the elements that you look forward to and many more.
    You are joining me on a slippery slope, My Friend, of more and more thru hikes! I like my two lives – my home life in a house and my thru hike life – so much that I gladly return to each one… repeatedly.
    Gratitude is a foundation for each of my lives.

    • Jilldabeast : May 30th


  • Jilldabeast : May 30th

    I totally get it. When I thru-hiked the AT SOBO last year, I started from a similar place – I was 40, happily married, great job, great support system. So why in the world would I want to thru-hike solo?! Because I couldn’t NOT attempt a thru-hike; it felt like something I was compelled to do. So many didn’t understand why, but fortunately my husband did & supported me throughout. Happy hiking! Can’t wait to follow along with your journey 🙂

  • Haiku : May 30th

    Oh whoa, didn’t realize you were doing it w/TRHV. Should be a blast. PCT is so cruiser thus far compared to my AT experience you guys will have a great time. I’m probably going to end up doing a flip so likely I’ll see you guys earlier than later cheers.

    • Arnold Guzman : May 30th

      May be visiting my son out in Sacramento sometime later this year. It is my dream to do my kind of Backcountry Trail Magic somewhere on the PCT in the Tahoe region, sadly without my bloodhounds.
      Maybe fate will have it that I’ll run into the Badger and the Viking on some remote stretch of the trail
      Happy ‘Trials’ to you!

  • stealthblew : Jun 1st

    i am having difficulty posting on this site. This appears to be the only place to I can find to contact you.

    Was my post too long? Too controversial as I commented on the damage caused to the trail during the mud season in vermont as well as the black fly season.

    Sorry to reach out on this location, but could not find any contact information on the contact page. I will attempt to post the comments in my next post to you for review.

    thank you


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