Keeping My Plans Quiet Until I Can Shout From The Mountaintops
I decided I was going to be a part of the class of 2019 last April. Started making plans about ten months ago.
I printed out the Halfmile overview maps and spent a whole night looking at them over and over again.
I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the PCT online.
Set a bunch of reminders for Nov. 14. I was going to get that March 31 start date, damn it!
I sweated in front of the laptop for hours on Nov. 14, hoping good start dates would still have permits available by the time it reached my turn.
Then, I joined the PCT Class of 2019 Facebook group. An acquaintance in Seattle also planned to go, so we met up for coffee to compare notes. I took a spontaneous four-hour drive to Cascade Locks, OR, to check out PCT Days in August. There, I met a bunch of 2018 thru-hikers. One came to stay with me in Seattle for a couple of days, and he let me ask way too many questions (thanks, David/Squish!).
2019 hopefuls were moving back with their parents for the moment to save money. Some were talking to their jobs about returning to work once they got back. I got to see photos of their gear online, blogs and vlogs about their plans, and screenshots of PCTA and Canada entry permit approvals.
I want to tell everyone I know about my crazy PCT plans, too. There’s so much going on before I head out (moving, getting gear, putting together a resupply plan…). My phone has so many screenshots of approvals and emails and photos of gear that I’ve never shared.
But as much as I want to, I can’t share all of these moments with everyone I know.
Before I decided to take on the PCT, I’d already been thinking about looking at other opportunities outside of my current job. I don’t plan on staying at the company after I get back; I’m not asking for a leave of absence. That means there isn’t any reason for me to bring up my plans to head out quite yet. Now, before you write me off as a terrible person and a bad employee, I’m not going to just up and leave. I’ll give about three weeks notice.
Multiple people who I know professionally and who I have told have advised me to wait until closer to my embarkment date to let my management chain know about my intentions to leave. You see, I work at-will; in other words, I can choose to leave at any time, and my employer can let me go at any time. Now, I don’t actually believe that my team or company would decide to drop me right then and there if I said something.
But I was worried that I’d stop getting any meaningful work, or the company would try to convince me to stay. I’m still unsure if I want to stay in the same industry when I get back, so I’d still like to work on larger projects while I’m here. Would I be taken off projects if everyone knew too early that I was leaving? When I still had many months before my PCT start date, I was particularly nervous.
Telling the Boss
That does make me sad, though.
I’m good friends with some of my direct and indirect higher-ups. My direct manager, for instance; we’ve gone out to pub trivia, we joke around in the office, and if you were to ask me or ask him, we’re pals.
I’ve almost slipped several times. Example: I’m currently spending all of my free time after work and weekends packing up my whole apartment. I’ve gotten rid of so much of the random crap I’ve accumulated and haven’t used in months. I have posts all over Facebook selling stuff right and left to save up some money. And I keep almost accidentally saying something about it to my boss. That’d be alright, until he would more than likely ask why I’m moving out and where I’m moving to. Naturally, those would be more difficult questions to answer if I’m trying to keep my plans under wraps at work.
Telling the Coworkers
I catch myself before saying something to people who I just don’t know very well in the office, too. One time, someone mentioned that they had just learned about the “Pacific Coast Trail” and, since I have a reputation of being a hiker in the office, if I knew about it and would I ever consider thru-hiking it. (I said, “Maybe someday,” which isn’t untrue.) We have an open office setup, so if I’d mentioned my plans, everyone else around us would have heard, too. But damn, if that didn’t make me almost say something.
I’m lucky to work at a place where people care a lot about their coworkers, so I have a few people in the office I’d call friends first, colleagues second. Because of that, there actually are some people in the office who know I’m on my way out. I’m grateful to have such wonderful people in my life who I can trust with this sort of thing. I appreciate their support, even though it means I may be leaving them with “my” work. And I’m thankful they’re willing to keep mum on my plans around the office.
Perhaps more unfortunate is my hesitance to tell my own parents.
Just a few weeks ago, my parents made a big move—from Washington state to Shanghai.
For a few reasons, they still have a house in my hometown two hours away from me. My dad had asked to help check the mail, car, and house every four to six weeks. These favors would be hard to fulfill from the middle of nowhere.
In other words, I had to tell him I was leaving for the PCT.
I was nervous. I was more concerned about telling him I was quitting my job than about the trail. He had made clear how much weight he put on having a stable job, progressing in my career, and being financially comfortable.
But it actually went surprisingly alright. He was definitely ambivalent at first, not sure if he should be happy for me or terrified. But he’d read and watched Wild, and was familiar with the trail. He spoke to his outdoorsy friends; they told him I probably wouldn’t die or get eaten by a bear. He let me tell him why I wanted to go.
But it wasn’t my dad I was especially nervous to talk to.
Given that it’s my only hobby, I talk about hiking. A lot. From the very start, my mom wasn’t a fan. She was immediately concerned about my safety on my day hikes.
“What if you get lost?” “The trail is well-defined, Mom. I downloaded the maps onto my phone, too, just in case.”
“What if you fall off the mountain?” “I’ll hit a tree way before I completely roll off the mountain, Mom.” (In retrospect, that probably wasn’t all that comforting.)
“What if you get hurt?” “I’ve got my first aid kit, headlamp, emergency blanket, and the other ten essentials. I’ve even got waterproof matches!”
“What if you get hurt and need help?” “Mom, I’ll be hiking with thousands of other people—because everyone loves hiking in the Pacific Northwest—and someone will find me in under ten minutes if I call out for help.”
You can tell me it’s a parent’s job to worry. And you’d be right! And she’s also right to be worried. Although I do my best to stay safe (and have been successful so far), hiking can be dangerous.
Still, I started avoiding the topic of hiking until after I get back from a trip awhile back to keep her from worrying too much about me. My fear is that she worries so much about me on my day hikes; how will she take the news that I’ll be going on many more day hikes—more than a hundred over the course of several months?
And of course, the transpacific move has taken a toll on her. She’s a little on edge already.
I hope that she gives me a chance to explain why this is important to me. I’ve spoken about this with my therapist, and we have a game plan in place. I think she’ll be willing to hear me out. Here’s to hoping it goes well.
Telling the Extended Family
I’ve got some family in New Jersey, and was visiting them back in September. I posted a photo of myself ice climbing on Facebook a few months ago.
Then, I realized that because I posted that photo, my non-outdoorsy family members thought that I actually vertically scale rock faces. I had to explain to them that I usually just walk on well-defined trails with graded inclines. (I didn’t mention the occasional sheer drop or necessary bushwhack or that one time I had to jump over crevasses on Mount Baker with a guide.)
And Social Media
And, of course, I’m friends with several coworkers and family friends on social media. I definitely could set up Facebook to share only specific things with specific people and make my Instagram totally private. But there’s no real way to share something like this on social media and know for certain it won’t make it to those I’m trying to stay quiet around. People know people, and I can’t just tell everyone who knows to keep it on the down low from a certain subset of people.
As far as I know, though, those I’m not sharing my plans with aren’t frequents of long-distance hiking websites. I should be in the clear as long as I don’t accidentally bring it up through other channels in conversation or on social media (which, obviously, has nearly happened before). 🙂
But It’s Alright!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. Far from it, believe me.
I look forward to the PCT more and more every day, regardless of whether or not I can say it out loud. I love hearing about others’ plans becoming a reality and silently cheering them on. It’s so cool to watch everything come together for a hiker getting ready to head out. And how awesome is it to see everyone counting down the days to when they get their butts to Campo?
I’ve got to say, though… I’m definitely looking forward to the day I can stand on the mountaintops in front of everyone and yell, “I’m hiking the PCT this year!”
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