Lessons from the Start

The first 150+ miles of the PCT have brought a few clear lessons.

Lesson One: Community Is Everywhere

On Day One and each day since, we’ve met wonderful people both on and off the trail. Thru-hikers are a curious bunch, with reasons for being here as diverse as we hikers ourselves. I’ve been surprised that the majority of fellow hikers I’ve met have been from countries other than the United States; I’d estimate 45% American. It’s been incredibly fun to meet and get to know people from all over – Germany, France, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Canada, Poland, South Korea, Australia, and more.

I’m heartened by the fact that so many of these folks have come to the U.S. specifically for the PCT, that they know of this incredible treasure here, perhaps more so than many Americans do. This brings me to specific, perhaps uncomfortable or unpopular thoughts of Day One, which I can’t write about without noting my experience standing at the southern border my country shares with Mexico. There hasn’t been much talk of it on trail, but standing literally at the base of the border wall was… haunting.

This trail can be hard. The miles are long, the climbs steep, the water sources sometimes far apart. And we are all here entirely by choice, embracing and meeting every challenge, hopefully with recognition of our incredible privilege in being here and choosing to undertake this thru-hike at all. The contrast between our privilege and the almost unimaginable hardship of those who encounter the wall from the other side could not be more stark. I recall this contrast each time I feel the urge internally to complain that my feet are sore after today’s seventeenth consecutive rocky mile. Instead of complaining, I am grateful for the opportunity to be here walking among such grandeur, with people from across the globe, helping each other and cheering each other on. I am writing here not about politics, but human experience, and I am considering what it means to be not just human, but a member of both the smallest and the most all-encompassing of communities.

The thru-hiker community is unique and takes shape almost immediately. We are all in this together, and hikers are quick to offer help in any form — advice on the next water source, extra food, blister care supplies, and always, always, thoughts on gear.

Daily I am reminded that no matter where we’ve come from, we are each of us more alike than different in our shared humanity and interdependence. I hope we all remember this when we complete our hikes and step off this particular trail.

Lesson Two: Backpacking is Moisture Management

I’ve backpacked a fair amount before this thru-hike, and never have I been more aware that a great deal of backpacking is, simply, moisture management. Seriously, every single day involves careful attention to: water sources (how many miles away, how many liters must we carry to get to the next source, whether the nighttime temp will plummet below freezing and require sleeping with my filter inside my sleeping bag); weather (we’ve been chased by two pretty spectacular storms so far involving rain, hail, sleet, and snow); sweat (am I drinking enough, will my sweat-soaked clothes dry before the temp drops precipitously tonight, when will I ever be able to wash my one sweat-stiff shirt); and condensation (does the amount of condensation inside the tent threaten to wet my sleeping bag).

For anyone beginning their thru-hike in the coming days and weeks, remember this: take the tools to manage moisture. Obviously, a reliable water filter and carrying vessels are absolutely essential, as is rain gear to prevent hypothermia during storms. Perhaps less obvious is a chamois. If you’re hiking with a single-wall tent, carry an absorbent cloth. Follow all the usual advice to reduce interior tent condensation — sleep with the doors open, open the mesh slightly if insect concentrations allow, don’t pitch next to streams, etc., etc. And then trust me on this: a light, absorbent cloth is entirely worth the few grams of weight. You’ll need that thing to mop your tent interior before the condensation rains down upon your sleep system.

Lesson Three: There is a Fantastic View Ahead

Every single day on the PCT, there are opportunities for awe. There is beauty at absolutely every bend: in our fellow hikers, generous trail angels, shared meals, critter encounters, awe-inspiring landscapes. When the climb is steep, temps searing, and switchbacks relentless, remember this: there is a spectacular view ahead. It may be miles or even days away, but it’s up there.

On the trail as in life, there is always, always an astonishing view ahead. Keep going.

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Comments 2

  • Chris S : Apr 12th

    I’m glad you have found community and sense of humanity on the trail. I wish that for all thru-hikers on the trail by choice, as well as migrants around the world on the trail for a better life, to escape poverty, and flee the violence of forced displacement.

  • Marsha Greenfield : Apr 24th

    So wonderfully expressed, thank you! What a wonderful reminder that we are all interconnected.


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