My 2nd Backpacking Trip is a 2,650 Mile Thru-hike on the PCT

The Final Countdown

As I type this I am exactly 4 weeks away from beginning my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. My name is Dan, I’m a Leo, and I love backpacking. Well, I think I love backpacking. I really loved backpacking the John Muir Trail in 2018 with my wife and two friends. I loved it so much that I think I will love backpacking from Mexico to Canada for 4-5 months. If one is good, two is better. Right? I wrote “A Beginner’s Guide to the John Muir Trail”, you can find here.

After I hiked the JMT, the PCT sounded like something I would do after retirement. Most hikers I saw on the JMT looked to be in one of two categories: college kids figuring out what to do with their lives, or retirees reflecting on what they had done with their lives. It isn’t that existential for everyone, but that’s how I imagine my own perspective if I were in either of those demographics.

Landing in between those age groups, I am still paying for college, and I definitely have not retired. Today I am 39, and if the universe sees fit, I will turn 40 while hiking the PCT this summer. I imagine I’ll be sitting on top of a mountain peak, sitting in lotus pose, meditating as the sun sets. In reality I’ll be running from mosquitos, sweating through my clothes and questioning my sanity. Fun!

How Do You Have Time for a Thru-hike?

Three years ago my wife and I decided to stop chasing the typical version of the American Dream. We were on a gravy train with biscuit wheels. Life was easy. My wife had finished her long-term goal of obtaining her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and opened her own private practice. I had achieved my long-term goal employed as a professional firefighter/paramedic. D.I.N.K. life. Double Income, No Kids. All we had left to do was pay off our student loans, put a down payment on a home and set life on cruise control. But nooooo. That would be too easy.

My wife and I talked about throwing it all out the window, leaving Chicago and traveling the world, but we shelved the idea for a year. The itch would not go away. Realizing our time was finite and something that would continue to slip away despite our best efforts and successes, we saved our money, sold and donated our possessions and began our adventure. In 2018 we walked away from our normal lives. We didn’t have a specific destination, but that wasn’t the point. How we were spending our most valuable possession, our time, was in our control. Our time was no longer being dictated by work hours, bills and consumerism.

*No judgment from me. Joy comes in different forms for each individual. A long, successful career and being a homeowner can be ideal for some. My nomadic life might not be my preference later on, but it is what I enjoy right now.*

#goals

During our first year since leaving normal life my wife and I had a lot of time for existential talks. We each made a “Goals” list. I still have this list in the notes app on my phone. One of those items on my list was to thru-hike the PCT.

My PCT goal is beginning on April 15, 2021. It seems like it has been a long time coming and I can’t believe it is finally arriving. I am 80% ecstatic and 20% nervous. Those numbers vary slightly but sit comfortably about there. I’ve researched gear more than most normal humans should research anything, but I think I am in good company with thru-hikers. Or at least we are all equally obsessed and insane. I’ve watched and read too many vlogs, blogs, articles and books to list. All that is left is to start hiking.

Why am I hiking?

As part of preparation for my PCT thru-hike I read the book, “Pacific Crest Trials”, by Zach Davis and Carly Moree. Part of the advice from this book was to write down three lists:

  1. Why am I hiking?
  2. When I successfully thru-hike the PCT, I will…
  3. If I give up on the PCT, I will…

There will be hard days on my thru-hike. There will be miles of discomfort, pain, hunger and boring road walks. That’s okay. These lists will be there as reminders to myself of why I am thru-hiking the PCT. Here are my answers:

I am thru-hiking the PCT because I want to…

  • enjoy more with less. Hiking the PCT with just the necessities in a backpack will teach me to enjoy the experience, and nothing more is needed than just that – the experience.
  • make the most of my time. Time is finite. We cannot create more time in this existence called life. When it runs out, that could be it. Thru-hiking the PCT is something I want to spend my valuable time doing. If I wait for someday to do it, that day may never come to be.
  • seek discomfort. Dealing with discomfort allows me to appreciate when things are easy. Life shouldn’t be about running from discomfort; learn to accept the situation and savor the ability to successfully navigate the challenges.
  • acquire new outdoors skills.
  • learn how I adapt and overcome new challenges.
  • appreciate the simple things we need in life. Once our basic needs of shelter, food, water, clothing are met, I think there is a diminishing return on all the stuff we spend our time and money on. I believe the simplicity of a thru-hiking schedule teaches me to have more appreciation.
  • see beautiful places in nature.
  • meet new people that appreciate similar things.
  • be part of a community.
  • be part of something bigger than myself.
  • stay humble.
  • stay grateful.

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

  • be a hiking bad-ass, haha. Ok, maybe I’ll just be really good at walking for extended periods of time.
  • be proud of my perseverance.
  • have confidence in my new skills acquired.
  • have overcome difficult situations and experiences.
  • be okay with being alone and being bored.  Being able to unplug from the internet will improve my mind’s ability to not be inundated with our constant connectedness with the internet and devices.
  • be reminded to be humble.
  • be reminded to be grateful.

If I give up on the PCT, I will…

  • have achieved my goals, otherwise I would not have quit.
  • feel a certain sense of incompleteness.
  • question why I gave up.
  • have been faced with some insurmountable injury or illness.

Shortly after I read this book and wrote down my motivational lists I stumbled upon a posting on thetrek.co stating they were accepting applications for bloggers and vloggers for the 2021 thru-hiking season. Knowing no one is coming to knock on my door to read my writing and publish my work, I applied. As I was filling out the application I made the connection that Zach Davis, author of “Pacific Crest Trials”, is also the founder of thetrek.co. Perhaps it’s just advanced coding algorithms steering my attention towards target websites, but I’d prefer to think of it as a more serendipitous convergence in the universe of having read Zach’s book and unknowingly applying to write for his website, The Trek.

If you read this far, you’re either a blood relative or liked something I’ve written. I am humbled by your attention. Thank you for sharing your valuable time with me. I will continue writing as I trek along 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. If you don’t hear from me, then I found the meaning of life and transcended space and time and that’s even more reason for you to get outdoors.

Next article will be my gear list. “What’s your base weight, bro?”

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Lance A Goehring : Mar 23rd

    Good luck to you, Dan! I can identify. I put on pause a computer business that I have ran for over 22 years, because none of us are getting any younger. There is never a better time to do the things that you truly dream about than right now.

    I start the 24th of April. Maybe see you out on the trail.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Daniel Gerken : Mar 24th

      Hi Lance. Thank you and happy hiking to you as well. I can’t believe it’s almost here. See you out there. Cheers.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    David Odell : Mar 24th

    Good luck on your PCT hike. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Daniel Gerken : Mar 24th

      Hello David. Thanks for your well wishes. I saw the “AT71 PCT72 CDT77”, and immediately thought, “That can’t be the years he hiked those trails…could it?!” I googled your name + PCT hike and found this; https://pcttrailsidereader.com/post/187514118198/bill-goddard-wayne-martin-butch-farrand-front.

      I am speechless. Are there any other places I can read about your hiking experiences? Pardon my ignorance if I have not found them yet. Do you have any words of advice you would care to share? I’d just like to shake your hand.

      Okay, I found what I think is your trail journal here; https://www.trailjournals.com/journal/entry/580583

      You carried 17 days of food into the Sierra in order to reach Mammoth?! Haha, OMG. I thank you. Every time I think my pack is heavy, I’ll remember I have it easy in comparison to a 17 day food carry.

      Thanks again.
      Dan

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Saltlick : Mar 30th

    Good luck. Saltlick, PCT class of ’05. Start slow and build into it. The first 500 miles are tough emotionally. A lot of deserts and counting every ounce of water.

    It will get better as time goes on. Enjoy the suck!

    The PCTers are great people. Don’t know what the Trail Magic will be like due to Covid.

    I’ll find out, I’m doing an AT flip/flop this year.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Daniel Gerken : Mar 31st

      Thank you! I agree. I keep telling myself to start slow. I’m aiming for 10 mile days at the start. 20 mile days with an over-use injury will do me no good. Thanks for the pep-talk on the desert section. I’ll need it I am sure.

      Enjoy your AT hike this year. When are you starting?

      Best,
      Dan

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Kyle M : Apr 12th

    Hiking the PCT is a dream of mine, one I hope to achieve in the coming years, so I’m living vicariously through yours and others stories!

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Daniel Gerken : Apr 13th

      Hi Kyle, thanks for reading, your comment and support. I start in two days and still can’t conceptualize the enormity of a PCT thru-hike. I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Here goes nothing.
      Cheers,
      Dan

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Adam Youngblood : Apr 16th

    Best of luck! My fiance and I have those same talk. I’m 37 and actually love hiking/ backpacking so I feel you. We’re starting to think about next year as a serious thing now. We would have done it this year but we are getting married in June… Guess we could have done it in the trail but we’re still living our old life (deposits and family expectations). Can’t wait to follow along!

    Adam from Michigan.

    Reply

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