On Firsts and Lasts

The week leading up to leaving NYC for the PCT was a blur. I was behind on prepping my boxes, my apartment looked like a hurricane blew the remnants of a post office and a Costco though it (ie it was in no state to host a going away party), and three days before my flight to SD, Yogi posted the final checklist on her PCT Facebook group, causing me to realize that I really needed to get my life in order ( give someone all my passwords, grant someone durable power of attorney, etcetc) because THINGS ARE GETTING REAL. 

So it was, in between coffee shops and pole studios where I was saying goodbye to all the people and places I loved, I found myself googling how to write a will. 

And by this, I mean I literally was looking it up on my phone while I was walking between hangouts and appointments. Upon hearing this, several friends joked, “how ironic would it be if you got hit by a car while doing that??” And.. they have a point – statistically speaking it’s probably more likely that I’ll get hit by a car walking around New York, than dying on the PCT. And yet here I was, truly contemplating how my body should be handled after death for the first time, a few days before embarking on the trail. 

You never know when you’re doing something for the last time

Contemplating dying got me thinking about firsts and lasts. As someone who is primarily motivated by novelty, I cherish first experiences – I spend a long time anticipating each first, and in the moment, I try to relish each feeling and sensation. But this is harder with lasts, which frequently tiptoe by. And as someone who, as a friend jokingly put it, likes to “speedrun life,” it’s usually not until much later that I realize that a last time has gone, and mourn that I didn’t get an opportunity to cherish it.

So, I filled the days before my flight with farewells. My last pole dance practice, my last (good?) bubble milk tea, my last meeting with my mentee, who I’ve been mentoring for three years now. At every parting, I would say, “see you in 6 months!” And it would feel like nothing, like I would be at the same coffee shop next week, sitting down with my cappuccino and asking, “how’s your week been” like I do every week. Honestly, I’m two days into my hike now and I still don’t register it, that these sky-filled days will be all my days for the next half year. Who knows if a “last time” was tucked between the hours of that last week in New York? Maybe I’ll never again see the fried chicken place in Moynihan Train Station, where I said goodbye to my best friend. Or, as the friend who will be moving back to San Francisco the Saturday after I leave, said: “this might be the last time ever that we’re in the same city.. it’s been a good 10 years! What an end of an era.”

five people with arm slings improvised from jackets, bags, belts, and phones

honestly the slings were all pretty good! Proud of my friends 🥹

On the Friday before my flight, I hosted a going away party. My friends tried to guess the weight of my backpack, and I made them play trivia with PCT facts. As I watched them enthusiastically attempt splinting each other’s arms, I was flooded with so much love for all these wonderful people. As much as they were seeing me off, I was also seeing them off. How grateful I am, that I get a few precious hours to carve each of their laughs into my heart.

Stepping into the storm 

The weather has not been kind to NOBO hikers who started this past week. Though Campo was gorgeously sunny when I walked out of CLEEF, by the early afternoon, the sky had darkened and the wind revved from a cooling breeze into a chilling gust. It rolled in like waves, each wave bringing a spray of droplets that sent my partner and I scrambling for our rain gear. My partner, who is only joining me for the week, assumed California would be as it always had been to both of us California natives – perpetually sunny – and had only thrown a flimsy poncho in his pack *for emergencies*. He would be shivering behind that layer of film for the next two days.

Author and partner wearing rain gear and smiling at the camera

before we realized how gnarly it was gonna get 😅

We set up camp that night at mile 11.4, trying to take advantage of a 5 minute break in the downpour to throw up our tent (we didn’t make it 🫠 things got very wet). As we huddled in our tent, I taught my partner how to cook in the vestibule, something I had been taught only two weeks prior while camping with a friend in the middle of a snow storm ( don’t try any of this at home 🫣 ). I woke up in the middle of the night to gentle misting on my face, and realized that the wind was blowing in rain through the gap between my rainfly and tent. As I held the gap closed, my fingers started stinging, and I realized that it had started to hail.

A view of snow on the ground taken from inside the tent

definitely wasn’t expecting to see snow on day 2

It hailed on us four times the next day. The first time, we were mildly amused as we took in the sensation of being pelted in the face. By the fourth time, both of us were drenched by the incessant rain, my partner had started shivering, and we were no longer amused. I don’t think I’ve felt more relief than when we finally reached Lake Morena, and saw the cluster of other hikers sheltering together under the pavilion next to the PCT camping area.

a clothesline strung up in a bathroom, hung with a bunch of hiking clothes

also, bless up to the hikers who put a clothesline up in the bathroom 🥹

This weekend was full of firsts – My first few steps on to the PCT, first time hiking through a downpour and pitching my tent in the rain, first ever trail burger, and my first experience with the kindness of other hikers ( bless you, Janet, for going so above and beyond trying to find a cabin that could house my partner and me, and Spring for overhearing and subsequently offering us a spot in yours!! We’re so thankful to have gotten out of the rain on Sunday 😭). But it might also have been full of lasts – I might have exchanged a few friendly words to a hiker who has since sped on; I wouldn’t be sorry if it was the last time I ever hiked through hail. And really, as the trail changes, through seasons and climate change and human use, each step I take on it might be the last time I see this particular version of the trail. Each step, then, is both a first and a last, a hello and a goodbye.

girl in yellow sits on top of the PCT Southern Terminus monument

a first, and maybe also a last – the beginning of my PCT adventure!

I never did end up writing a will – as a young person with not many possessions of value, it didn’t seem necessary. And after all, my partner knows that in the highly unlikely chance I perish, I’d like a mycelium shroud, and to become a Japanese maple (is it morbid to admit this to the internet??). As morbid, and maybe taboo as it is, I’m also grateful that this process also gave me the push to be more appreciative of the experiences I’ll have here. Even if each mile through the sand and brush starts feeling like every other, I hope I can remind myself to fully relish each step, each greeting, each goodbye.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?