Pacific Crest Trail: Thru-Hike 2 – The Return to Dirtbagging

A May 14th NOBO permit for the Pacific Crest Trail. A 63-day countdown. A full-time job to finish. A life to pack up in boxes. An ever-growing To Do List. And an increasingly difficult training program. Why is there so much that has to get done before the freedom of a thru-hike?

Our Timeline Between the AT and PCT

It’s been almost five years since I set foot on the Appalachian Trail. I had little idea of how it would change my life. I fell in love with hiking long distance, feeling the joys of a slower pace of life. Remarkably, I also fell in love with my current* husband, Sean (formerly Orange Blaze). Our blended ‘Tramily’ agreed that we would thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2024, and as life does, it gets in the way.

*I have to keep him on his toes.

The Sauce at the Mason Dixon Line

Much of our AT 2019 Tramily at the Mason Dixon Line


Sean and I have used summers and the time I had to wait for US work authorization to get out and enjoy nature. We hiked the 630 mile South West Coast Path, fueling our bodies with Pasties and Chips (of Fish and Chip fame, not the American word for ‘crisps’). I hiked a seemingly abandoned Benton MacKaye trail, learning that this 278-mile trail is much quieter in the March preseason than the bustling Appalachian Trail. We punished ourselves with a 19 day thru-hike of the Long Trail in the height of summer.

Sean and I at the summit of Mount Mansfield

Sean and I at the summit of Mount Mansfield during our Long Trail thru-hike

Each of these hikes taught us more about ourselves and our relationship. Sean finds it difficult to enjoy a hike when there’s work to be done for the next school year. I become overly ambitious on my expectations for my body when I’m not living in a constant state of hiking. We agreed that a 2025 thru-hike of the PCT would be an achievable goal. We aimed to have savings for after the hike. It would benefit me to have a little more time in my career, and time to get into better shape.

Life Doesn’t Always Go the Way You Think it Will

I left my teaching job at the school in 2023 after one year to pursue the opportunity of the Camp Director Role at my favorite place in the USA – Camp Vacamas. I knew it would challenge me beyond anything in my professional career. This role started a mere three weeks before the campers arrived, and the day after finishing the school year. I’m so grateful for the experience and what I learned from my colleagues, supervisors, and the children. However, I realized that I was so far removed from the industry, that I wasn’t prepared for that role. I stepped down at the start of the next season.

Fortunately, at the school, where Sean continues to work, had an opening in a different role. I took this role after some time to reflect (and hike). We were back on track for a 2025 hike. Then the school announced that they were undergoing severe financial difficulty and that it may have to close its doors at the end of the 2023/24 school year.

Sean and I at the end of our South West Coast Path thru-hike in 2021

Sean and I at the end of our South West Coast Path thru-hike in 2021

We waited patiently, following the heroic efforts of alumni, parents, and the school administration to raise the funds to move forward. The news was scheduled for sharing January 13th – three days later than the second round of PCT permit releases. We knew that we didn’t want to find work for eight months to hike in Spring of 2025. We decided to go for permits for Mid-May. Our reasoning that our departure from Darrow minimally impacts the end of the school year, and we have a chance at a NOBO thru-hike.

May 14th – The Pacific Crest Trail from Campo to Monument 78

The school soon shared the news they had secured the funding needed to remain in operation. We celebrated this news with our colleagues and the students. Sean and I knew that with permits in hand, 2024 would be our year to hike. We mentally started our disconnection from the school community before the decision was made.

We continue to pare down our belongings and drive items to store in Maine with Sean’s family. I’m determined to educate myself more on how to look after my feet. I struggle with finding shoes for my US Size 15, wide feet. I finished the Long Trail more blister than foot, and I am a corn farm for the small, hardened circles of skin that form on the pad of my foot below my little toes. My students make funny looks at the cover of my book “Fixing Your Feet” 6th Edition, as I explain that ‘I’m not into feet like that’.

Fixing Your Feet 6th Edition Cover

Fixing Your Feet 6th Edition Cover

I religiously follow a workout plan from Quadzilla’s ‘Couch to Trail’ site. By religiously, I mean I try, scaling down intensity cased on my fitness. I like that the workouts are designed to build strength to better prepare my body for the challenge.

I’m so excited to get back to sleeping in our tent, planning our days as they come. Our Appalachian Trail ‘Tramily’ member ‘Banter’ is also hiking and we aim to catch up to him (if it can be done safely). Most of all I cannot wait to experience the biomes of the western USA, and experience nature in a new way.

The Question Remains: Why are we Hiking?

Was our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail a fluke?

Do we need to complete another long-distance trail to prove ourselves to others?

What is it we are searching for within ourselves?

Ultimately, it’s hard not to compare the Appalachian Trail experience with what is to come on the Pacific Crest Trail. Sean and I agree we want each to be their own experience. Sean uses these hikes as a way to pass between stages of life. More and more I find hiking to be the experience that grounds me. I feel more connected to myself and my feelings when I am covered in days of sweat and dirt. Pride in my body and what it can accomplish is at its highest when I am dirtbagging through wilderness.

Raynor Winn shares the thought of a fellow hiker in her book: Landlines that left me with goosebumps. “Something remarkable happens when you walk a long-distance path. I think you find an honesty that you don’t see in normal life. It unites those who walk in a sort of trail-induced euphoria that gives you a sense of openness, where normally we’re all so closed. I think that’s the place where trail magic comes from.”

And to that quote I say, “Very That”.

Aidan and Sean Wedding

To all the Pacific Crest Trail Class of 2024, and the family and friends that will follow our journey: See you on the trail!

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