PCT Heartbreak: Looking Toward the Far Horizon
“Could you call me please?”
The text message from my father leered out from the screen of my Iphone, inspiring an immediate fear within me.
What could be wrong? Had something happened?
Anxiously, my fingers tapped the numbers, and the line rang as my anxiety seemed to tighten around my chest with every heartbeat.
He picked up on the second ring, and went straight to business. Never a good sign.
“Have you seen the news? California is on lockdown, they’re threatening people with jail. Are you sure you want to keep going?” he asked, the worry evident in his voice.
Of all the reasons he could have been calling, my initial feeling was relief. No relative was dying, or infected, everything was still OK. Though I was currently in California, that lockdown order was far away. It applied to residents, and I was about to be isolated on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Full of what I thought was defiance and tenacity, I made my case, proclaiming boldly that I was going to push on.
My stance, for weeks, had been the same as I watched others defer their dreams, and cancel their hikes. I was not going to be one of them. I was going to press on and see it through. After all the years of training, hoping, and trying, only to fail time and time again, 2020 was going to be my year.
I was there, only ten miles from Campo. This was my moment, and neither COVID-19, or any other tragedy was going to take me off the trail.
Still, with vague threats of arrest floating in the air for continuing, the first cracks in my veneer of defiance began to show. Hanging up, after working just as hard to convince my father as myself that it was OK to press on, I looked toward my husband.
“Should I really do this?”
He was just as defiant as I was, encouraging me not to give up on my dreams.
My entire life, fear has stopped me from living. Driving me deep into a reclusive lifestyle, where I did not drive, did not reach out, did not leave my house except when it was utterly necessary. For two years, I barely stepped foot in a grocery store, deferring those duties to my husband, nor would I go to movies. Getting me to go to a family event led to epic fights, and screaming, tearful arguments.
It was a miserable way to live, but it was the only way I knew. The world was too frightening, and threatening. There was too much risk.
Inwardly, I continued to contract, drawing deeper and deeper into my pit of despair, and fear, until, in 2018, I hit a crisis point. Feeling like I was losing my mind, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done… scheduling a doctor’s appointment and seeking help.
I did not know it at the time, but I was transitioning, slowly hiking the path out of hell. As I started a new medication, I found a small island of calm that I could build from, leading me to make more positive changes within my life.
At some point, I began to dream again, looking toward the Pacific Crest Trail.
As my life began to coalesce into recovery, my ambitions became fixated on that one particular point. It became the reason why I pushed through grueling three- and four-hour sessions at the gym. It became my focus as I began to get out there and day hike, building up my strength, and relearning how to be in the world.
It got me through. While medication was one side of my recovery, training for the trail was the other side of it; motivating me to push through the hard times, and look defiantly toward the horizon, even when my days got bad, and all I wanted to do was withdraw.
No more quitting, no more excuses. 2020 was to be my year where I would finally live my dream.
The heat went out in our cabin in the middle of the night, further souring an already fitful night of sleep.
March 20, 2020. The day I had been working, living, and hoping for for so long had finally come, and while a choir of doubts sang in my mind disrupting an already miserable night of sleep, it was nothing I hadn’t faced before.
Push through. See it through. Don’t stop. The virus would fade, life would go on, and I would be one of the few that had persisted to the end.
To be honest, I was looking forward to it. While many people hike for the sense of community, and the experience of the trail towns, I’m not one of them. My primary motivation for hiking is to be in nature, to be challenged, and to exist in a state and a place where I feel the most free.
Those trail towns, and most people, make very little sense to me. There is an ever-present feeling within me that I don’t quite fit within the “civilized” world, but deep into a trail I find a freedom that I’ve never found anywhere else.
So what then if it was going to be a quiet year? I had specifically designed my thru-hike to minimize interaction, to avoid the herd heading north. My trip plan allowed for only one zero day a month, the stops in town kept intentionally brief. All I needed was to be able to stop at the post office, and maybe do some laundry, but then right back out.
In short, the Pacific Crest Trail was, in many ways, a type of escape. My way of avoiding society for six months while pursuing what I loved.
It was the email from Zach Davis here at The Trek that finally shattered my illusions. With the suspending of the thru-hiking blogs for the 2020 year, a major pillar for my hike collapsed right out from under me and like dominoes the rest fell, as a tsunami of realization hit me.
What I thought was defiance and tenacity was actually denial, born out of deep-seated fear.
I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to have to turn around and fail again. I was afraid that turning back meant that I would slide back into the old habits and chains I had fought so hard to escape.
It couldn’t end. I desperately didn’t want it to end. After so much work, so much effort, so many long nights of pain and terror, overcoming each challenge.
I was ten miles away. A few hours from sunrise, and it was over?
Oh gods, no.
The pain in that moment threatened to rip me in two. The shock left me even unable to cry. A fierce debate ensued between my husband and me, but in the end, there was only one real choice to make.
My PCT 2020 hike was over, a scant few hours before it began.
In all my life, with all I have experienced, and suffered through, I cannot recall a time when I have felt more lost, and that, dear reader, is saying something.
Still on the edges of denial, I tried to pivot. Maybe I could go to Arizona and hike the AZT, followed by the Pacific Northwest Trail. My mind was racing from possibility to possibility, trying to outrun not just COVID-19 and the government’s efforts to contain it, but the growing despair that there would be no long hike this year.
Numb, I loaded my pack into the car, only for my husband to announce that hike or no, we were going to the Southern Terminus.
At that moment, it all felt futile. Until we arrived. A deep excitement seized me as I neared the launch point for my dream. The joy of finally being there, competed with the despair as I strapped on my pack, and made the short hike from the parking area, to the monument.
All I wanted in that moment was to head north, but it was not to be. Though as I stared at the oddly green desert, a small idea flickered to flame deep within me, and I finally understood why my husband had insisted we come out here.
Hope. The first rays of sunshine broke through on an utterly miserable day.
There was always hope.
Looking Toward the Far Horizon
The Pacific Crest Trail is not going anywhere. In fact, this lull in activity gives it an opportunity to recover it rarely has. While we all wait, binge watching shows on Netflix, and waiting for this pandemic storm to pass, the PCT is growing more resplendent. This promises to make 2021 a rare and banner year for all of those that choose to hike it.
And make no mistake, the storm will pass. Life and society will continue, if changed. My life is living testament to such things. What is deferred is not dead, a setback is not a failure unless you let it stop you from dreaming and trying.
So I will continue to hike, I will continue to train, I will continue to step out there, and push. A dream delayed is not a dream denied.
Keep hoping, keep hiking, and keep going.
Onward, towards the farthest star!
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.