My PCT Influence: Too Much Wine
Day 1. Mile 0.
I begrudgingly put one foot in front of another, slowly climbing the steep incline up to our first pass. The feeling of nausea was overcoming me, but I couldn’t decide if that was more important than my pride. I wanted and needed to take a break and I hadn’t even been on this trail for 10 minutes. I had to make the decision whether to just keep going or to stop and listen to my body. When that first feeling of vomit overwhelmed me, I stopped and composed myself. We left the trailhead moments ago and said goodbye to a nice couple who was already about to pass us. I felt weak, embarrassed and a little ashamed.
I hadn’t even reached Mile One on the four-day adventure that we were embarking on. This was my first backpacking trip EVER and I signed up to hike the 50-mile trail that encircles The Three Sisters in Oregon. As I made my way up again, I just kept thinking, “If I can’t do this, how in the hell am I going to backpack 2,650 miles on the PCT next year!?” I am usually a pretty positive person, but this trip left me riddled with doubt.
Months earlier, I sat on the floor of my roommate Andrew’s bedroom, drinking wine and consoling him over his recent breakup. Andrew hiked the AT a few years ago (his trail name is Alpo) and he had been talking of the PCT for a few months now. He invited me months prior to this conversation, in which I laughed and responded with, “There is no way in hell you’re going to get my fat ass on that trail”!
My older brother Joe hiked the entirety of the PCT in 2011 (his trail name was Quake) and spoke nothing but wonderful, amazing and life changing experiences. I just never thought I would have the time or ability to do something of this monstrosity, but here I was, actually thinking about it. Here was Andrew, leaving this relationship to follow something he loves to do so much; why couldn’t I do that? I mean, all of my twenties have been getting hammered at shitty bars, editing wedding photos that I didn’t want to bother with, and a barrage of mediocre OkCupid dates. I really wouldn’t be missing out on much. At this point in our conversation, I was on about my fourth or fifth glass of wine and was actually romanticizing the idea. I have made a lot of ridiculous decisions while drunk, but this had to be the craziest.
Leading up to our loop around the sisters, I was pretty nervous. I had never done anything like this and I was terrified of looking weak and unfit. I was going with two people who are well-versed in long distance backpacking and I was just a mere newbie. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I bought a bunch of cheap gear on amazon and just took the plunge.
After that first daunting incline, we arrived to the top and I completely forgot how hard it was. I just saw majestic mountains, beautiful alpine meadows and lush, green forest. There was even eight miles of a burn zone that was so beautiful as we watched the sunrise behind the dead trees. I had never experienced anything like it. My legs hurt and the blisters sucked, but the beauty and experience gave me heaps of energy. Jumping in the chilly alpine lakes rejuvenated me enough to keep trekking on. I had never really felt this feeling of no priorities, obligations or responsibilities. I had myself, my friends and what seemed to be an endlessness of trail ahead of me. I see now why people are addicted to the pain of backpacking, because it makes the self-connection and sense of purpose that much more intense.
The first day proved to be the easiest. The last two were much harder, more intense and incredibly painful. I had about 5-6 blisters per foot, everything was swollen and my butt cheeks might as well have had sandpaper in between them. I started limping at about mile 25, and had another 25 to go. I didn’t want my first trip to influence me not to follow through with the PCT. However, the pain and the mental breakdown in my head was making it hard to romanticize packing up and hiking for such a long period of time.
There was one instance that helped changed my mind on all of this. It was our last full day and I was literally limping into camp. It was mile 40. I was done. I probably looked like a newborn trying to walk for the first time. I felt defeated. Andrew and Cameron had made it to camp at least 30-45 minutes before I had. I really had no idea how much further I had to go; I was focused on being able to take another step at this point. In the melodramatics of it all, I felt very alone.
And then I see Andrew. He’s was running toward me on trail without his pack. He ran all the way to me to offer to carry my pack for me. I don’t know why, but the simple gesture from my friend was incredibly appreciated. I’m a sucker for the little things, I guess. I obviously refused his offer because I’m hard headed and I wanted to finish what I had started. Still, the fact that he ran all the way to help me made me feel really good.
It was at that moment that I realized why I could actually hike the PCT. I might in fact have just enough confidence to make it to the start of the trail. Yes, I am going to hurt, be in so much pain it’s at the point of being unbearable and probably even cry like a big fat baby. However, that is all okay, because my friends are there to lift me up, support me and encourage me, and visa versa. Do I think you have to be tough to hike that far? Maybe a little, but I definitely don’t see anything wrong with being vulnerable while doing it. It’s human nature.
When I think back on this first backpacking trip, I’m so grateful for many memories from that trip. The incredible sunset we had above Mattheui Lake, the amount of deep and meaningful conversations we shared and the night hike through the burn zone where we watched the meteor shower and the inevitable sunrise. I am even more thankful for the fact that I went through that pain, and felt like a failure who couldn’t continue on. I know now because that I challenged myself and took on something I thought I couldn’t do, I can up the stakes and do something even crazier this year.
I have no clue what the PCT is going to be like. I can only listen to what people tell me and try to imagine it. When I dream of it in my head, I imagine it’s like all the best and worst days of your life, compacted into one 5-month long adventure, and that really excites me. It’s silly to me that a year ago I would have never thought in my mind to do this. With all the love and support from my family, my gear sponsorship from Thru Hike Syndicate and the opportunity to share my photos and words through this site, it makes nothing but complete sense that I pick up my camera, and go.
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