PCT Section One: One day at a Time
A week before I started the PCT, I got the stomach flu.
I desperately wanted the misery to mean something. Sparing you the details, I was practically bedridden, and all my feverish brain could hold onto was the constant worry that I wouldn’t be able to hike the trail. It wasn’t the reassuring determination that would tell me I wanted to hike badly enough to struggle for it. It was a stomach-churning anxiety that maybe I’d never know if I’d made the right choice. I wanted the timing to bring me clarity, but of course it didn’t, because when does the stomach flu have a logic to it?
If I’m honest, my doubts didn’t start with the stomach flu.
For the month leading up to the trail, I’d been questioning my hike. Was I being stupid for walking away from my friends, family, and partner? I lost all enthusiasm for the PCT, only resurrected by others’ curiosity. The sagging energy felt like this huge red flag. I’d been bubbling over for months, but once the reality of the last month sunk in, my desire for the hike crumpled. Did that mean I shouldn’t go?
I recovered enough to get in the car with my partner and drive cross-country. I had five days to get to Campo and start eating again. Five days to figure out how I felt, and how I wanted to feel. As the miles flowed by, I wondered if there were any “wrong” emotions pre-hike. Should I roll with the fears and anxiety? Or should I try my damndest to get into a positive mindset?
By the time we got to Campo, I was sure I’d made peace with the PCT. But when I opened my eyes on my start date, the tears flowed immediately.
All day I cried, stopping only for the southern terminus monument photos and at a water source. I even sniffled while I spoke to trail angels. I started to bargain how many miles were a fair shot before going home, and if I didn’t, how long I’d go without a hug. It wasn’t at all how I’d imagined my first miles. I thought I’d be giddy. I’d always been so sure about the trail. Was this my gut telling me to turn around? Or my fear?
Eventually, I realized that walking alone and stewing wouldn’t get me any answers. My mind was swirling so fast that I didn’t know what I thought about the trail. The only moments of reprieve had been with people. So I set out for a large campsite, hoping to find some company. I knew people were what I needed. I needed to share how I was feeling and hope for some resonance.
But what would I tell them? What story would I tell? When I told my friend I was sick, she said life has terrible timing, but at least it makes a good blog post. I wasn’t sure I’d learned anything, other than that I knew I could show up despite my fears.
I found other hikers at camp who readily made room for my tent and welcomed me into the dinner routine. I told them I’d really struggled with my first day, and that I missed my partner dearly. I choked back more tears, mostly because I didn’t want to communicate that I was thinking about quitting.
That wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
They nodded and told me they were proud I was there. I’d been afraid someone would tell me that I should turn around, that my tears were a sign to run back to my loved ones. But I realized that they would just echo back what I told them. There was no sign in my tears. The only meaning was what I’d make of them.
I went to bed mostly okay and woke up excited to hike.
I felt immense relief that I wanted to be there, even a little bit. Every day since, my enthusiasm has been growing. I’m no longer convinced every purple flower is poisonous poodle dog bush—I’m stopping to photograph every other cactus in bloom. I’ve found community in my hiking bubble. We’re the ones who are starting slow and steady, and in the face of pressure to race through, we’re telling ourselves that we’re invested in being out here for the long run. Every day I tell myself that I’m strong, patient, and resilient. I miss home like hell, and that’s ok. I’ll still make it to Canada. And most of the time, I believe in myself.
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Allie, you’re a fine writer. And you’re going to be fine, no matter what. You’ve just the right attitude. Did you know that ponderosa pines come in flavors? Bury your nose in a bark crevice and breathe deep. Most are vanilla, a few are chocolate, and a rare find is butterscotch. Hope you find one!
Thank you for keeping it real for the rest of us Allie! We are all rooting for you and cheering you on from afar. No matter whether you complete one week, one month, or make it to Canada-we are all incredibly proud of you (and slightly jealous 😬) for every day that you are experiencing this wonder! xoxo
Allie, my start date is May 2 and, like you, I have become a Doubting Thomas.
I suspect actually being on trail will fix that.
I first set eyes on the PCT at Whitewater Preserve way back in 2015. I told my wife then that when I retire I am going to do a chunk of the PCT.
I had two permits in 2019, the first one got squashed when our prima Donna male Maine Coin broke his leg in five places. So then I tried to start at Tuolumne on July 1 and the Rangers told me I had to wait two weeks due to snow. I didn’t have the luxury of time.
Then Covid squashed 20 and 21. So 22 it is.
We went to Tucson on March break to get in some desert hiking.I managed to liase with Covid. My lungs still aren’t 100% but enough is enough. It has to happen.
Safe sauntering to you !
Great to hear from you Allie. Your head’s going to be fine. I’ll be thinking about your feet. 🙂