People of the PCT: A Prequel
Nature and humanity.
After three years of conducting trail research as a self-proclaimed armchair thru-hiker, I’ve concluded that these seem to be two of the most beloved parts of trekking the Pacific Crest Trail. Even to foreigners of thru-hiking, the former is fairly obvious. The latter, however, comes as a surprise to some.
Among the popular questions I’m asked about my jaunt across the states, another top contender is, “Are you going alone?” Or rather, it’s often a more panicked, “You’re not going alone, right? You’re going with a group, right?” And at this point I know it’s too late to save them from channeling certain references to imagine me in these wild places.
Cue mental images of Cheryl Strayed struggling to take a single step with her elephant-sized pack. And ones of Chris McCandless stranded in an abandoned bus in frozen Alaska. And don’t forget those of Bear Grylls harvesting water from cacti and sleeping in animal carcasses (gross).
First, I must say, I’m humbled by everyone’s concern for my safety driving their underlying apprehension. But fear not, trail skeptics, I’m fairly certain I will not be using any high shock value survival techniques from reality TV. And I will not be hiking alone (but let it be known that I have nothing but respect for solo hikers).
Originally hailing from the quaint mountain towns of Montana, Annie is a nurse practitioner by trade and a true adventurous spirit in every sense. Her mental fortitude and energy encourage her to challenge the “risk versus reward” argument in various forms. She belongs to the elite group of travelers who have set foot on every continent, and she was a key player in my introduction to outdoor adventure. Our first (mis)adventure together was a summit of Mt. Shasta three years ago, which also doubled as my first backpacking trip. And it may or may not have involved us dodging boulders the size of Mini Coopers charging down the mountain at us on an exposed ascent. In approximately one hour (by the way, I’m on my way to the trailhead right now) the grandeur of these adventures is about to culminate in the grandest of them all as we join forces as a PCT power-hiking duo. A few of Annie’s favorite things include coffee, corn nuts, tea parties, Saint Bernards, wilderness medicine, the color pink, and high elevations. She also enjoys candlelit dinners and long walks across the country.
But it will not just be the two of us, either. There’s a whole community of people like us. A community of fellow hikers, of dreamers and doers, of strangers-turned-friends, who similarly desire to haul ass along the height of the western United States for intangible reasons. And although thru-hikers hail from different states, countries, upbringings, social circles, religions, and cultures, I’ve read stories of the kindness, generosity, loyalty, and camaraderie that develop as a result of having one single thing in common: a strange dirt path carved into the earth. And that’s what keeps the spirit of the trail alive.
But it’s not just thru-hikers who make the trail go round. There are non thru-hikers who come to the trail to deliver goodness in all forms, and I’ve been told a tale or two about the generosity of these superhumans. Tales of rounding a trail bend to come across a cooler of ice cold water, soda, and beer sitting on the dusty desert ground. Of hallucinations of fresh fruit on a blistering hot afternoon that end up not being hallucinations at all. Of complete strangers who invite exhausted hikers into their homes for a hot shower and a home-cooked meal. Of countless stories of the restoration of humanity brought to you by these trail angels, this trail magic, and that same strange dirt path carved into the earth.
Now, I’ve been warned not to rely on these random gestures of kindness, but it’s difficult not to be ridiculously stoked for something that I’ve read so much about. So I try to keep my expectations to a minimum. What I definitely didn’t expect, however, is to come across this type of magic before even setting foot outside of the Midwest. I’ve had friends, family, acquaintances, and total strangers reach out to me about the trail.
“My friend lives in Portland, and she said you can use her shower and running water! My uncle’s cousin’s son’s dog walker’s mailman’s dentist lives right along the trail, and you can stay with his family!”
I met a fellow who offered me a ride in his airplane if I find him in a small Southern California town. And I recently met the sweetest couple from Oregon at a forest preserve just ten minutes from my house where I would go on my training hikes. They immediately recognized an adventure in the making based on my pack, and they offered to make us a home cooked meal when we reach that area. And these are only a few of many examples. Being 2,000 miles away from the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail in Chicago, I have been surprised, awed, humbled, and inspired by the magic I’ve already experienced. And if this is a prelude to the human beings I am going to encounter on my walk, I have one thing to say these people:
I can’t wait to meet you!
See ya on the trail!
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