Popular Questions You’ll be Asked When You Say You’re Hiking the PCT

When we made the decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, it was nearly two years ago as we were living out of a hammock in the Prescott National Forest, working for a volunteer fire department doing fuels reduction. We spent most of our days hiking with packs and tools up steep hills to locations where we would cut brush for hours, reducing the risk of forest fires to nearby homes. We lived and worked with a group of eighteen others who embraced the transient and ever moving lifestyle, so when we started to talk about completing a thru hike, no one seemed to bat an eye.

It wasn’t until later that year when we left that lifestyle for a more settled life in Duluth that we began to get funny questions about our hopes and dreams to complete a thru hike.

Below are some of the more popular questions or statements we’ve heard since we began telling people we are going to hike the PCT.

The Wild Effect…

Of course, there’s Wild.

Without fail, whenever we mention we’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, someone will ask us about Wild. If I had a Knorr Pasta Side for every time I’ve heard this question, I could feed myself dinner through all of California.

We’ve noticed middle aged woman seem to ask us about Wild the most, and there’s always a faint trace of excitement in their voice as they talk about Cheryl Strayed. I’ve come to understand the fascination in relating her journey to all future thru hikers. She inspired and empowered many people to go after their dreams, and for people stuck in the routine monotony that can be life, Wild can be the uplifting story they’ve needed to pursue their dreams.

That being said, constantly having our own attempt of the PCT related to Cheryl Strayed’s story has its annoyances. We’ve had people tell us that the trail starts in the Mojave or that it ends at the Bridges of the Gods right as you enter Washington. We’ve had people tell us she hiked the entire trail, or imply that she’s more of a badass than any other hiker because she went out there alone and overcame her demons. Even worse, we’ve had people recount the entire book or movie to us as if we never heard about her.

Our expression when people ask us if we’ve seen or read Wild

I don’t mind the conversation, but when it comes to hearing every little specificity about her hike in excruciating detail as if her journey should be our own guidebook to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, we tend to get a little frustrated. Hike Your Own Hike is where I turn my attention to in those moments, echoing the sentiment that we’ll all have different experiences out on the trail and that ours will be very different from Cheryl Strayed’s.

“But, like.. How does it work?”

One of our favorite questions hones in on trying to grasp a general understanding of how hiking 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada would actually work.

“Do you camp the entire way?”

“Do you carry all of your food?”

“You do this… on foot?”

Call it insane, hair-brained, or generally idiotic, but the answer to these questions are always “yes”. People will give us a wide-eyed look, shake their heads, and say something to imply they can’t even fathom what we just said. We always get a kick out of these responses as they make us feel a little more like a badass than we really are. We haven’t even set foot on the trail yet, we could definitely not make it all the way to Canada, but the resounding awe of the less outdoorsy boost our confidence and help us feel like we’re really something special for attempting something that thousands of others try each year.

“How will you protect yourself?”

Being from Southern California, I often feel like I grew up in a bubble. This first became apparent to me when I moved to Minnesota and there were suddenly so many things that I didn’t understand.

Weather, for example, was a big deal. I was terrified of lightning my first year in Minnesota, I still don’t understand how to drive in snow, and I’m always the first one to make a comment about what’s going on outside because it’s so novel for me.

Training in snow was quite a different experience than hiking in the Southern California desert

When it came to things like hunting or carrying knives, my understanding was even more limited.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years now, with a two year stint as a vegan. I often joke with people in Minnesota that, of course I’m a vegetarian, everyone in California is a vegetarian. An over exaggeration for sure, but I did grow up in an environment where vegan restaurants were readily available and I never had to explain at a restaurant why I didn’t want meat on my plate. When it came to hunting, that word wasn’t in my vocabulary until I got to Minnesota when suddenly half the people I knew owned guns and chose to hunt in the fall.

I don’t have strong opinions against hunting or guns, but I definitely don’t feel the need to carry a gun in order to protect myself. This is especially true along the trail, where carrying a gun that weighs more than my sleep system would be impractical and not to mention illegal.

Luckily weight and the general popularity of the trail serves as a good answer for both of us when we get caught in conversations with others about carrying a gun with us. There really isn’t a need for one, and if anything we’re more likely to harm ourselves by tripping on a rock or stubbing a toe at camp than coming across an angry bear or harmful human.

“There is no way I could ever do that”

The statement we get the most often, outside of the Wild question, is “I could never do that”.

Neither one of us remember when we started talking about wanting to hike the Pacific Crest Trail together, nor do I remember when the idea first entered my own mind. I just remember feeling like this was something I wanted to do and that I was fortunate enough to find someone else that I love spending time with who wanted to do it too.

I do remember, however, that when we officially made the decision to hike the PCT, we were underprepared, knew very little about backpacking, and were not what I would deem “in-shape”.

Cooper and I and friends at the start of our first thru hike on the Ozark Trail. With a pack weight near forty, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It took a little bit of diligence in getting outside and testing out our gear, carrying weight, and walking longer distances, but ultimately we’ve learned over the last two years that it’s a lot of mind of matter. Having a positive attitude when things get rough can make a world of difference in overcoming challenges in any aspect of life, especially when trying to hike 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

When people tell us they could never do this, we often tell them they’re wrong. Ultimately, anyone could do this, or something like this. It’s all about the attitude you have, your willingness to learn, and your ability to be vulnerable and uncomfortable as you push yourself to do something you never envisioned as possible.

I’m not saying that everyone should go attempt a thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. The environmental damage from increased usership along our national trail system is ever increasing and evident, and being able to escape to nature for solitude and quiet is something I love and appreciate. However, I believe people have comparable goals that would challenge them just as much as a thru hike of the PCT, and when it comes to those goals, we strongly believe anyone is capable of accomplishing something remarkable.

These are the questions or statements we’ve gotten the most often over the past two years as we’ve planned and prepared for our hike. Can any other aspiring thru hikers relate to these questions, or do you have any recurring questions that you hear often? Share them with me in the comment field below!

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