Possibly Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

I’m Possibly, a 2018 AT thru-hiker, and I’m possibly a 2021 PCT thru-hiker.

The trail name “Possibly” was bestowed upon me when I hesitated to claim the title “thru-hiker” only a few days into a 2,200-mile journey. I liked the moniker because it had my real name, Sibley, tucked away inside of it, and because it represented both the weaker and stronger aspects of my personality: my cautious, noncommittal nature and my openness to new possibilities. I signed trail registers as “Possibly” from Georgia to Maine, embracing the uncertainty that I’d been named for.

At the time, I had no way of knowing just how much uncertainty would factor into the planning of my second Triple Crown thru hike. Back then, no one knew that 2020 would be turned upside down by a global pandemic, and I had no idea that my personal experience leading up to the PCT would be marked by kidney transplant recovery, a devastating breakup, a dramatic career heel turn, and a cross-country move: all in all, a series of events that would knock out every pillar of certainty propping up my life.

I couldn’t predict any of that in 2018, but when I stood atop the Katahdin summit sign, I was already dreaming of the PCT.

Descending from Katahdin in 2018, thinking of ice cream in Millinocket and how to hike the PCT asap

 

Back to real life

I wished I could be a thru-hiker forever, but I needed to work before I could afford another 6-month hiatus from normal adulthood. I returned to teaching English: initially overseas, like I had done before the AT, and later in northern New Hampshire so that I could be closer to my partner, a fellow AT hiker who lived in Quebec. I rented a small room in a shared house, and even on a modest teaching salary, the savings soon began to accumulate.

The rest of 2019 was marked by working, hiking in the White Mountains, driving to Montreal on the weekends, and undergoing months of medical tests to qualify as my father’s kidney donor. After a successful transplant on 12/12/19, I read Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson while on bed rest, and it was settled: I would thru-hike the PCT in 2021.

My resolutions for 2020 were designed to make this happen. I just needed to save up for one more year, coax my newly single-kidneyed body back into hiking shape, and convince my partner to come with me. After all, we’d hiked over 2100 miles of the AT together, so it was hard to imagine thru-hiking without him. I had everything figured out.

(Unfortunately, dear reader in the present day, we know where this is going.)

Alas, 2020

Then, of course, 2020 happened. In February, my relationship ended unexpectedly, leaving me reeling. In March, my school shut down, and we hastily transitioned to virtual learning. In April, I decided to leave my job at the end of the school year, having secured a position as a wilderness education camp director for the summer while I made new plans for the fall. An hour after I submitted my resignation, I was notified that the camp was canceled due to COVID. Two jobs, both gone in a single day.

I was alone and untethered in the midst of the pandemic. Once the remote school year ended, I had no job, no reason to stay in New Hampshire, and no idea what to do next. The future was uncertain, and the present felt unbearable.

Now for something completely different!

Naturally, I became a lumberjack in Arizona. The obvious next step, right? I’d typed “Wilderness Education” into the search bar on Indeed.com (Location? “Anywhere.”) and found a conservation corps looking for people to clear trails all summer with crosscut saws. When they offered me the job, I accepted. With the transplant only six months behind me, I hefted a 50-lb pack and sawed and chopped through deadfall with my crew on backcountry projects in Wyoming and New Mexico. I was in my element—performing tangible, physically demanding work in incredible outdoor environments in new parts of the country with a small group of interesting peers—and even though I still felt like a hollow, miserable shell of the human who had summited Katahdin in 2018, the work made me nostalgic for thru-hiking.

Cowboy camping on a crosscut project in New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness gave me serious PCT fever.

My thoughts returned to the PCT. It hurt to picture hiking it alone, but those misgivings were overshadowed by my craving for the simplicity of it, the certainty of it: no decisions to make except how far to walk each day, no direction to go except north.

When my 3-month term was finished and the pandemic… wasn’t, I renewed with the conservation corps, signing on until mid-April. Perfect timing to start the PCT! Now to secure a permit… I counted down the days until I could apply for a late-April start date. Then COVID began to resurge, and the PCTA postponed permit distribution until January 15th (if they decide to allow thru-hiking at all).

Looking forward

So here I am. Will I hike the PCT in 2021? Possibly. Will anyone hike the PCT in 2021? Possibly… and possibly not. I respect the PCTA’s guidance during the pandemic, and if they decline to issue thru-hiker permits, then I will need to let go of my 2 ½ year dream of a 2021 PCT attempt. Right now, with COVID cases surging even higher, I have a sinking suspicion that this will be necessary.

If it comes to that, I’ll deal with it. If 2020 has offered a lesson, it’s that we can adapt to just about anything, no matter how unthinkable it seems at first. A surgeon can take a kidney, and your body can keep functioning. A sudden turn of events can take away all your expectations for the future, and you can keep functioning. If COVID-19 takes away the opportunity to thru-hike the PCT in 2021, I will keep functioning.

But until the PCTA makes that call, I’ll cling to the remote possibility that my hike can go forward as planned.

Am I thru-hiking the PCT in 2021? Well… possibly.

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Comments 9

  • Avatar
    Andrew Carter : Dec 20th

    Go for it. Even if the PCTA doesn’t issue long distance permits, as long as the local land management organizations are, you can do it. Yes, a logistical hurdle, but doable. I plan to be out there in 2021 myself. Finally, wierd coincidence. I only have one kidney, so does my son. I thru-hiked the AT in 1977. He did it in 2017/28.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Sibley : Dec 21st

      That is a weird coincidence– seems there are more of us running on one kidney out on trail than you’d expect! I’ll definitely consider trying to secure permits individually if that seems like a viable option. That said, I assume if the PCTA declines to issue thru-hiker permits, it’ll be because campgrounds are closed, stay-at-home orders are in place in counties along the trail, or active spread is making resupply logistics risky or untenable. If this is the case, I’d rather postpone my hike until I can have the full experience (tramilies, hitchhiking, hostels, restaurant meals!) rather than using individual permits to skirt the PCTA’s recommendations. Hope to see you out there!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Jim Waller : Dec 21st

    I too donated a kidney to a good friend over 14 years ago. It is still the best thing I’ve done. Your Dad will be forever grateful! I think you should go for the PCT next year. We know so much more about how to keep ourselves and others safe than we did 9 months ago.

    Our bodies are amazingly resilient. I hiked the AZT just 10 weeks after prostate cancer surgery. Take care of your kidney and your dad, and keep finding possible adventures!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Sibley : Dec 21st

      Thank you for the encouragement, and it’s great to hear from another donor! Fourteen years ago, were they already doing it laparoscopically, or do you have the “shark bite” scar? (Apologies if that’s an invasive question, of course please feel free not to answer.) Before my surgery– robot-assisted laparoscopic– I was absolutely floored to learn that the estimated blood loss was only 2 teaspoons. But my surgeon explained that in previous decades, those front-to-back incisions for open nephrectomies were intense, sometimes needing multiple transfusions during the procedure. Donors had to be tough!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Jim Waller : Dec 21st

        My surgery was laparoscopic too! I heard the stories about the earlier techniques that were quite scary. Good luck with your future hikes. I plan to LASH the PNT in 2021.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    GroundHog : Dec 28th

    Best of luck! After 4 heart surgeries, one of which almost killed me, I unexpectedly discovered that somehow I feel great again. I just have to get back in shape after a long slow decline and a recovery so slow I’d just assumed I’d missed my chance….
    So thanks for the inspiration! I’m going to start training with the hope of finishing the AT (I’ve done Vermont border to Harper’s). If a long trail seems like just too much I’ll scale back and try for the mini-triple (Colorado & Long path) I’ve already done the JMT twice.
    Again thanks for the inspiration; I needed a boost
    GroundHog

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Sibley : Jan 1st

      Thanks, GroundHog! Nothing like recovery from major surgery to teach patience, but it sounds like you’ll be on trail soon. The JMT is on my bucket list– it looks amazing. Happy New Year!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    pearwood : Dec 28th

    Possibly Sibley,
    Blessings on your way.
    Looking at a similar set of questions for AT NOBO in 2021. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to waiting until 2022 when (we pray) the community will not have COVID-19 hanging over its head.
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Sibley : Jan 1st

      Thanks, Pearwood. I hope you are able to safely get out there, whether it’s this year or next!

      Reply

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