Possibly on the PCT: Part 2
I am going to walk from Mexico to Canada this year.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is—I also intended to hike the PCT in 2021. At least, until skyrocketing COVID cases, a bumpy vaccine rollout, and an awesome job offer convinced me to postpone my thru-hike plans. So, I’m hiking in 2022 instead.
Let’s back up.
The year 2020 was challenging for me. I know—join the club, right? But amid the broader challenges of the global pandemic, I was also dealing with kidney transplant recovery, a devastating breakup, and a cross-country move. By the time I was injured in a freak workplace accident in August, I was feeling downright cursed.
I entered 2021 with a grim sort of optimism. There was nowhere to go but up! I finished my conservation corps term in April. After I said goodbye to my trail crew, my new partner and I loaded up my car to road trip from Arizona to New Hampshire for my exciting new job. Two thousand miles into the journey, the job offer was rescinded. The whole program was canceled the week before it was scheduled to begin, thanks to the pandemic and staffing shortages. I had already given up my 2021 PCT permit, so thru-hiking was no longer an option. For a couple months, I scrambled. My partner returned to Arizona, and I worked a brief summer job to earn some cash while I applied to dozens of new opportunities.
Then, things began to look up again.
By mid-summer, I found work as a multi-day adventure guide for REI and moved back out west. It was my dream job. I worked in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and in my off-time, I lived in Flagstaff with my smart, outdoorsy boyfriend and our two rescue dogs. I was one Subaru away from being the poster child of the carefree, crunchy Flagstaffian 20-something. I should have been happy.
Nonetheless, my mental health was deteriorating. When I’d been unhappy at the beginning of COVID, it had felt reasonable, universal, and finite. Of course, I was depressed in 2020—everyone was! But now? Variant cases were sky-high, but my outdoor lifestyle and introverted tendencies sheltered me from the ongoing pandemic. Things were… fine. Instead of inspiring unspoken solidarity, my unhappiness now felt ungrateful, shameful, and isolating. I couldn’t understand it. I had rebuilt my life so cautiously! Piece by piece: job, relationship, hobbies, dog. Months passed, and I tried hard to convince myself that everything was okay.
In November, my brother secured me a PCT permit while I was out guiding in Joshua Tree. After that, the prospect of a 2022 thru-hike became my lifeline as everything else came undone. I left my partner. I began living out of my car, bouncing from one Forest Service campground to another throughout central Arizona. Work was a welcome distraction. On my off days, trail running and thru-hike planning occupied my time and energy. I took shelter in long hours and lists of numbers—weekly mileage, budget, pack weight—while I waited out the winter. Suddenly, it’s March, and the trail is soon.
So why am I doing this again?
When I started the Appalachian Trail four years ago, I had clearly defined reasons for doing so: the physical challenge, the scenery, to explore new states, and to meet people with similar interests. Now, my motivation for the Pacific Crest Trail feels much more tenuous. The reasons from the AT all still apply, of course. I’ve barely scraped the surface of California, and I’ve never been to Oregon or Washington at all, so I am eager to explore new terrain. I’m challenging myself to average 18 miles a day and finish in under five months. I can’t wait to settle into the hiker trash community again, especially now that international travel is resuming, and I can befriend hikers from around the world.
But I worry that I’m also hiking for reasons with less likelihood of success. I know I idealize the AT in my memory, and part of me is scared that the PCT won’t live up to my rosy nostalgia. I think I’m also hoping to recapture who I was on the Appalachian Trail, and I’m not sure that’s realistic. When I started the AT, I was curious, enthusiastic, friendly, attentive—all qualities I’ve struggled to embody in the past few years. I’d like to be that person again. Obviously, it’s impossible to turn back time, but I’m hoping a new trail can help me rediscover the openness to possibility that I was nicknamed for. Finally, the AT gave me faith in the goodwill of strangers and faith in myself and my body. Four years, two breakups, one kidney transplant, and one global pandemic later, I’m crossing my fingers that the PCT will help me find a little of that faith again.
I start in less than a month.
I’ve been running a lot and hiking even more. I’m dialing in the last few pieces of gear and tying up the loose ends of my “real” life. I’ve done two shakedown trips that I’ll share in future posts.
I’m counting down the days now. I think I might, possibly, be ready.
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