Finding Strength in Your Purpose
We have finished the PCT
It was not an easy year to walk the trail. 2023 has been plagued with crazy weather; from record snow to heatwaves, hurricanes to fire. Due to our timing and particular flip, we managed to avoid all of the various closures across the trail this year and walked every section – only missing a couple of miles here and there. For this we are both extremely grateful, but now we have begun to reflect on our experiences, and what lead us to walking the trail in the first place.
From the start of the trail we were told by the famous trail angels, Scout and Frodo, to set out our purposes for walking. We weren’t looking to ‘find ourselves’, but we did however want to:
- Walk the whole trail in one direction in one calendar year
- See all the major landmarks and sights along the way
- Walk with a trail family
- Enjoy it
Beyond this we really had no desire for much personal reflection or introspection (more on how wrong we were later). These seem like obvious and overly simple purposes. We would come to find, however, that sticking to your purposes can be extremely challenging.
Walk the Whole Trail in One Direction in One Calendar Year
This goal is perhaps the most obviously difficult to achieve – walking 2655 miles is no easy feat even in the most unchallenging terrain or environment, but this is what all thru-hikers set out to achieve. A lofty goal no doubt, as every year you are competing against distance, weather, injury, family, money among a variety of other life factors out to get you.
We realised early on that we would need to be more flexible with this, after talking to other hikers who were unflinching in their resolve to walk the whole trail in one go in one calendar year (usually in one continuous path north). These people were the die-hards, the purists, and also the folks walking the desert for the 4th time in 4 years. It highlighted the fact that if you try to wait for the perfect conditions or the perfect year, you will never walk the PCT. Talking to these people and knowing that there was a Sierra section still under snow in front of us, we downgraded our goal to simply Walking the Whole Trail.
See all the Major Landmarks and Sights Along the Way
If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it – simple. We would come to realise that even this goal would interfere with our first goal. For instance, Crater Lake or Tunnel Falls in Oregon, we considered a part of the trail, even though technically they are alternates. To fulfil our first goal we would need to leave the trail, go to Crater Lake, and then return to trail to continue walking back on the true PCT. This, to us, was not worth the time or hassle to try and organize and, like to mentioned, we were no longer purists. To us, these side trails are part of the PCT experience and are therefore part of the trail. Simple as that. Goal, check.
Walk with a Trail Family
Before the trail, we had seen many visions of the ‘trail family’ or ‘tramily’ and we looked forward to this. We fostered friendships in the desert with fellow hikers and solidified them across the challenging snowfields of San Jacinto peak. We walked with these folks all
the way to Kennedy Meadows South. But alas, the snow strikes again! Everyone had decided on a different flip variation – some to Chester, some to Old Station, some to the Canadian border and some just plain
went through. Just like that we had lost our desert tramily. For a while we hiked by ourselves through the mosquito clouds of NorCal and Oregon until we met up with some folks from Scout and Frodo’s place we had met even before the Southern Terminus. We walked with this crew, our second tramily, through Washington and then back through the Sierra.
It should go without saying that you are going to enjoy your PCT through hike. What gets glossed over in the Hollywood movies and the Youtube films is how much you are going to work for it. This year had it all, with multiple days on snow, miles of blowdowns and clouds of ravenous mosquitos, and so a lot of the time we were in pure suffering. Some days you are getting mad at the trail because it decided to go uphill. It is important to accept that this is part of the journey, and know that it is these moments that you truly came out here to experience. If you wanted to see all the major sites along the PCT, you could easily drive out and hike to them, probably over the course of a week.
It is easy to lose sight of your purpose along the trail. You spend so long out there that you can begin to ruminate, thinking ‘do I really want this?’. You will find yourself sitting in your tent in the evening and see people hiking past you well into all hours of the night and will think: ‘Am I doing enough miles per day?’ Sometimes you will be that person night hiking and you’ll think: ‘Am I walking too fast and missing the experience?’ It is so easy to get caught up in other peoples plans, schedules and purpose. We got caught up racing other hikers at times, patting ourselves on the back when we passed people. We were even about to leave our tramily because we weren’t hitting the miles we wanted to. Had we done this we would have been abandoning several purposes in one hit.
Having a clear purpose is the key to a successful thru-hike. What has guided you to the trail in the first place? You need to reflect on what you are doing and have an extremely clear idea in your head of your purpose before you set out and ponder this during the hike to fuel you.
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