I Said No: Some Ramblings on Pre-Trail Anxiety

I sit at dinner with one of my older sisters and my parents. I’ve become bad at conversing, for thoughts of the PCT have consumed all of my available headspace. Finally, my mom brings up the trail, and I’m excited to talk.

“Sam, do you think you’re going to finish the PCT?”

My answer shocked me: “No.”

That was a month ago.

Clicking my heels on a training hike in Malibu Creek State Park.


If it is not already abundantly clear, let me shout it from the rooftops: I’m an anxious person. I do two things to rein in my stress: watch endless reruns of Scrubs¹ and plan endlessly.

In the Scrubs pilot, J.D., the main character, walks into Sacred Heart for his first day as an intern. He thinks to himself, “four years of premed, four years of med school, and tons of unpaid loans have made me realize one thing I don’t know jack.” And five PCT books, over a hundred shameful hours spent on /r/ultralight, thousands of stairs walked up and down, and two perennially sore legs have made me realize one thing: I, too, don’t know jack.

I’ve blown through my fourth rewatch of Scrubs, and I’ve done all my planning. I’m out of anxiety cures. All I can do is think about being on trail.

Driving an abandoned car from the set of M.A.S.H. on a training hike in Malibu Creek State Park.

A Brobdingnagian² Journey

Hours after I answered my mother’s question, I sat, shaking nervously. Thoughts ran through my head at a million miles per hour. How can I begin such an immense trek believing that I will fail? Is it even worth starting? When I said “no,” was I afflicted with a case of cognitive dissonance or parapraxis?

And then I remember the lists that I created after reading Pacific Crest Trials. These are the lines grounded me:

I am thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail because…

…the thought of thru-hiking has been stuck in my head ever since I learned of it.
…society is empty and lackluster.
…I can feel in nature.
…consumerism drives me mad.
…I feel most at home outside.
…I need to dance and sing and laugh and cry.
…when I’m inside, I feel as though a part of me is missing.
…society does not distinguish between childish and immature, and I am not the latter.
…after two weeks backpacking in the canyons of Utah, I felt something I had never felt before: peace. And I want to find that again.
…I called my father after those two weeks and said, “I don’t know anything about life except that I need to hike the PCT.”
…I don’t know who I am.

My lists had already proven themselves to be essential, months before I began the trail.


It’s fair to say that I am writing this blog post to find catharsis in transcription of my thoughts. For their weight may be too much if I continue to let it pile up. (God forbid I need to carry more than what I have listed in my lighterpack.) So for now, I’ll mark my anxieties as consumable; I know that they’ll dissipate once I step foot on the PCT.

Scientists say that forcing a smile can catalyze a process that leads to happiness.³ So I’m taking that idea and running with it. Next time you see me, ask if I’m going to finish the trail. The answer will be a resounding yes.

You see, it only took fighting through his anxieties for J.D. to become a terrific doctor.


¹ If you have not yet, I could not recommend the show more highly. You have eight seasons of goofy, raw, and timeless television at your fingertips—take advantage of them!

² It’s a word—look it up.

³ https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/


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Comments 8

  • JP : Mar 22nd

    So’s Your Face

    • Sam Cooper : Mar 22nd

      So’s your face always makes sense!

  • hiker69420 : Mar 22nd

    I believe in you Sam!! Keep up the great posts!

  • TaoJones : Mar 23rd

    My hat’s off to anyone who actually has a dream, puts a plan together, and follows that plan! You’ve got this, Sam!


  • Laura : Apr 20th

    Thanks for writing this! I am struggling HARD with pre-trail anxiety right now and my anxiety in general. I have a lump in my throat and everything. I’m leaving tomorrow for the trail. Maybe I’ll see ya out there!!

  • Jill Terrell : Apr 30th

    Good luck on your journey Sam, I really enjoyed your posts and can’t wait to read the next one. You are an amazing writer and a fantastic person and I can’t wait to hear about your adventures on the trail

  • Jill Terrell : Apr 30th

    Good luck on your journey Sam. I really enjoyed reading your posts. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures on the trail.


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