Relationship Status: PCT

Why Am I Hiking the PCT?

I have spent way too many gallons of water thinking in the shower about why I want to hike the PCT. Why do I want to throw a break into my career when it is just ramping up, leave the comforts of society, and walk in the wilderness for 5 months? To be honest, I can’t come up with some deep or profound reason why. Instead, when I reflect on how I got to the place where I am today, I see that I have been in a complicated 20 year relationship with the dream of thru hiking. We have had our ups and our downs, but is has been so long that I have got to see this dream come to light; I’ve got to see where the relationship goes next. Here is the story of us.

When We First Met

I don’t quite remember the moment, but it was sometime in early middle school when I learned about thru hiking and the AT. Like most middle school romances, it wasn’t much, just a fun idea. How cool would it be to spend months in the woods backpacking! For some reason, that little desire for thru hike never fully left me. 

Young me hiking at Philmont Scout Ranch (2008)

Our First Dates

I first learned to backpack through Scouts. The first weekend dates were rough with a heavy pack, bruised hips, and blistered feet. But I stuck it out and we tried something a little longer, Philmont Scout Ranch. It was there that my love for thru hiking started to sprout. The freedom of having everything you need with you, being able to stay and dwell in nature, and the simplicity of life on the trail. 

The First Breakup

Around that same time in my life, I had learned more about the AT and had a perception that the AT would be several months of hiking alone in a humid tree tunnel (please don’t judge me for my ignorance at the time, I love the AT now). I saw nothing fun in spending months staring at the same types of trees so I let my dream start to fade away.

Let’s Get Back Together

Things changed when I learned about the PCT in the summer after my senior year in high school. Growing up in Kentucky, people only ever talked about the AT. It wasn’t until I was hiking out west with a group and saw some blazes for this trail called the PCT. I asked what it was and was told it was like a west coast version of the AT. I was hooked! No more monotonous, humid, tree tunnel (or so I thought). The trail went from the desert to snow capped mountains and all the biomes in between. It also had the achievement factor of spanning the Mexican and Canadian borders of the US. My dream was back, but the question of when we would actually be together remained. 

First time hiking in the Sierras (2012)

The First Time Around

During college I built up the plan to hike the PCT when I graduated. I saved up all the money from internships and was set on graduating during the spring graduation, hiking, and then starting a career in the fall. But then life happened and my graduation date kept changing; 4 years changed to 5.5 which changed to 6, then 6.5, then I thought I could get it back down to 6 but that never worked out so 6.5 it ended up being. Word of advice, don’t declare two majors in completely different colleges, study abroad, and take off two semesters to intern if you want to graduate in 4 years.

Graduating in December meant that my savings for a 5 month hike wouldn’t last 10 months. Furthermore, I had an offer for a dream job that started in January that I couldn’t postpone to the fall. My PCT plans died as I cheated with my career. All of the money I saved was moved to a house down payment fund and I started that dream job. 

The Second Time Around

As most of my life plans go, buying a house and settling down didn’t happen according to plan. My faith called me in other directions and I have been renting ever since. If I had bought a house, I am not sure I would be free enough to be able to reconnect with my dream to thru hike. My job included a three year Masters program which prevented me from thru hiking but gave me time to reflect.

In that reflection during the depths of covid, I realized I would be turning 30 soon and I wanted something to look forward to in my life. My first thought was to was to try to find a partner and look forward to starting a family. However, the intersection of covid restrictions and my lack of dating skills made this seem pretty unrealistic and partially out of my control. I needed something else I could look forward to. This is where the PCT snuck back in and raised her hand. “Pick me!” she said, “if you are still single when you are 30, you’ll be done with school and free to live out your dream of hiking.” The decision was made, when I would turn 30 I would either be planning a ring or planning a trail. Either way, I would have something joyous to look forward to.

Finishing the Long Trail (2022)

Sealing the Deal

The ring obviously never happened, but I still had some reservations about risking my job to hike for 5 months. I loved hiking, but I thought it would be lonely and could get a bit boring just walking every day (again, please don’t judge my past ignorance). I decided to give thru hiking a test drive and hike the Long Trail. If after 3 weeks of hiking the state of Vermont, I was anything but sad I can’t keep going, maybe 2650 miles wasn’t right for me. When Journey’s End came and my tramily were all talking about PCT 2024, my future was sealed. 

Summing It Up

I can’t think of just one reason why I am hiking the PCT or one moment where it hit me. It was all the little moments that have intertwined my life to stack up to a why. The sum of every time I said “someday…” and every other time I let that “someday” fade away has now led me to say, “I am not going to keep letting my dreams drift away. PCT here I come!”

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