Shakedowns and other terrifying things

Beginning this thing, long distance hiking, has been a process wrought with self-doubt for me.

Throughout the dreaming and planning, I arrive at junctures where I meet myself unprepared and raw, wondering if I’m capable, legit, or credible, thinking everyone else is already, naturally, all of these things. Gets me all mixed up and frozen.


However at some point, as I always do, I snap out of my insecurity and start feeling the warm wave of pissed-offedness come over me.

(Anger is so good sometimes. It clears the head and instigates progress.) I get mad at myself for being such a compartmentalizing, context-starved diaper baby. My past is littered with examples of times I rose to the challenge and did my best, many times with decent results – not a valley of failed dreams and the sun bleached bones of those who tried to help me. On what am I basing my confidence that I’m doomed?

It was in this state, as a brand-new hiker on the eve of my first PCT section,

with 100% brand new gear, more or less terrified and not telling anyone, that I walked over to Scout’s office and knocked. I was intending to ask him for a shakedown, probably the most vulnerable thing I could think of because I had no idea what I was doing. Also, he had announced earlier that he was busy, although available if anyone needed him. On this promise, I knocked. He stuck his head around the corner and considered me for a moment as I presented my request. As my words one by one floated into the air, I actually began shrinking until I was like a little smurf that could fit into his hand, my voice a tiny little squeak. He put me in his shirt pocket and we walked into the living room where my gear was spread out.

Moments before the great shakedown, moments after the stuffed ravioli

The other hikers, who had previously been amiably aloof, suddenly turned their interest to this process.

Apparently the only thing better than getting a shakedown yourself is watching someone else get one, and learning from their mistakes like a little sibling watches and learns when the older one gets it for sneaking out or eating pop tarts in the shower. Everyone assembled, leaning in, setting yogi’s book down, snacking on cookies. As I had become a zoo exhibit (imperitus viatorem), I decided to embrace it and just out myself completely. I told the room This Was My First Hike Ever. I told them My Gear is Brand New, and I told them I Don’t Know How to Use It Yet. I admitted that I never got around to trying out my Sawyer Squeeze, that I had no idea how to light my stove, and that 24 hours ago, I was in the Walmart camping section buying Mountain House for breakfast lunch and dinner because I had waited too long to figure out food. It all came spilling out, like that scene in the Goonies when Chunk confesses to the kidnappers. The spotlight was on me, and now everyone knew beyond a doubt what I was – A Beginner.

Okay I bought all this crap now what

Funny enough, this vomitous confessional had the opposite effect I expected.

Scout softened, and the other hikers started sharing their insecurities and questions. The experienced hikers encouraged and advised me, complimenting things I had chosen and showing me how to use my stuff. The newer hikers admitted similar concerns and asked for help too.

Thirty minutes later, I only had a few items to send home (extra pair of pants, mace, large can of sunscreen, overkill on batteries, carabiners, camp shoes). Scout hugged me and told me to my great surprise that he has rarely seen such a well assembled pack come through for a shakedown. My base weight was now under 18 pounds, and I was proud of myself. I would shake it all down again further up the trail, but for now I was dialed in and ready for the morning to come.

For some reason I have to keep relearning this lesson about life.

People aren’t as perfectly put together as they seem, and we have more in common with each other than we think.


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Comments 2

  • Carrie : Aug 19th

    Great read! I’m a beginner too, so a shakedown would be fantastic!

    • Sabrina Harrison : Aug 19th

      Carrie, hi!! I love learning from other people. So many hikers are incredibly generous with their experience. Where can you go for your shakedown? Maybe a local hiking group or nearby outfitter?


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