The Attempt Begins… Almost
I struggled for hours with what to put in this introductory post. There was no reason for me to because: (1) it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and (2) let’s be honest, very few people (if any) are going to read this anyway. Regardless, I struggled with how to kick off this blog and contextualize whatever events might unfold in my life over the next few months because, truthfully, I’m no good at thinking ahead. I could read a hundred accounts of a destination and use my (sometimes hyperactive) imagination, but it never feels real until I get there.
When I was a kid – a younger kid, I’m still only 22 – my family often asked me if I was excited for whatever trip was upcoming. I always said no, often to their dismay. Because I couldn’t picture myself in that place. I couldn’t yet fathom what it would be like to be at that new location, around those new people, and in those new experiences.
My attitude towards travel remains mostly the same. When I took a quarter off college in the Fall of 2020 to travel and work on the West Coast, I arrived at a well-tested travel theory: if you’re traveling somewhere in search of some particular thing (an experience, a feeling, a version of yourself), chances are you’ll find just about anything except that thing. And that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?
When I get on a plane early tomorrow morning, bound for Wyoming and, a few days later, the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, I have little sense of what feelings, people, or experiences I’ll find there. I only know it will be different from the life I’ve directly & indirectly built over the last 22 years. Very, very different.
I believe that putting ourselves – myself – in radically different situations once in a while is tremendously valuable. It can broaden our understanding of what it means to live a good life. It can challenge beliefs that we’ve held onto firmly for years. And it’s a silver bullet to personal change and, with luck, growth. Having attended schools both public & private, worked jobs from construction sites to venture capital firms, and made homes in both Chicago and the Mojave Desert, I believe I’ve found myself in a significant number of distinct circumstances in 22 years. I’m starting the PCT this year in search of more.
The search for radical change is one of the primary reasons I’m attempting the trail. Here are some others:
- To challenge myself physically. Despite playing sports and being otherwise active for most of my life, I don’t think I’ve ever pushed myself to my physical limit. Not for a significant period of time, at least. I’m curious what exists at that limit – just how much I’m capable of. And I’ll never know until I try.
- To accomplish a difficult feat, purely because there will soon come a day when I’m unable to do it. Dreams can last a lifetime, but my physical ability to accomplish of those dreams likely won’t. It’s possible that medicine and biomedical engineering will advance quickly enough for me to remain at my current physical state for decades or even centuries to come, but I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket. I know that someday when I’m older and less physically capable, I’ll wonder whether I could have hiked the PCT. I’d like to be able to comfort myself that I at least gave it a shot.
- To expand my understanding of what it means to live a good life. I have no regrets about the way I was raised, in one and then two separate, fortunate households by two loving parents. Still, the circumstances we’re raised in shape our understanding of what a “successful” life looks like, and traveling to vastly different places this Fall exposed how limited my understanding was. On the PCT, I’m hoping to broaden that understanding both through personal experience on the trail and through other folks I meet.
- To (re)discover a new version of myself. I don’t believe that any of us have one true identity deep down. Instead, we are the people we present ourselves as, the result of an infinite set of conscious & subconscious decisions that draw on past experiences to optimize our persona. I’ll spare you the philosophy behind this belief, but I think it’s intuitive: who among us can say they are the exact same person with their friends that they are with their parents? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered new versions of myself: one that can survive & thrive at an “elite” college, one that can sit comfortably in formal business settings, one that can thrift shop in Brooklyn with music royalty. A new Joe waits on the PCT. I’m excited to meet him.
- … and many more.
With those goals in mind, I think it’s important to define what success looks like. (The apple didn’t fall far from the tree on that one – there’s only so far new versions of ourselves can take us from our roots). For me, it’s not about finishing. I’d love to make it all the way to Mexico from the Canada border, but that’s not the goal. It can’t be.
When I hiked a week on the Smoky Mountains section of the AT, I asked hikers I ran into: “Are you hiking all the way to Maine?” Almost always, they answered: “Eventually. Today we’re just trying to make it to the next shelter.” Reaching the end is far too limiting a goal. There’s so much to be found between the two termini (terminuses?). If I hike for three months, finish 3/5 of the trail, and feel like I made significant progress on the goals above, how could I ever call that a failure?
My aim is exactly what Ben Drachman’s was, as described in his sister’s podcast documenting his PCT hike: to attempt it. From Hart’s Pass onward, every step forward is a success.
As I make steps forward, every so often I’ll try to keep this blog (and my Instagram, @jberusch) updated with an honest account of my experience on the trail.
Until next time, Internet!
– Joe B. (trail name forthcoming)
P.S. Upon arriving at the end of the post, I realized that my introductory post failed to do (at least) one thing: introduce me. So, for any interested parties, here are some basic facts about me:
- Born & raised in the inner suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio
- Attended college for the past four years in Chicago. Majored in Computer Science, which has catalyzed my pursuit of Luddism.
- Loves reading! Some favorite books: The Overstory by Richard Powers, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, and Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Quite recommend all listed books.
- Loves listening to music! Some favorite artists: Avett Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Beatles, Phoebe Bridgers, Head and the Heart, Better Oblivion Community Center, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Green Day, The Killers.
- Starting the PCT, hiking southbound, on July 5th, 2021
- Flying to Wyoming tomorrow (June 29th) to meet a good friend in Yellowstone and get a ride to Washington
- Decided I wanted to attempt a thru-hike while hiking solo in Saguaro National Park in early December 2020
- Will be sending myself self-prepared food boxes for Washington and Oregon. Doing everything on the fly after that. Questions about preparing resupply boxes for a vegan cold-soaker? Well, wait to see how the boxes work out, then let me know!
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You have such an insightful and unique perspective Joe! I look forward to your posts and I hope (and suspect) you will find the radical change you are looking for on the PCT!