The Joy of New Challenges: Why I’m Hiking the PCT

After several months of telling anyone who will listen that I want to hike the PCT, I have my permit for April 2022. It’s official. It’s surreal to think that this big dream is starting to take shape, with concrete dates, sublease forms, and a beastly gear spreadsheet. I’m swimming in logistics, but this week is for celebrating, and for reminding myself why the heck I want to walk for this long.

There are many reasons, the first being that I love backpacking and a good challenge. Backpacking across the country sounds like good fun, and knowing myself, that’s enough to get pretty far.

Then, of course, is the question of why I like a good challenge. That answer has evolved over time—but the one that rings true these days is that I want to know what it means to give everything I’ve got.

One more step back: I am learning enthusiasm. Growing up in a competitive town, with expectations to perform at school and extracurriculars, I’m bad at being enthusiastic & mediocre. I try new things, but I often don’t share unless I have decided I’ve reached some level of progress worth bragging about. This summer, however, I met two backpackers, Eating for Two and Speedrun, who had been traveling on a cross country backpacking road trip for two months, and shared a permit with my friend, the Uniboober, and me in Glacier (those are trail names, Mom). They had dialed in their ultralight gear, dusted us on the hills, and ate the most disgusting ramen-potato-carnation dinners. I was thoroughly impressed. When I learned they had just started backpacking weeks before me, I realized my cautious (but still very excited) preparation for our trip was not a rewarding approach.

I considered myself a person who liked backpacking and camping, but not a backpacker.

I thought I would need years more experience to claim that as part of me. I returned home with one goal: embody my new trail name. I already was Arctic Aster, the girl on the trail, but I didn’t feel as though I’d quite earned the name yet, because I wasn’t enthusiastic enough. Since then, I have set small goals for activities in which I’m already interested—set a new cycling distance PR (done); learn how to run (done); get that climbing membership (done). Turns out, enthusiasm isn’t all that hard to learn.

The Uniboober has long had plans to hike southbound on the PCT, and I’ve been promising to cheer her on for the past year. Before we left for Glacier, I assumed that thru-hiking wasn’t in reach for me. By the end of the trip, I knew I was going. Within a month of starting my “Arctic Aster challenges” I decided it was now or never.

So I think it’s safe to say I have enthusiasm.

That’s step one. Now, I’ve committed, step two. Step three is to full-send, because it will take nothing less to get all the way to Canada. This is the skill I need to learn, and it’s why I’m hiking the PCT.

I’m not sure that others would identify a lack of trying, or even a fear of failure, as a weakness of mine.

I’m a climate organizer, after all. Every day we show up, try to move the most powerful people in the world, fail, learn, and try again. Falling down and getting back up is my bread and butter. But I can still tell part of me is clinging to cynicism so I don’t constantly break my heart. And I don’t think that cynicism serves me, nor the movement. It keeps me from taking creative risks, talking to friends and family about work, and generally shouting from the rooftops.

It’s not that I don’t believe in what I’m doing. It’s that I’m afraid to believe so fully, and maybe never win. It’s the fear that I won’t get back up from the next fall if I reach too high. But that’s what I signed up for, and that’s the tough love of a thru-hike. There’s no guarantee I’ll make it to Canada, full-send or otherwise. And when it comes to climate, ambition is everything.

Now, I’m not making an argument that activism or thru-hiking requires more effort from me. It’s not a demand to put in more hours, to try harder. It’s to fully love what I am doing. For me, the PCT is about full-sending from a place of joy & exploration–what could happen? What am I capable of? What kind of world can be built with that sense of determination and possibility?

What does it mean to love something that has the power to transform me, the world, and to utterly break me?  

So, dear family, friends, and colleagues, I’m leaving to go play in the dirt, stuff my face with junk food, and gasp at the views. But I’m also hoping to come back tougher in my determination, and full of love for the journey ahead.

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