The Problem with HYOH: PCT Day 124

Day 124. Miles: 0. Total: 2229.9

Today, I don’t know what to do.

Last week, I sketched out a rough timeline for my journey through Washington and bought my flight home. I never assumed that I would keep to the mileage exactly, but it seemed useful to plan out my Washington resupplies, especially so I could coordinate my visit from Alisha and a meetup with my college roommate, Jess, who lives in Seattle. I factored in two zeros for PCT Days and a pace of 15 miles per day during Alisha’s section hike. WA is widely considered a difficult section, so I planned for my full hiking days to drop from an Oregon pace of around 27 miles down to a Washington pace of around 22 miles. I also included a few nearos of sub-10 mileage on town days, but no additional zeros.

All of this put me on track to reach the northern terminus around September 11th or 12th, so I bought a plane ticket for the night of September 16th. A lot can change in 500 miles, but four or five days would provide enough wiggle room for possible delays and some Seattle fun with Jess.

Or so I thought.

Instead, Smiley, Cloud Whisperer, and Undecided are arriving today, but Rolls and Royce took an additional zero with their friends from Michigan and aren’t arriving until tomorrow. Wild Card and Leaky are coming tomorrow, too, and I’m eager to see them for the first time since Medford.

But…I’ve already taken two zeros this week. And three abridged hiking days. My body feels hardwired to hike, and I’m itching to get moving again. I don’t really want to zero again and wait.

So, maybe I shouldn’t. Hike your own hike, right? That’s what everyone says. Over and over and over again, thru-hikers hear this mantra. Hike your own hike.

Listen to your body.

Don’t succumb to peer pressure.

Define success however you want.

To this extent, HYOH is helpful. Plenty of hikers get injured trying to keep up with their first group of friends in the desert. Others blow their budget when the group gets trapped in the town vortex, taking just one more zero, drinking just one more beer. In these situations, especially early in the journey, I think HYOH is a valuable mindset.

But lately, I’ve been wrestling with it.

Sometimes HYOH feels directly at odds with one of my favorite parts of thru-hiking: the sense of close-knit community. Hike your own hike, after all. Your personal experience is important above all else. Don’t make sacrifices. Make friends, be nice, but never compromise Your Hike™ for others.

When I embarked on the PCT, I knew I wanted a more independent experience than on the AT. Back in 2018, I found a romantic partner just a few days into the journey. I enjoyed and learned from that experience, but I wasn’t seeking to repeat it out here. Instead, I was hoping to embrace solitude, learn to coexist with my own thoughts without distraction, and push my body to my own limits, not anyone else’s. I was hoping to hike my own hike.

And yet, I was also hoping to form relationships. My biggest takeaway from the AT was the value of interdependence, of humility in asking for help and generosity in offering it. I wanted to meet and learn from interesting outdoorsy people from all over the world. Those people are out here. I’ve met countless fascinating, quirky, smart, funny people on the PCT.

But here, now, in Trout Lake, I’m alone. For 2100 miles, I’ve tried to walk a line somewhere in between hiking my own hike and being flexible to accommodate others. But by attempting both, it feels like I’ve accomplished neither. Each time I’ve begun to form close friendships, a situation has arisen that put my needs at odds with those of my friends, and I’ve chosen myself. HYOH, after all, right?

With the Second Breakfast Club, it was COVID.

I got sick and fell behind. Then I caught up again in Truckee. I could have hiked out early the next morning and tried to keep up. Instead, I decided to prioritize rest. Since then, they’ve remained a small but somehow irrecoverable distance ahead of me. But even before that, my inclination to occasionally camp alone or sit out of expensive meals and drinks in town had made me feel like a satellite member of the group– included, but not quite part of the core. As if I was always welcome, but never essential. I didn’t expect them to wait when I was sick, and so I never asked them to. We all have to hike our own hikes out here, after all.

Now, it’s happening again. When Smiley, Rolls & Royce, Cloud Whisperer, and Undecided all agreed to road-walk around the Lionshead closure, I could have joined them. Instead, I prioritized my plans with Alisha and my desire to attempt the 24 Hour Challenge. I was scared that if I hiked with them, arriving in Cascade Locks on the day of Trail Days, then they would leave me in the dust when I slowed down to hike with Alisha. By hitching around Lionshead and getting a head start, I thought I’d found the perfect compromise. They would catch up at Trout Lake, and everything would realign.

But I miscalculated.

My friends are still behind, and now I feel stuck. I want to hike. Some of the best parts of the trail are ahead, and I’m eager to see them. Also, it’s nearly September– the weather could cool down soon, and I don’t want to end up hiking in the snow. Most of all, my goal for the whole trail has been to push my physical limits while still having fun. In the past week, my mileage has plummeted. It’s been for good reasons, but now my body feels well-rested and impatient to push again.

But if I hike my own hike and leave Trout Lake today, am I signing up to hike alone to the border? The Second Breakfast Club is too far ahead to catch. I could probably keep up with Feels and Indiana Joe, or catch Viking and Shepherd, but would I just be a third wheel? Welcome, but not essential?

And anyway, as much as I want to hike, I also want to wait. I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to this group, especially Smiley. I’ve shared more conversations with Smiley on the PCT than any other hiker, except maybe Leaky. I appreciate that he slows down to hike and chat with me, without repeatedly mentioning some injury as an excuse for why he has to hike sooo slow (i.e., my normal pace). Smiley, Rolls, and Royce all actively included me in the section from Etna to Ashland, taking pains to ensure I could always find them wherever they stopped for breaks and camp. In the first half of the trail, I’d often felt a little stung by my companions not doing this, so in NorCal, these tiny gestures filled me with gratitude.

The HYOH answer is obvious: hike out today.

If you want to hike on, then hike on. Right? Right?

I agonize about it all day, venting to Alisha and waffling back and forth, living up to my trail name. Hike or stay? Possibly? 

Sometimes I look at other people and envy how certain they seem about things. I experience certainty so rarely. Sometimes, I think this is a positive attribute, as it helps me to be open-minded and curious. However, especially since 2020 pulled the rug out from the only things I thought were certain, I often find my indecision to be paralyzing. My response to uncertainty is to research, and plan, and brainstorm potential problems, and then research and plan solutions to those problems. It makes me a great hiking guide, since I’m ready with a quick fix for every obstacle we encounter in the backcountry.

It does not make me a great thru-hike companion. Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized how much my inclination to plan for worst-case scenarios grates on the people around me. I know it comes from a good place, from a desire to keep people safe and happy, to be responsible and conscientious. But my good intentions don’t matter when my constant but-what-ifs interfere with my friends’ desire for a spontaneous, care-free thru hike. Maybe I should hike on, just so that I stop annoying people.

“I just don’t know what to do,” I say to Alisha for the third or fourth time.

Then, I get some unexpected trail magic.

My phone notifies me of $100 deposited into my Venmo. Huh. That’s weird. Then I see that I have a DM on Instagram. Two guests on one of my REI trips to Joshua Tree have written me a note, telling me how much they’ve enjoyed following my journey on IG and here on the Trek. “We want to send you some long distance trail magic.” I’m moved.

And then, I have an idea.

“I’m zeroing,” I say to Alisha. “And today, we’re trail angels.” We head to the store in Trout Lake and buy two large bunches of bananas, three boxes of donuts, and a box of cookies. Then, we pile our haul into Alisha’s rental car and drive to where the PCT crosses a forest service road three miles before the shuttle stop into Trout Lake. We spend the next hour giving away fruit and treats to unsuspecting thru-hikers. It’s fun to be on the other side of trail magic. And we’re lucky– we’ve timed it just right. Undecided, Cloud Whisperer, and Smiley hike out of the woods and stare at us in surprise.

“What are you doing here?”

I explain the unexpected gift from my REI guests. They sit and talk with us for a few minutes, and then on our way out, we pick them up from the trail head to drive back to Trout Lake. We spend another night at the campground, eating good food and talking into the evening.

For now, at least, I’m happy about my decision to choose people over miles.

To Barb and Mike, thanks again.

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Comments 2

  • JP : Oct 25th

    Meaningful connection 10 times out of 10.

    HYOH is more than just how much and when you walk. It is making sure that your hike is giving you what you want.

  • Brock : Dec 13th

    Hi Sibley, did I miss a final PCT post (or posts)? Your fan base is out here and hungry for more. Cheers, Brock


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