The Questions

Acronym Party

Because there ain’t no party like an acronym party, the PCT is chock full of them. Let’s learn! The PCT is – yep, you guessed it – the Pacific Crest Trail. By far my favorite PCT acronym is HYOH: Hike Your Own Hike. The meaning of this one is twofold: both a state of mind and a state of being. We have 2,660 miles to hike, a variety of interesting souls to meet along the way, and (hopefully) our own soul to meet along the way too, so the principle of HYOH goes exactly as it’s spelled out. Remember that this is your journey, your hike, your prerogative. We strive to follow a path (ha) that jives with the direction of our aspirations (known or unknown), even if that means leaving our trail family behind or going against the grain.

On the PCT, we’re divided into two groups: NOBOs and SOBOs. These stand for Northbounders and Southbounders, respectively. The vast majority (90%) hike NOBO from Mexico to Canada, but I’m a SOBO venturing in the opposite direction – more on this later.

Delayed Q&A

In the months since I’ve decided to take on the PCT, a number of questions have been asked of me time and again. I figured I’d take a shot at tackling those here, now that I have some alone time to consider them.

What is your inspiration for hiking the PCT?
Easy enough; the PCT has always been a bucket list item for me. When work told me I wouldn’t have a new project for 6 months, that translated pretty fluently in my mind to “6 month backpacking opportunity.” Thus far in my adult life, being outside is where I feel most at home and most connected (my parents are shocked, I tell ya). I also like the idea of the psychology of the trail, of tapping into the widespread fear of solitude. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore what solitude is all about, and experience the different ways the mind breaks and rebuilds when we’re transported so suddenly from urbanity into simplicity.

In any case, the decision didn’t come without obstacles. I was born with bilateral club feet, a condition that was fixed surgically in infancy but has followed me into adulthood. What this means now is that I have chronic tendinitis and arthritis in my feet and achilles tendons, and a variety of other side effects that follow my legs up to my hips. My feet pronate drastically, and become swollen and painful if I’m not careful. So I start this hike off at a bit of a disadvantage – that foot pain you hear thru-hikers talking about all the time? That’s my baseline. But I do my best, bow to my limitations, and carry on.

Why SOBO?
As I mentioned up above, only 10% of hikers go SOBO from Canada to Mexico. Why’s this? Let’s do some math.

Say you’re coming northbound from Mexico. Good news! You’re starting in the desert. This means you can start off in mid-April or early May. The rule of thumb is that you need to make it through the major mountain ranges (Sierras or North Cascades) by the end of September. Say you start NOBO in early May, that’s 5 months to go 2,660 miles and make it through the North Cascades by the end of September, so roughly 18 mi/day.

Now let’s go SOBO. Oh, dang, you have to wait for the North Cascades to melt out. That means starting in July (this year – a heavy snow year – requires a mid-July start). So what do we have to do? Well, we have to make it through the Sierras (1,890 miles) before the end of September. That’s about 25 mi/day. And thus, 90% of people go NOBO so that they don’t have to crush miles from the getgo or deal with insane time pressure.

So why am I doing this? For one, I recently moved to Seattle and have become more comfortable with snow travel, navigation and ice axe arrest, all of which are pertinent this year. For two, I’ve read a number of books by PCT hikers who talk about the stress they encounter in Washington – stress to reach the Canadian border by the time the first snow flies. Washington – the ENTIRE state of Washington – is far and away among the top scenery of the trail. I don’t want to be tired when I get there, I don’t want to feel pressured by time. I want to fully enjoy every second of trail in this state that I’ve come to love so deeply. My feeling is that I need fresh eyes for that. For three, I’ve committed to a summit attempt of Mt. Rainier in mid-July, so I guess in culmination, the Pacific Northwest is simply calling

.

What about work?
I quit my job to take on the PCT, and I’m not even a little bit stressed about it. At the ripe young age of 27, and as a millennial, I feel a strong pull towards the “job” of knowing myself. I think that this will be a fascinating experience, that it’ll be life itself. I recognize that I am beyond fortunate to be in a circumstance where I can take this on. I don’t have to worry about a 401(k), or where my career is going, or what I’m going to do after this – because I don’t want to. I’d rather be paid in experiences than money anyway. What a rich life that would be. I’m going to live it so long as I’m able.

Are you nervous to spend so much time alone?
Oh, sure, but I’m fascinated too. This goes back to the job thing above. I met a woman when I was traveling in Laos, who told me about the need to see the world’s pain and just walk right into it. Because how else are we going to solve it? So on a personal scale, where the fear might be solitude, why not walk right into that too?

I had one friend say, when I first told him about my plans, that he’d known a few people who’d done the trail and come back “weird.” He elaborated that they didn’t seem to re-integrate well, and were maladapted to life beyond solitude. Does it happen? No doubt. But part of it is about finding a tribe of people who are also willing to take on this risk of exploring something beyond a 9 to 5 job, a career path, or even interpersonal relationships. It’s a wholeheartedly unique venture. And to be fair, many times – if not every time – I’ve come back from months-long trips abroad and felt much the same. The “why the actual f**k did I come back here, when I could’ve stayed in that place of pure unadulterated happiness?” But those experiences have introduced me to extraordinary people and have informed the ways I’ve grown over the past decade, so who cares if the tribe is a little harder to find? Who the heck regrets seeing the world? These are choices we don’t need to defend.

Will you be coming back to Seattle?
This is a tough one. I knew a guy when I first moved to Seattle who would constantly talk about wanting to move away. It was a sub-par attitude that eventually contributed to our relationship turning sour, and so I’ve tried to steer clear of mimicking it. Seattle has been tough but it’s also given me a lot, so much more than I ever expected it to. I was gifted with incredible friendships and not-so-incredible friendships, all of which taught me multitudes. I’ve joked often this past month that Seattle force-fed me a number of life lessons, and I’m thankful for that. I learned the types of relationships I want in my life, and more importantly the ones I don’t. I learned some of my limits and my boundaries, I’ve learned how to carry on through disappointment.

A wise man once quoted Walt Whitman to me: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” I think it would be unwise to assume Seattle is the only place that could gift me these things. And so we will just have to see.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 10

  • Tyler Meyerhoff : Jun 26th

    “What about work?” – this paragraph is the perfect answer to this question. I also quit a successful career (at 26) to be happy, cause that’s what is important in life. What’s next is one badass unforgettable SOBO trip on the “DREADED 2017 PCT!”

    Reply
    • Kate : Jun 30th

      Amen! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • Julia : Jun 27th

    Of course. Of course you’re a fantastic writer on top of everything else. “I killed that blog post, Julia. Killed it.” I stared at your empty work chair yesterday and it made me sad, but so so happy that you’re doing this and that I have control of your boxes! WILL THEY CONTAIN CHEESESTICKS OR WILL I EAT THEM? Only time will tell.

    <3

    Reply
    • Kate : Jun 30th

      The cheese sticks are my only hope!!! Kisses, little J. Thanks for the kind words πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • Craig : Jun 27th

    Inspirational, Kate.

    Reply
    • Kate : Jun 30th

      Thank you Craig! Glad you’re following along πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • Snowshoetom : Jun 27th

    Funny, after reading the PCT FB posts, I thought HYOY was equivalent to STFU! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Kate : Jun 30th

      Oh man, it definitely is this year! So much fear mongering, gah

      Reply
  • Ryan : Jun 28th

    “On the PCT, we’re divided into two groups: NOBOs and SOBOs.”

    What about the yo-yos?!

    Reply
    • Kate : Jun 30th

      True! Especially because I’m a yo-yo πŸ™‚ I’ll talk about it in my route post

      Reply

What Do You Think?