They’re Just Feet, But They Can Leave Big Footprints

I am walking in the shrub steppe somewhere between san gorgonio and big bear when something small and buzzing flies between my sun hoodie and my face. i shake my head and swat at it with my hand, still holding my trekking pole, until it flies away. it strikes me how animal the movement is, something i’ve seen my dog do in response to a fly.

It is strange, this thing we’ve set out to do. living outside for 5 or 6 months, getting our water from streams, eating our meals on the ground and sleeping, night after night, under the stars no matter the weather. parts of it feel wild and back to the earth and yet other parts don’t. there is survival involved sure, though so much of it is dependent on the gear we have: the water filters and expensive shoes and top of the line tents. so much technology that makes it easier to navigate the backcountry environment.

Hooray for gear!

Gear is absolutely essential and hikers never miss the chance to have a conversation about it. brand, weight, durability, you name it, a thru-hiker has an opinion on it. and don’t get me wrong, the right water filter or sleeping bag can make a significant difference in your experience, but every time we have a conversation about gear, or how many miles someone is pulling, i think about all the things that seem to be missing from our conversations.

The Border

More than 200 miles ago, we were standing on the north side of the wall, in the US, getting ready to hike all the way to Canada. a massive challenge and undertaking but completely voluntary and quite privileged. i realize that in all my research and reading about the PCT not once have i heard mention of the dissonance i felt at the wall. here at the border where we are celebrating the start of our journey other people are risking their lives to cross. once an invisible line in the sand, the political conflict is now marked by a massive metal wall, one some people want to make even taller, as if that will stop the raw necessity and determination of people who are only trying to find better lives.

It’s been challenging to know how to write about the border without sounding too political. it isn’t about politics, it’s about humanity, though politics can mean life or death for some, and so perhaps everything is political. its interesting to think about who is allowed to move freely and where. whose travel doesn’t have to be political. whose journey gets to be for pleasure rather than for survival.

The Conservation Conversation

Most hikers are familiar with the term “leave no trace” or “LNT.” most of it seems common sense: pack out your trash, camp in already established sites, don’t feed the chipmunks or pet the bears, etc. i think what can often go overlooked though, is the impact that every single one of our thousands and thousands of steps can have on the land. i think it’s safe to assume that we are all out here to see and experience the extraordinarily beautiful landscapes we are walking through. we are so excited to push miles and see all there is to see that it feels like the land itself gets left out of the story.

As someone who studied environmental science and now teaches it to the next generation, i feel both blessed and cursed that i think about the environment and how it’s changing every single day. i can’t think about these three states without thinking about wildfires and how the fire season gets longer every year, or how extreme weather events are changing more and more of the landscape, like the mission creek slide area. as our world changes it is entirely possible that someday it might not be feasible to continuously walk this whole trail, something that past hikers have already experienced in certain years.

As hikers, i think we have an obligation and responsibility to consider these things as we walk, to talk about them with each other, and use it to make decisions on the trail, from little things like picking up extra litter if you have the space, to big things like considering skipping fragile sections like mission creek, an already unstable and eroded area where extra social trails and bushwacking contributes to further erosion and ecosystem damage. i’m aware that not everyone has had the exposure or education about things like this, but we can all use our different backgrounds and experiences to have conversations about how to prolong the life of this trail, so that others can continue to chase the same experiences we are all so lucky to be having.

Community is with us for every step

While i’ve been surprised that things like the border with Mexico and the importance of conservation and environmental impact are a less popular topic among us, one aspect of the trail that is ever-present and immensely appreciated is the trail community. a popular phrase out here is “the trail always provides” and i have found that to be entirely true. a surprise stream when you need it most or a place to stay to wait out a storm or a quick hitch when your tired feet couldn’t possibly make it all the way to town. but the subject missing from this cute phrase are the people, the community, that make this all happen.

Each hiker will walk this trail on their own two feet but by no means do we do any of this alone. we are all buoyed along by a small but mighty network of trail angels, community members, and business owners in each and every trail town that provide an astonishing amount of generosity and hospitality. from the cafe owners who let 30+ hikers sleep on their floor to avoid a snow storm, to the couple who let us sleep in their living room, to the countless number of people who have and will give us rides and trail magic and encouraging words. i am just over 250 miles into this trail and i have so much gratitude for the strength and generosity of the thru-hiker community. the success of our journey on trail owes so much to the people off trail, family and friends at home included.

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Comments 5

  • Griz326 : Apr 17th

    You made your post political.
    What’s going on at the border now has little to do with legitimate immigration.

    My Grandma was an immigrant.
    My wife and stepdaughter are immigrants.

    My floor director, first generation Mexican, told me (in ’75) of Mexicans coming here for a better life. Then in the early ’80s a Mexican girlfriend told me of revolutionary Mexicans “invading” the USA. In the early 2000s, a Border Patrol agent transferred to the northern border, where I live, told me of an organized, criminal group crossing the border with malicious intent. And now, that criminal group or groups is bringing hundreds of thousands of people across the border as part of their criminal enterprise. The percentage of legitimate, in search of a better life, people illegally crossing the border is, sadly, unknown.

    Criminals, drugs, weapons, and trafficked humans are a substantial portion of the influx at the southern border. While immigrating legally is time-consuming, the processing fees are just a fraction of the cost of what the cartels take from immigrants.

    I support legal immigration and legal “pathways” for long ago landed illegal immigrants; the others should be returned home.

  • Justin : Apr 18th

    Excellently written Rey! I’m proud of you, your thoughts, and way of putting them into eloquent words.

  • Peter Killcliff : Apr 18th

    This sounds like the exact type of person I would avoid at all cost on the trail. Another privileged elite liberal talking down to everybody.

  • Scott Bischke : Apr 22nd

    Beautiful thoughts Reyna. I periodically check in on people’s thoughts on The Trek re especially the CDT (Kate & I ) completed 20 yrs ago) and PCT (~800 miles left!). Your blog is s the first I’ve ever subscribed. I love your recognitions (all of them} that the trail is so much more than the regular (fun, to be sure!) superficial discussions we often have along it. And hugely resonate with the importance of community — how new friends and trail angels and an eagle overhead can all lift the soul. Good luck to you!! I will look forward to your posts and share with Kate along the way.

  • Chris Schedler : Apr 27th

    I appreciate your insights about conserving the trail for future generations of thru-hikers. Another part of the conservation conversation to think about is how the PCT and other recreational trails cross ancestral lands of indigenous tribes. Members of sovereign tribal nations confined to reservations in the US (including the Campo Indian Reservation near the start of the PCT) are often not allowed to move freely and engage in traditional cultural practices on their ancestral lands.


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