A Thru-Hiker’s Thoughts on Finality
Before I begin, please allow me to apologize for not posting in the last 500 miles—I did not realize how challenging it would carve out a few hours during a zero to write.
It’s April 29th, the day I begin the trail. I sit up and stare out of the windshield, still groggy from my 20-minute nap in the car and 5 hours of sleep that past night. Instead of being greeted by the sunny, cloud-free day that I had imagined, however, a wall of fog stared deep into my eyes. I shuddered and consoled myself by remembering that the Pacific Crest Trail—and especially the desert—is notoriously dry. I can handle some fog and rain today, for I know I will soon miss the cold dearly, I thought to myself. The car lurched and stopped. I peered out the window, and the white wall peered back. I stepped into the air, donned my pack, and began my walk to Canada. The fog embraced me like a dear friend; I did not—could not—embrace it back.
It’s May 16th, the day I leave Big Bear. This time, as my hitch pulls up to the trailhead, I’m less than confident that the rainclouds will clear. I step onto the waterlogged trail, and it buckles under my weight. Some water seeps out from the ground and soaks into my shoe. As the day waned on, my clothes and skin took on more and more water. At no definite moment, I stopped walking and looked around. The woods were empty, and the biting wind and hail obscured my vision; my hands had gone numb hours before. Every fiber of my being wanted to scream at the trail—to release my frustration, discomfort, and lonesomeness at something—yet I couldn’t. The trail had not wronged me. I had known what I was walking into when I stepped out of the hitch. So I placed my poles into the ground with slightly more gusto than normal and continued to walk.
It’s June 6th, my second day back on trail from the time I took off for my graduation and tendonitis. Today, it did not rain. But if it did, I might have been able to happily live through it. Today I walk mindfully, focusing on the experience of stepping with a creaky leg. I let my emotions pass through my mind like clouds on a windy sky. And I reflect on how the trail is far from what I expected: I have had upwards of 15 days of rain; I have not enjoyed walking as much as I anticipated; and I have not been able to “discover the wonders of nature” (there aren’t many rushes or riversides in the desert, sadly) as much as I would have liked. And as I walked, I entered a new cloud, a fog of finality.
These past days, I’ve been in a fog of finality; I’m struggling with thoughts of coming off trail. See, when I wanted to leave trail early in my journey, I would be able to pinpoint the experience that drove me to feel that way (perhaps it would be the rain, cold, discomfort, or a big hill climb). But recently—especially after coming back to trail from my time off—there is no single experience that has driven me to feel this way; conversely, it’s everything. I’m still not sure whether or not I will come off trail. Perhaps I will leave, regret the decision, and southbound later this year. Thus I will not—cannot—leave you, the reader, with a clear answer. Instead, I’ll leave you with a story.
Last night, I ate hot dogs with a 2018 PCT thru-hiker, Super Vegan. One of my good friends, Jack, asked this man if he missed the trail. And without a skipping a beat, Super Vegan said, “It was the most fun experience.” Those words coursed like venom through my veins; I could not say the same about my past six weeks.
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