Thru-Hiking’s not for Me, but I’m Sure as Hell not a Quitter

I’m in the process of living someone’s lifetime dream right now. So many people have told me they’re living vicariously through me for these six months. Hell, I thought I was living my life dream right now. For those reasons, and the fact that I’ve been posting about this journey on social media, I feel like I have to be honest about a few things.

And yes, this is the part of that reality survival show when you start calling my character a pussy. This is when you begin to doubt my abilities to complete the task that I came out and signed up for. This is when I begin to doubt that I’ll be able to do what I came here for. This is also when I call my mom and boyfriend blubbering like a baby. This is the first time I have actually debated turning around and going home.

See, I knew the trail would throw a few wrenches in my plans, but I never expected to have the whole goddamn toolbox and Snap-On truck thrown at me.

Wrenches

The first wrench showed up when the Sierra was still getting several feet of new snow in May. 2019 has been one of the heaviest snow years on record in the Sierra Nevada range. But that was all fine and dandy because we quickly created a plan to make our SOBO sandwich out of it. I love our decision, especially since it meant I got to come home for a week while waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive in Washington.

Logistical issues don’t even scratch the surface; I’m pretty good on my toes with things like that.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

As a 20-year-old who only went to community college, this is the longest I’ve ever been away from home. Being away from friends, pups, family, and my boyfriend is so difficult. It definitely takes a toll on all relationships. My dog was so mad at me when I came home that he wouldn’t even look at me. You begin to forget important details in people’s lives when you’re not with or talking to them on a daily basis.

I got to be home for eight days and it was amazing. Everything started to feel “normal” again. We got back on trail and were loving the SOBO life. A few days later, my mom came out to join us for eight days—more familiarity and a sense of normalcy. She left and I was sad, but hopeful others would come visit since I was still so close to home. My best friend visited me at Cascade Locks and we went home for the night. My dogs greeted me with nothing but kisses. I put my best friend’s dishes away in all the right places, like I had never left. Then I got back on trail yesterday at Cascade Locks.

Toolboxes

I was fine until I let my mind start to wander. I thought about how my friends who had dropped me off were only an hour away and would turn around in a heartbeat if I asked. I thought about how exciting it would be to be back home permanently with everyone I love. I thought about how stoked I am to go back to work and start making a positive difference in others’ lives after I’ve had such a long time to improve my own.

I broke down. I called my mom sobbing, telling her once again that I’m sick of everything out here and want to come home. And for once, instead of her telling me to push through because it’ll all work out, she told me I could turn around if I truly wanted. I guess I had called her enough times from the trail as a blubbering mess that she realized how unhappy I was. She told me that if I turned around right now, she would be on her way to come pick me up and I could finish the trail by section hiking with her.

That was what I wanted to hear and do so badly. But for some reason it didn’t feel right. I told her I would call my boyfriend and then call her back.

He told me there was absolutely no way that I was going to come home; I was not allowed until I finished the trail.

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But somehow it only felt right. I was going to hit 1,000 miles on the PCT today. Quadruple digits. I had been out here almost three months already and there was no reason for me to quit now, he said. “There’s no reason to be a quitter when everything you left at home will be exactly the same whether you come home now or later. Just because you’re close to home is why it sounds so good. It’s the easy way out. So finish the damn trail and then come home to me.”

Well, Shit

What can you argue against that?

Poison oak and mosquitoes or being labeled as a quitter. For some reason, I don’t think I would be able to handle myself if I quit. I would be ashamed, disappointed, and honestly, angry. I would have to start the trail all over and had even less interest in that than I did of walking any farther.

I called my mom back and told her that I guess I had better keep walking, but I’m re-evaluating in the next town. I told her I still want to come home, but I don’t want to be a quitter.

Then I started walking.

Thru-Hiker Turned Section Hiker

The CDT and PNT have always caught my eye—but as section hikes. Since the beginning of this thru-hike when others would talk about the next trail they wanted to do, I always said I want to section hike those. Everyone else wanted to do other thru-hikes or Triple Crown, but sectioning sounded more realistic to me. Maybe because my career won’t able me to take enough sequential time off to complete a thru-hike in one go. But now I’m realizing it’s because I can’t handle being away from my people and my home for more than a month.

To Myself and My Family

So remember this when I tell you I’m itching to do another thru-hike. Remember the daily aching pain in my knees. Remember how some days every single step I took was so excruciatingly painful in my feet due to the constant growth, expansion, and weight on my back. And too remember that the pain was more than physical, but mostly emotional. Remember how I would daydream for days on end about coming home to normal life. To my boyfriend and my dogs and my friends and my family and my job and my town. Most of all, remember that in a time where most people are “finding themselves,” I feel lost.

Remember that now, instead of going north and closer to home, each step I take south I am getting farther from home. Remember that I belong at home. Remember that thru-hiking is not for me.

But also remember when you saw past or current thru-hikers’ Instagram posts of them crying, struggling, wanting to, or actually coming home, that you called them pussies. Quitters. That you would do and be better than them. That you would complete the Pacific Crest Trail and show all of these people with massive followings up, and show your family how you’re so much better than those people because the only “following” you have is a genuine support system through those at home.

Remember that you’re out here to start and finish a journey that some people will only ever dream about. So suck it up, wipe your nose, tie up your shoes, throw on your pack, and get to walkin’.

Feature image courtesy of Mitch Baertlein.

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    David : Jul 9th

    To live an extraordinary life, you must actually do extraordinary things. Thinking, planning and starting are not enough.

    That said, there is a infinite number of extraordinary things you can do with your life and a finite amount of time.

    Completing the PCT is extraordinary. Literally. A miniscule percentage of all the people ever in this world have done or will do it. It’s extraordinary whether you complete it in sections or straight through. Completing it with your mother, friends, lovers and children, over many years, could be incredibly special.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Kim Kalina : Jul 9th

    You got this! Sounds like you put your big girl panties on and are on your way. You will come North again, just have to get to Lone Pine first. Keep go in! We are here for you, everything is the same. I can’t wait to walk with you more and to meet you in Canada.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Merri Berg : Jul 10th

    Hi Kassandra, i’ve no idea how long ago you wrote this but I’m responding nevertheless. I think that those of us sitting in our homes (I’m drinking a cup of coffee) and for me it’s 3am with a light rain falling in Federal Way, we have no idea what it is like to be be where you are right now(sleeping I hope) but in the elements of the wild. “When despair for the world grows in me, I come to the place of wild things…Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief…And for a time I rest in the grace of the world, And am free….Wendell Berry/Wolf Haven
    This is a short saying and one that puts perspective in ones thinking for a time. One may seek advice from friends and family which is a good thing because they truly love you and want what’s best for you. When you started this journey I was so proud of you..still am and was amazed by your fortitude and conviction. You will never experience this type of adventure again. Oh you’ll keep on hiking I’m sure but this particular moment will never come again. The one thing you should realize is that it doesn’t matter one bit what others think but only how you decide what you want. I put my trust in the Lord and I don’t the extent of you spirituality but I do know that in times of trouble if you need Him all you need do is ask for His help. I pray for your safety that God will bring you home to us. You will never disappoint. Love you, A. Merri

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Andrew Williams : Jul 10th

    Keep going! I just finished a book called, “to wake the sleeping self”. It was a really insightful book and I totally recommend it! It’s about a guy who bikes from Oregon to Patagonia, Chile. He talks about the ups and downs, his beliefs, fears, goals and being with family, friends, no one else but himself. It was be a great book to listen to while you hike! Keep up the great work!

    Reply

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