Thru-Hiking Is the Best Kind of Emotional Roller-Coaster

When you’re on a long-distance hike, a fantastic day can come on the heels of an absolutely terrible day. And in contrast to that terrible day, the fantastic day seems even better.

I’m currently 2.5 weeks and 250 miles into my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Last week on the trail, I suddenly fell very ill. I had to hike 12 hot miles with hardly any water to get off the trail and hitch into Idyllwild from the Paradise Valley Cafe. Those were the hardest dozen miles I’ve ever hiked in my life. I was practically staggering, moaning from fever and abdominal pain with each step. A couple of times I started to tear up from frustration but had to force myself not to cry so that I wouldn’t get dehydrated.

Then, after an evening in town drinking broth and resting, I felt remarkably better. When I woke up the next morning, I decided I was up for the challenge of climbing San Jacinto. The relief and gratitude I felt toward my body for recovering so quickly, mixed with the sheer beauty of ascending the first “real” mountain I’d encountered on the Pacific Crest Trail, propelled me 6,000 feet in six hours.

At the icy summit, I slept in the stone emergency shelter with four other hikers, then got to wake up to one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. As the sun rose over Southern California, I marveled at how the bad things that happen to us can make the good stuff so much sweeter. Isn’t it incredible what a roller coaster a thru-hike can be?

Variety is the key to happiness. We wouldn’t be as stoked about the little victories of life if we didn’t have to put up with hard shit, too. Why, then, have we made civilization as convenient, controlled, and monotonous as possible? There was a time in human history when we had to endure the whims of nature in order to eat, to live, to thrive. But now, we’ve taken it too far in the opposite direction.

For me, this is where thru-hiking comes in. Hiking thousands of miles and living outdoors for months at a time isn’t always easy or fun. In fact, it’s uncomfortable most of the time. But that’s what makes moments of sheer joy like my experience on San Jacinto so profound. In my 31 years on this planet, I haven’t found anything else that makes me feel so alive.


I’m hiking the PCT to fund-raise for three amazing, women-run nonprofits that are empowering girls in nature. To join my community of funders, visit!

Photos by Walter Beauchamp. Find him on Instagram

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Comments 2

  • Gary : Apr 12th

    Yes, thru hiking is a series of ups and downs. literally and figuratively. On the trail, in our minds, with our bodies, it’s interaction at the most basic. I agree about civilization, or what passes for it these days. Conveniences are ruining the inherent adventure our forefathers and mothers shared as they dealt daily with the tasks of life. Now it’s all social media and whats the latest thing we can be “upset” about. I can’t wait to get back to the trail. I pray for safe a journey for you and one that leaves you breathless!

    • Janel Healy : May 1st

      Thanks, OneWay! Take care, too, and happy hiking!


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