I began my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail on April 26th, 2017 at the Southern Terminus in Campo, CA. I arrived at the Northern Terminus in Manning Park, BC, Canada on September 1st. I then returned to the High Sierras to hike my missing section as a Southbounder, from Sierra City, CA to Kearsarge Pass, CA plus some bonus miles to Mt. Whitney. I celebrated my completion of a continuous footpath at the 14,505 foot high summit on September 28th, 2017.
Am I transformed? I think so, but I think it will take many years to truly digest the changes that I’ve gone through. Luckily I had the chance to talk with Josh “Byline” Ellerbrock about this question for the final episode of his Podcast about thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Between A to B. Byline interviewed me and three other thru-hikers about if and how our hikes transformed us in body, mind, and spirit. I talked about how my hike influenced my perspective on acceptance, hardship, planning, problem-solving, and ultimately, the way I experience and interpret the two hallmarks of any full life – joy and suffering. Byline’s Podcast is really very good and I hope you’ll take time to listen to this episode and the others in his catalogue. My rambling answers to Byline’s astute questions are also written below.
It’s just the joy and the acceptance that what is, is, and whatever may be, is. And I think that’s why you see thru-hikers that are sitting on the curb on the sidewalk eating Ben and Jerry’s out of a pint and they haven’t showered, and they’ve just been to hell and back on the trail for a week but they don’t care because the lifestyle and the challenge of having to do that much hiking day in and day out breeds acceptance, breeds this present-moment awareness that everything is going to be okay because everything is okay in that moment. And whatever happens in the future is in the future, and whatever happened in the past is over. And I think that is why it’s transformational for people, because you can finally get to this place physically, and get to this place geographically, and then get to this place in your mind (because you have silence and you’ve done away with the distractions) where you can just accept that the world is the way that it is, and that you are who you are in it.
I never thought that leaving my “real life” to hike the PCT was going to instigate some sort of massive change in my life…I kind of saw it like, you leave, you go, you learn these lessons, and you apply them to the challenge of the hike. Then you also apply them to the challenge of whatever it is that you face when you get back. So…yeah…I think that all of the challenges that I’m going to face again, now that I’m returning home, I’ll be better equipped to face.
It’s such a simple lifestyle that it can feel like you’re in control of it. I think that’s why it feels so satisfying. So then we get back to the real world and it’s f***ing chaotic! There’s people everywhere and you can’t control them, and there are buses, and there are trucks and there’s traffic and there are all these buildings and there’s just the chaos of life and there’s absolutely no way you can control the feeling or the outcome of your day the that way you can on the PCT.
“It Changes You, And I Don’t Know Why”
The PCT is super remote. It’s much more far away and removed from the stuff of every day life than most other experiences like this, certainly more than the AT. But it’s just more removed from everyday life than the getaways that people go on whether they’re leaving for a month or five months or a weekend or whatever. It’s just extremely epic, and you go through so many different weather patterns and climates and ecosystems. And you’re just this one person traveling at three miles per hour through this epic wilderness, and that changes you, and I don’t know why.
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