How an Unlikely Hiker Became Obsessed with the Pacific Crest Trail

I first learned about the Pacific Crest Trail about ten years ago, when a coworker mentioned he’d spent a month section-hiking Washington. At the time, I thought that just sounded ludicrous. I immediately pulled up a map of the trail online and was dumbfounded. Who takes a month off to go meandering through the wilderness? How many days did this guy go without a shower? How did he carry enough food and water? What about dangerous wildlife? Getting hurt in the middle of nowhere?

When I found out that there are people who actually hike the entirety of the PCT from Mexico to Canada (this is referred to as a NOBO, or northbound hike – some folks hike the other way, or SOBO) over the course of four to five months, my mind was blown. This coworker had become my hero and I was envious of his adventure, but thru-hikers seemed outright superhuman, if not insane. How does someone walk that far? It seemed impossibly hard.

More Human than Superhuman

Hi. My name is Anh (trail name Gramps – always accepting new ones), and I would consider myself an unlikely long-distance hiker. I’ve known about the PCT and other national scenic trails for a while, but I only got into backpacking in the last couple of years. I was never really that “outdoorsy.” I’m not especially athletic. I don’t trail run (I don’t really run at all). I don’t live a particularly healthy lifestyle. I’m not an avid rock climber or mountaineer. I’ve been stuck in a nine-to-five world for years. I’m well above the average thru-hiker age. I can’t grow a beard to save my life. Oh, and I’m a person of color. You just don’t see that many of us on the trail (more on that below).

But that’s precisely the reason I fell in love with long-distance hiking when I finally decided it was time to stop making excuses and try it out. I hiked the John Muir Trail over 16 days with minimal prep last year, and to say that it was a life-changing experience would be an understatement. The JMT was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and it was so insanely beautiful that I often have trouble describing the experience. Hiking 220 miles from Yosemite Valley, through the High Sierra to Whitney Portal, can seem daunting to a beginning backpacker, but I’m here to tell you that not only is it absolutely doable – once you get out there, you’ll wonder why it took so long to make the commitment to do it.

Sunrise at Garnet Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness.

 

Over the course of ten Sierra Nevada passes and ultimately Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet, I surprised myself every day, met some pretty incredible people, learned a ton, and I’ve been obsessed with hiking ever since. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do for a living, what your background is, or what your life situation may be. Once past the hurdle of learning about and acquiring some basic gear and outdoor knowledge, just about anyone who is able to and loves to walk, can thru-hike.

Trail Family

And in my experience so far, the hiking community has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. You’ll often hear hikers talk about trail family. This isn’t a dramatic exaggeration. There’s an indescribable bond that happens when you’re out there suffering together through a gnarly thunderstorm, celebrating huge days over monster High Sierra passes, and going into town together to eat all of the food in sight (and then some). To me, there are few things more beautiful than sharing life-changing experiences in the backcountry with amazing human beings.

In the internet age, trail family can even extend to people you’ve never met in real life, as hikers somehow always find a way to connect with other like-minded hikers via social media. My Instagram and Facebook feeds have more or less been taken over by hikers from all walks of life, some of whom I’ve met in person, most of whom I’ve not. I talk to these people more than I talk to my real family (sorry, real family). We have conversations about all sorts of things ranging from trail food, to gear, resupply strategies, how to go ultralight, what trails to hike next, and diversity in the outdoors. (OK, to be honest, it’s mostly food and gear.)

Shout-out to Hikers of Color

One of the things about long-distance hiking that I noticed right away was that there aren’t too many people of color out on the trail. I’m not making a political statement here – it’s just a very real observation, but I think it’s an important one to call out. There are some good write-ups out there on the lack of diversity in the outdoors, so I won’t rehash those ideas here (please spend some time googling though if you’re seeking more awareness on the topic), other than to acknowledge that there are some obvious reasons why it’s just not that common to run into people of color out in the wilderness.

Just as with any recreational activity, there are barriers to entry, particularly economic, educational, and cultural ones. When it comes to the outdoors, these barriers may make it more difficult for some to access our nation’s gorgeous, life-altering backcountry (or even have it on their radar). Recreation is a privilege, and the outdoors is certainly no exception to that. So, for those of us who will be calling a long-distance trail our temporary home this year, I hope that we can all take a collective moment to recognize just how incredibly lucky we are.

For me, hiking has been a pretty inclusive experience. I’ve felt mostly positive vibes on trail and in hiking communities. I’ve been lucky to have met some pretty rad hikers. Though I think we have a ways to go, I think people of color are being more and more represented by amazing hikers of color (@rahawahaile and @browngirlonthenst to name a couple) who have become outstanding role models for aspiring adventurers of all ages and all backgrounds.

See You on the PCT

So, in case it hasn’t become apparent by now, I’d like to officially announce to the internet that this unlikely hiker will be trekking the PCT starting July 2018, SOBO from Canada to Mexico (I’ll write up a separate post about why I’m going SOBO instead of the traditional NOBO route). I’ll be carrying everything I need to survive in a sub-30-pound pack, resupplying in towns along the way, and taking an unreasonable number of photos to post on Instagram (@anhtheinternet, if you’d like to follow along).

One of my goals this year as I hike is to genuinely connect with as many people as I can – not to evangelize any of the stuff above – but to learn as much as I can about why people are out there, what peoples’ backgrounds are, what led them to becoming thru-hikers, and what ideas they might have for increasing access to hiking for all sorts of people, so that our communities can be even more inclusive than they are. If I run into you on trail, I hope (but obviously do not expect) that you’ll be open to having this kind of dialogue, in addition to talking each other’s ears off about gear and food. If you’re a hiker of color on the PCT this year, hit me up and let’s try to connect, because I’ll especially want to hear what you have to say.

In the meantime, over the course of the next several months, I’ll be posting here about my progress as I prep and make final arrangements. I hope to include some training and shakedown trip reports, thoughts on planning and logistics, and of course the usual rants on trail food and gear.

See you on trail.

Anh top of Mt. Whitney (even I can’t resist terrible puns using my own name).

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Comments 4

  • Sarah : Feb 6th

    🙋🏻‍♀️Another thruhiker of color here. I’m headed nobo so I’ll hi-five you when we pass.

    The long distance hiking community is great and I’ve never had any bad experiences in terms of race.

    That being said, I hope to also be able to speak up if anything comes up and to write about and honestly share my experience of being a minority in this subculture.

    Reply
    • Anh Quach : Feb 7th

      Awesome! Glad to connect with other HOC out there, and if our trail paths align a high five is definitely in order. 🙌

      I’ve had mostly positive experiences as well, though I’d love to get more involved in helping more of us get out there, particularly from a young age.

      Reply
  • Erika : Feb 19th

    Looking forwad to see your pictures on instagram. Happy trails!

    Reply
  • Misty : Feb 20th

    This is beautiful! I am a large-ish woman who fell in love with the PCT 19 years ago, but never actually hiked on it until 2016. A week after being told I needed neck surgery, I said yeah… NO… I’m going hiking!! I now do small sections, mostly in Oregon, every chance I get. I love your story, so inspriational to me!

    Reply

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