Whatever it Takes
“Everyone has a book in them, and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.”
I have for many years, held an ambition to write and publish a book.
I’ve had a few inspiring moments where I felt the need to tell a particular story. These various ideas of what to write about have come and gone over the past couple of decades, but be it through a lack of writing skill, a loss of interest, or most recently, realising that my subject matter was more of a self-therapy piece than a book for general reading, they have all hit a wall in various stages of the creative process. Multiple different tales, confined to failed attempts that will not be revisited.
When I returned to London after completing the Appalachian Trail last year, many people told me that I should write a book about my journey from Georgia to Maine.
If I’m honest with myself, the comments were probably a way for everyone to attempt to end the verbal assaults of endless tales about the AT. In a manner of, “Very interesting, you should write a book about it (so you don’t talk endlessly about hiking, and if I want to, I can read it at my leisure).”
So I put pen to paper, figuratively. Actually, I opened up my notes app on my phone and started typing a draft for a book about my six-months on the AT.
And every great writing project needs a working title. What should I call it?
‘Against All Odds’
The story of three people who met at the start of a 2200-mile, 6-month long life challenge, all from vastly different backgrounds and lifestyles, who shouldn’t have made it through the entire 2194.3 miles of the Appalachian Trail as one unit, yet managed to stick together and propel each other to the top of Mt. Katahdin to finish one of the most challenging hiking trails in the world – against all the odds.
A good working title. Especially seeing as my final video from the AT on my YouTube channel Adventure Together (another shameless plug), was named exactly that. A video of us reaching the sign and completing the AT, my favourite video that I’ve made, sharing the same name, might work. It definitely fits as a working title until I think of something better. Perhaps it could be the actual title. It suits the story well.
“There’s always a new challenge to keep you motivated.”
If I’m successful in completing the Pacific Crest Trail this year, my next goal is to attempt the Continental Divide Trail.
The CDT has always fascinated me. I see it as the monster in a cave, where from the outside, you can only see a pair of eyes glowing ominously in the darkness.
So few people attempt the CDT in comparison to the PCT and AT. The idea that roughly 20% of the trail isn’t actually marked, just road walks and bushwacking. The lack of resupply options and water sources in some parts. The utter unforgiving isolation. Everything about it has me desperate to walk head-on into that metaphorical cave and inspect the beast for myself.
If I am successful at that, then the Triple Crown would be complete. A lifelong aspiration would come to a close. What a story! (Or three)
I’m unsure how many Triple Crown hikers are out there or how many have been born in the UK. However many it is, joining the alumni that have achieved arguably the most revered title in North American hiking would be nothing short of an honour.
I’ve heard a phrase since I started the AT that has continued to echo from different hikers and trail angels.
“It’s either one or three”
Trilogies always seem more epic. Three separate books about the three separate trails would be an incredible undertaking but also a wonderful way to tell the stories without feeling restricted for bandwidth as far as chapters, pages, and words are concerned.
Writing a book about my experience on each of the hikes might be a way to knock off the ambition of writing a book while also hiking them, ticking off several life goals at once.
“Why would anyone do that? Wantingly walk for so long in such challenging environments?”
I don’t know how long I’ve known about the Pacific Crest Trail. So long that it seems as though I’ve always had it on my mind. I know that logically, that isn’t the case, but it’s been a long time.
As soon as I heard about all of the big three hiking trails, I added them to my bucket list, along with a plethora of other challenges, some completed, most not.
Now that one is done, and I’m several hundred miles into the second, the drive to complete is more larger, and the hunger to rise to the challenge is more intense. But also, my enjoyment of the experience has been elevated.
I know what to expect, and the worries that come from the unknown have dissipated. I am enjoying the day to day a lot more. There is an increased pleasure in hiking. The silence in nature, the solitude, the views, and the differing environments.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated it all on the AT as well, but this time around, it almost seems as though I’m far more relaxed about the future. An attitude of, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, for now, I’m just enjoying the birdsong and the scent of the flowers.
This hike is a different experience with a totally different story. There are a lot of challenges up ahead. A lot of what ifs and a lot of unknowns. It’s only going to get harder every day.
“What are you going to do if…”
Last month, I learned through a post in one of the PCT Facebook groups that a bridge across the South Fork San Joaquin River had been badly damaged by heavy snow, causing its collapse.
The information available on the PCTA website states that:
“The bridge across the South Fork San Joaquin River was severely damaged this winter. This large metal bridge normally provides safe passage at PCT mile 854.5 in Kings Canyon National Park across the river.”
This makes that part of the trail impassable.
There is part of the trail that is closed due to a protection order for the endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs that have been found in that area.
Last week, a large fire between Cajon Junction and Inspiration Point temporarily closed 20 miles of the trail.
In the Sierras, many creek crossings have recommended alternates to avoid dangerous rapids. Andrew Skurka released a list that recommended over thirty alternate crossings, a couple of which were several miles away from the trail.
There will be more fires. There will be rivers too dangerous to cross where the trail takes me. There may be avalanches, rockslides, and dangerous traverses on steep snow-covered slopes. This year is different.
What will I do if…?
“Adversity is not an excuse to abandon your aspirations; it’s the reason you rise to them.”
I was thinking about what a good title for my potential book about the PCT might be.
2023 is different. The rules have changed. People are flip-flopping to avoid dangerous parts of the trail (seemingly) more than ever before.
Those March starters have had to contend with multiple sections of closures and some awful trail conditions. The snow pack this winter has been multiple times larger than previously recorded records. The rules have changed. Safety is paramount. Nobody can be told their hike doesn’t count if they avoided obvious danger in their pursuit to walk to Canada.
How far can you leave the trail and still claim you hiked it? If your safety is threatened, as close to the trail as is safe, it is probably the best rule. If the safest place to cross a Creek is to take a 4-mile detour, is that still hiking the PCT? In my mind, yes.
The PCT isn’t a 36″ wide corridor, where stepping outside of the lines invalidates your hike; it’s a suggested route that you should try to follow as best you can if conditions permit it.
Taking an alternate route around a fire or dangerous creek crossing is always the most sensible thing. Why risk your life just to stay on trail?
I want to complete the Pacific Crest Trail with every fibre of my being. I am so determined to get to the end that I know I’ll do everything I can. I’m not giving up. I’m not going home early. This is my only focus.
It’s been a dream for too long to give up on it. By hook or by crook, alternates, and detours, I will try to complete this journey.
Whether bridges are down or trail is closed in sections, I’m walking to the Northern Terminus and Canada. I’ll do whatever I need to. I’ll do whatever it takes to finish this through hike.
And then it hit me. The perfect title for a book about my Pacific Crest Trail journey:
‘Whatever it Takes.’
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