What I think about when I think about hiking (on the PCT)
After 558 miles on the PCT, I have finally sat down to write and, well, you’re reading this so you know that. Since it’s taken me this long and since I plan to write more functional pieces comparing last years sobo AT thru hike to the first section of the PCT and the story behind my currently sprained ankle, I decided that for now, I will just freewrite. No, not the most professional choice but nobody ever said that trekking by foot from Mexico to Canada was a professional at all. While so much has happened, it seems like there’s not one thing significant enough to write about. So, alas, I will attempt to recap it all in my true, emotional, over-sharing way that won’t gain me any adulation but will hopefully resonate with some of you.
Already a few miles into the Mojave Desert, the heat is not something to view as just a light obstacle. Time and time again, I have filtered and drank hot water in the exposed heat. I have curled up as small as I could into the tiniest bit of shade that the desert shrubs barely provide. I’ve squeezed melted Snickers bars into my mouth just to keep myself moving up the mountain. I stop to look while search and rescue helicopters fly overhead and hope that whoever they’re going to help is ok. Surviving in the desert is as much a part of the experience as stumbling upon trail magic after a four mile exposed climb, or discovering m&m’s do melt at some high temperature and that the desert keeps reaching that temperature every time I have m&m’s.
It’s all a part of the experience- the challenges and risks that make the views even more spectacular. I feel powerful, insignificant, alive, helpless, natural and beautiful. I feel a part of something. I feel a part of everything. I am as much the cricket that I just watched get killed by the tarantula killer as I am the tarantula killer that I just watched dig a hole and drag the cricket into. I am just working hard to stay alive in the desert and I am doing it.
Then I get into town.
In this town in particular, I feel anxious and inadequate. I have wondered why my body doesn’t reflect almost a month of doing nothing but hiking 25 plus miles a day. Frustrated every hour that I have had to put on sunscreen to still get red and freckly, while others compare their tan lines. Discouraged by my lack of muscle definition. Insecure in my thinking that what I’m doing may not be perceived as a badass accomplishment if I reach Canada as outwardly the same person I was at the Mexican border. Confused about whether or not I should have even put all of that out there. My writing in a trail town is not a reflection of myself or my hike, just like my currently sprained ankle isn’t a reflection of my hiking abilities. Town is where I learn just how much I need to rest. It also just happens to be where things tend to unravel a bit.
On trail, on the other hand, I reflect on the day from my sleeping bag after each setting sun in an effort to keep up with my own ongoing poetry project. What I have discovered is that inadequacy is not within the stream of self consciousness that I experience when I’m in my sleeping bag holding a pen and notebook. The lack of these anxieties is not intentional, either. Those thoughts just don’t naturally occur to me in nature the way they do in town. Other, more meaningful thoughts fill its space. I look at the moon. I feel the cold air or the hot air or the bugs land on my skin. As uncomfortable as it may physically be, my trail skin is never something I desire to crawl out of and that’s a wonderful feeling.
Instead, on trail, I think about life and death but I guess the reality is that I think about life because of death, as many of us tend to do. Next to making sure I am consuming enough water and food to keep my own story going is my desire for the stories of other individuals. While I know that there are so many ways in which my life is inestimably more free than most, it’s hard to feel any bit more significant than any other living creature. Outside of taking care of myself and being a decent human being, I think about others and their stories, accepting the fact that there is very little that I can control. I am not saving the world but I finally found something I am happy doing and that I’m good at doing, and I’m doing all of it. Every mile. Even more importantly, I’m doing it honestly.. even just by posting this. After all, if I can’t be honest with myself and my experience, then who am I and what will become of me?
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