“Why I’m Hiking the PCT,” From a Girl Who Never Wanted to Hike At All
1. The Lists
When I realized I wanted to thru-hike the PCT, one of the first things I did was pick up Pacific Crest Trials (I swear Zach is not bribing me with food to say that). I had been doing research on the Triple Crown trails in the US, and came across many mentions of both Appalachian Trials and Pacific Crest Trials (@Zach—When are you going to come out with Continental Divide Trials?)
At the beginning of the book, I was asked to write down the following:
- All of the reasons I’m thru-hiking.
- What I would gain by completing the thru-hike.
- What I would lose if I quit the thru-hike.
Instead of reading past this and saying, “Ehh, I’ll do this later,” like I usually would, I decided to write it all down, with (as advised in the book) total honesty.
(To be fair, I was also sitting in the window seat of a plane that didn’t have any personal TVs.)
2. Why am I going?
Admittedly, I feel a little self-conscious sharing the list, but here is my basically unaltered list of the reasons I’m thru-hiking:
- I love hiking.
- I fully intend to complete 52 hikes in 2018—this is just another challenge when I’m done with that.
- I’m so far ahead of schedule with my 52-hike challenge that I strongly believe I could do something harder, more difficult.
- All I want to do right now is hike every day.
- I want to prove to myself I can do it.
- I want to prove to others I can do it.
- I want to be able to say I did it.
- I want people to understand that hiking isn’t a hobby for me, but a part of me.
- I want to meet new people who share the same love of hiking/backpacking/camping.
- Planning for it and looking forward to it has brought me out of a pretty intense depression.
- I want to push myself so far out of my comfort zone.
- I need time to meditate and introspect without the distractions of everyday life.
- I need to learn to not be so reliant on other people who are in my life right now, and believe in myself.
- I want to lose fat and gain muscle.
2.1. A Year of Hiking
I began regularly hiking in November 2017. By “regularly hiking,” I mean about once every one or two weeks. I was invited by friends, and after a few group hikes, I started going by myself. Soon enough, hiking was no longer scary, no longer a chore.
2.1.1. The Challenge
At the beginning of 2018, I decided to try to complete 52 hikes in 2018—one hike a week—having barely ever hiked before. I did not anticipate and could not have anticipated just how much my love for hiking would grow as the year went on.
2.1.2. The Finish
I completed 52 different hikes on July 14, about 5½ months ahead of schedule. That included:
- Bursting into tears at the top of Mount Adams (you can see the reason for that in the photo at the top of this post).
- Regrets from packing a very heavy hardcover copy of How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan on my first solo backpacking trip to Navaho Peak.
- Beers at the Mount St. Helens crater rim.
- Five days, four nights, and 2,000+ photos in the Enchantments; still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
- Taking a friend on his first-ever hike, up to Lake Constance, deemed “hardest hike in Olympic National Park” by the Washington Trails Association (sorry, Brandon).
- Putting on snowshoes for the first time at Artist Point.
- Looking down on Zion NP from Observation Point, the highest point in the park you can hike to.
- A selfie taken at Camp Muir, Mount Rainier’s base camp.
- Over 100,000 feet in elevation gain.
- About 350 miles overall.
- Many tears.
- And blisters.
- And friends.
- And laughs.
- And memories that are now forever etched into my brain.
I still regularly have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.
2.2. A Year of Pain
Throughout this (physical and metaphorical) journey, I’ve been dealing with severe anxiety and depression as a result of many stressors, especially work. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had thyroid problems flare up. I was so exhausted from work and everyday things that I couldn’t even muster up the energy to look for another job, let alone actually submit applications and prepare for interviews.
Hiking was the only thing that I could regularly get out of bed and out the door for. It was the only constant in my life during this mental rough patch.
I’m still dealing with the recently-diagnosed bipolar disorder, and the process that follows in the aftermath of a diagnosis (medication, therapy, nutrition, etc.). But now I have something huge and hugely exciting to look forward to, and I get through each day with a little pep in my step.
3. What if I make it?
My original list of everything I would gain if I completed my thru-hike:
- I’d feel so beyond proud of myself.
- I’d believe I could take on anything.
- I’d have had the time to do a lot of thinking, and would have a clearer idea of what I want professionally.
- I’d be stronger and more fit.
- I’d be able to tell other people that I was a thru-hiker of the PCT.
- I’d have the confidence to take on the AT and CDT and eventually be a Triple-Crowner.
- I’d prove to both myself and everyone else that I am fit and able and capable physically.
3.1. The Beginning
I went on my first hike ever last summer, to Rattlesnake Ledge in Washington. And I actually hated it.
- Too hot (middle of May at high noon, anyone?).
- Too crowded (Pacific Northwesterners tend to like hiking; just check the biographies of everyone around this place on Tinder).
- Too sweaty (ugh, I ruined my hair).
- Too dirty (ugh, I ruined my shoes).
- Too long (are you sure this is only four miles round trip?)
- Too painful (WTF, why do people do this to themselves?).
I never wanted to go again.
I didn’t grow up an active child. I specifically remember a time my grade school gym teacher made fun of how slow I was running during a game in front of the entire class and the embarrassment that followed. I didn’t like exercise, I didn’t like sports, and I had the lack of muscle to prove it.
But there was one particular hike that I consider to be a turning point for me, a single point in time where I divide my life up until now into two separate parts.
Before this point, I hadn’t yet been “converted.” To me, “outdoors” meant dirt and bugs and sweat and bears. I couldn’t figure out why people who hiked or camped or carried huge backpacks around liked doing it. Why did they keep torturing themselves like that?
Let’s call that part of my life B.C. (Before Converting).
Then I started seeing someone who actually liked hiking. He took me out a couple of times, and on one of the first hikes we went on, something changed.
We were at Mount Dickerman on a perfect bluebird day. I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the top, and still don’t know how I did (thanks, Tim, for believing in me!). I can’t remember having done anything so physically taxing. But I did make it. At the summit, I felt:
- proud of myself
- I mean, I just walked to the top of a mountain
- wait, did I actually
- holy crap
- also, that view though
…and that feeling was addictive.
Everything after that hike was (and is!) my life A.D. (After Dickerman).
I wanted to keep going. And how much more “keep going” can you get than deciding to hike almost every single day for four to six months?
4. What if I don’t?
And finally, the exact list I wrote out for what I’d lose if I quit my thru-hike:
- I would feel extreme shame.
- I would have to tell everyone I failed.
- I would feel like a failure.
- I would have quit a stable job for nothing.
- I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel good about it.
- I would not be able to experience the jubilation and exhilaration of completing the PCT.
- I wouldn’t feel confident enough to try another thru-hike (let alone the PCT again).
- Due to #7, I wouldn’t be able to ever Triple Crown.
- I would not be able to spend more time with the amazing people I am sure to meet along the way.
To be brutally honest (not only to you, but also to myself), I don’t like to entertain the thought that I might not make it. I won’t pretend I haven’t heard that statistic that only 25% of people who start a PCT thru-hike actually make it.
5. I’m ready.
I’ve always liked lists. When I don’t write everything out in an organized fashion, my brain gets overwhelmed trying to do the organization itself.
I can’t say for certain that I’ll successfully walk from Mexico to Canada next year, but I also can’t say for certain that I’ll not be run over by a car tomorrow. All I can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I know thru-hiking the PCT will be a difficult several months. I’m doing my damndest to build up an arsenal of thoughts and things to keep me on trail when I’m out there next year.
I always look both ways before crossing, yet I don’t know whether or not a car will come out of nowhere when I step onto the street. But I still take a small leap of faith, stepping onto that street anyway.
Even though I don’t know if I’ll be standing at Manning Park in the latter half of next year, I will…
- Make more lists because why not.
- Mentally prepare myself.
- Gear up so I don’t die on trail.
- Keep telling everyone willing to listen that I’m heading out next year.
- Take that leap of faith.
- And get myself to that Southern Terminus in Campo, CA on March 31, 2019, where I’ll be stepping onto that trail anyway.
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