Why I’m Hiking the PCT This Year Instead of Going Back to School

“Dude, guess what? I think I’m going to hike the PCT next year.”

Receiving this text message from one of my dearest friends, Kelly, aka my “trail sister” would dramatically alter my responsible and carefully researched plan that I had just spent most of this year preparing for.

The Sisterhood of the Bespectacled Dirtbags

Kelly and I befriended each other during a service term in 2018 with Student Conservation Association (SCA) NH AmeriCorps. We soon discovered we shared an affinity (bordering on obsession) for the White Mountains and spent nearly every weekend hiking the list of 4,000-footers in the state, the NH48.

Once we completed those, we weren’t quite sure what to with ourselves, so we found some more 4,000-footers to hike in Vermont and Maine. Oh, and a tiny bit of the Adirondacks too, which is a whole story in itself. We had ourselves one heck of a time, and somehow, we found we could still stand each other after spending so much time together.

A sisterhood had been formed.

Bespectacled dirtbags.

Life happened for a bit and then, naturally, we somehow both found ourselves back in NH. We revisited some of our beloved 4,000-footers (this time in the snow) and made plans for our next goal: the PCT.

As you can probably predict, that plan didn’t work out. Things didn’t work out very well at all. I assume that 2020 wasn’t a good year for most, and you can safely assume that it didn’t win any awards for “top year” in my books.

All jokes aside, we took very different paths in the spring of 2020, and still, the challenges of those times could not keep us apart. When Kelly, being the saint that she is, learned that I had endured some extenuating circumstances, she invited me out to hike the Colorado Trail with her and a couple of friends.

I eagerly latched on to her invitation like it was a life raft (it was) and just like that, I found myself in Denver with Kelly.

Getting to do a long hike together on the CT wasn’t the original plan, but it was spectacular nonetheless. During this journey, we visited old friends, spent time reconnecting, and formed many new friendships, including those within our awesome trail family.

The fam (most of us at least).

After completing the CT, I returned to my hometown in Western NC, where my gracious parents (and dog) welcomed me back with open arms. I took my dog Lily on some short backpacking trips on a few stretches of the AT in Georgia and NC, started working as a delivery driver at the newly opened Amazon hub, and tried my best to move forward and reintegrate into “normal” life.

Lily in Bly Gap

We were the only residents at Bly Gap that night!

I immersed myself in work, determined to quickly pay back the debt I had accumulated from my time on-trail and plan for whatever the next step of my journey would be. The adventures I had earlier that year soon felt like a lifetime ago, and I convinced myself that my thru-hiking days were over for the time being. It was time to do the responsible thing and figure out what I was doing with my life.

Quarter-Life Crisis

I spent many days over the winter of 2020-21 pondering this great mystery and made the decision that it was time to go back to school. After doing much research and thinking about the career I wanted to pursue, I decided that environmental law would be an excellent fit for me.

I began preparations for taking the LSAT, gathered my application materials, and spent quite a bit of time writing, re-writing, and revising a personal statement that would convince admissions committees that I was ready to attend law school. I studied more and took the LSAT a second time to further improve my chances of success in the admissions process.

I poured myself into preparing for this certain next step, feeling both a bit nervous and incredibly excited that I had figured out a solid life trajectory for at least the immediate future. Whew.

And then came that text from Kelly.

Not only was she planning on hiking the PCT in 2022, but so was our friend Laura, a member of our beloved trail family from the CT.

I was incredibly happy for them. Not wanting to miss out completely on what was sure to be a grand time, I told them that I planned on hiking from Campo to Tehachapi with them before getting ready to attend school that fall. Heck, maybe I’d even make it to the Sierra with them before I had to start getting ready for the school year.

Look, it’s the three of us!

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt about my decision. I knew I wanted to follow through with my plans for school, but I also knew that it would be highly unlikely that I would want to leave the trail once I was there. In that scenario, I predicted that I would get off trail, only to find myself feeling the loss of what could’ve been if I were still on trail with my friends.

I would be back in school, counting down the days until I would graduate and be able to hit the trail again. Worse was the thought—what if in the process of attending school and working towards a career, I never found my way back to the PCT? I realized that if I wanted to fully commit to my academic and career goals, I would have to finish the PCT first.

Sound Logic

Once I reached my completely rational decision, I stopped applying to schools and started making moves to hike the PCT. I applied to blog for The Trek, waited anxiously for permit day to commence, and in a complete state of disbelief, watched Kelly and Laura and myself all receive our permits.

So yeah, this may not be my original, carefully thought-out plan, but somehow, I think it works—PCT 2022, law school 2023.

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Comments 5

  • RALPH MCGREEVY : Dec 1st

    Life is about choices and time/youth is limited. If you did not take the opportunity to hike the PCT, or at least try, regret would be lifelong. Hopefully, the journey will give you a chance to observe and consider conditions across a great swath of the west. If you go into environmental law, it will be excellent background experience. Plan carefully and be careful. Onward.

    • Rachel Shoemaker : Dec 3rd

      Hey there Ralph! You make some excellent points, all which I agree with. Thank you so much for your support – it means a lot. Onward indeed and good luck on your own life journey!

  • Sasquatch : Dec 1st

    Every year more of the trail burns. Also, thru hiking is way more fun the younger you are, even though most old people won’t admit that. You’ll never be as young as you are now ever again. Also, you could probably hike the trail and do school. University of Washington, for example, classes start at the end of September, exactly when you would want to be touching the terminus.

    • Rachel Shoemaker : Dec 3rd

      Hey Sasquatch! I’d love to hear how you got your trail name… The reasons you list for doing this hike now are all highly relevant. I appreciate your support. I hadn’t considered the later start date that UW offers – that’s great! My dream school (which I did apply to before coming to this decision) is Lewis & Clark, which unfortunately requires that you start in mid-August. We’ll see what they have to say in a couple of weeks! Happy trails and good luck on your own journey, Sasquatch!

  • Dee : Jan 12th

    Totally agree with Ralph and Sasquatch. Seize the moment when you can. There always seem to be so many times that is not a good time. So, since you’ll already be on the trail, stay on it. I love to hear the stories on the trail. Best on your journey and looking forward to catching up with you on your blog.


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