Why My List of Reasons Isn’t a List
I’ve sat down at a computer about 100 times now with the intention of making a list of reasons for why I’m hiking the PCT this year. And each time I’ve fallen short. It’s not that I can’t think of why I need to go on this adventure, but I feel like something is lost when I try to put it down in a neat, bulleted list.
After researching the trail from a variety of sources ranging from books to blogs, it seems like the most common item in a thru-hiker’s pack is this magical list. It’s the most important tool to get you to Canada, Katahdin, or whatever lies at the end of your “trial.” So what do you do when you can’t fit the why sloppily on a bar napkin? You write a blog post.
Everyone’s Dying to Know
When I tell people I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, there is no end to their questions about the how. How will you carry four months of food? How many miles a day do you have to hike? Are you really planning on doing this alone? How will you fight off the bears? (In response: I’m not, about 25, yes I am, and hopefully that’s a non-issue).
I’ve learned how to field these questions in my sleep (no, really, I’ve had planning nightmares). Inevitably, though, the line of questioning leads to “OK, but why would you want to do that?” I usually just joke that I’m going out there to find myself, and so far that’s been enough.
OK, but Why Would You Want to Do That?
My whole life, the goal has been to graduate college and get a job. And when I finally achieved that, I felt empty. The motivation that pushed me through high school, internships, and four years of electrical engineering evaporated the moment I accepted my first job post college.
That wasn’t something I was ready for. I thought that at the end of this long, grueling, marathon of an education I’d be able to put up my feet and enjoy. And I did, for a while. But despite what everyone was expecting of me, I wasn’t happy. The fact that I’d “made it” was scary, verging on terrifying, to me. This life of working 40 hours a week doing basically the same thing every day was what I worked so hard to achieve?
So, in pursuit of personal growth and maybe a touch of masochism, I signed up for a marathon.
I put together a comprehensive, six-month training plan and hit the pavement. And at the end of all that training, I crossed the finish line barely keeping in tears of joy for having completing something I once thought impossible.
But a few days after finishing the race, legs still sore, I once again felt that tug that something was missing. I realized, then, that maybe I’m not cut out for plateaus. I find joy in struggle, and peace in working toward being something I wasn’t before. But more than that, I don’t know how to be content when things just are.
In May 2018, I knew I needed a big undertaking. I needed to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life, because I felt a wave of depression on the horizon.
I’d done a handful of section hikes on the PCT with my mom over the past few summers, and I knew people hiked the whole thing in one go. It was something I’d wanted to do since I’d learned it could be done, someday. But when I started planning hikes for that summer with my newfound self-awareness, someday looked a lot closer than I originally thought.
I quickly decided hiking the trail would offer me a chance to think about what I want my life to look like. That, by becoming vulnerable to nature, I might find some hidden part of myself that is OK with just being. And if not, that would be OK. Because I haven’t reached my life’s plateau, not by a long shot.
The Bar Napkin
OK, OK. I know that, if I really wanted to, I could somehow put this in a nice list. If I ever had a day on trail where I wanted to quit, I could look at item number three and remind myself that hey, you’d be at a desk otherwise, buddy.
And I think this is where, if you’re planning a grand undertaking, you need to be honest with yourself. Because at some point, you will probably want to quit. If you need a list of why you shouldn’t, then suck it up and dumb down your long, winding blog post into something manageable. No, you probably shouldn’t put your inability to find happiness during peacetime on the list, but definitely put that thing about being bored at your job.
For me, I need the why to be long winded. And while I think it’s incredibly important to have a why, if I were to simplify it, it would take away its power. I’ve spent a short lifetime becoming who I am, and it’s because of who I am, and who I want to become, that I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Will that be enough to get me to Canada? Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
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