PCT, A Break from Life

The Pacific Crest Trail is, for me, a break from life, a time of reflection.

Never in my life have I had the ability to take a purposeful break. I’ve had a lot of free time – at times. From drinking days away as a teen to driving up and down the SoCal coast after the Marine Corps.

Many times in my life, taking a break meant not having money. Staying at home or wherever I was crashing, trying to live off the little money or credit I had available.

My whole life taking a break has been a time of panic only made worse by my anxiety and depression.

Thanks to my training, I can always function highly when needed. Always accomplishing the mission.

However, when the workday is over or school day, I can find myself crippled by anxiety and depression. My last roommate got to know me well enough to spot when I remained stagnant on the couch for weeks rather than doing anything.

This hike, now over a thousand miles in, has been my first break in life without panic and actually being able to take a breath and think.

I wish it was possible to sit down at home with one of the meditation apps and clear my head, but when I try that my mind starts to race.

I don’t know why, and I know there are many people studying outdoor therapy and its benefits, but it has worked better for me than therapy, medications, or self-care.

Perhaps it’s the simplicity, my only goal is to do as many miles as I need to do to make it to the next resupply in time. Part of it is the struggle, the injuries, pain, running out of water, overcoming obstacles. When you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs while on trail, most of the focus is on the bottom – the physiological needs – air, water, food, shelter, clothing. Every day I’m so focused on water, food, and getting to camp to set up my shelter that the usual anxieties don’t even come to mind.

Unlike the trail, at home with the AC or heat keeping the temperature comfortable, with all of the needs from the hierarchy of needs met the mind can wander, can focus on the top of the pyramid like love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Not even thinking twice about the fact that water is available on tap and food is abundant.

Living in such a comfortable, hermetically sealed environment also makes me feel less alive. I don’t enjoy getting hurt but the cuts all over my legs from trees or falling on the trail show that I’m still here. I’m not just merely surviving, but I am truly alive. I have the sun burn, cuts, and bruises to prove it. To prove it to myself.

I’ve done a lot of hard things in my past, out of stupidity or necessity to survive. As an adult my life has become exponentially less hard. I’m not super successful but I can buy food when I need it and my bills are all set to auto pay and I don’t have to worry about the overdraft charges I always paid as a kid. I remember paying a few hundred dollars in overdraft fees after spending $40 not knowing my tiny paycheck had not hit my account yet.

I think something inside me is genetic or just emotional and needs some struggle. I don’t want to go back to the struggles of my youth. I need money since I’m an ultralight gear nerd that wants new packs, gear, and tents all the time.

Hopefully this trip is a hard reset. Showing myself that I’m still alive. I can still accomplish things that are hard. I can still overcome obstacles, adapt and overcome.

Not that I understand neuroscience in any meaningful way, but I hope I am rewiring my neuro pathways on this trip. Changing my personal story.

After this trip I do have the struggle of getting my life back together after trail. Finding a new home, deciding what I want to do with my life.

This trip has reinforced for me that the most important thing is life is health and happiness. Too often we put money ahead of everything, but being happy is the most important thing to me. Life now is about finding a balance between the two. 


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