People often ask me “What was it like?”, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and I never really know what to say.
Certain things come to mind. I remember being uncomfortable. My body ached every day, and always in new and surprising ways. It was often too hot or too cold, sometimes both at the same time. I remember my feet hurting. I had blisters on blisters under callouses from previous blisters. My pinky toenails disappeared. My feet often smelled pickled. Sometimes they looked like it too.
I remember being hungry constantly, and thirsty a lot as well. I ate so much junk food. Candy, chips, canned meats, couscous, ramen, PEANUT BUTTER, energy bars, tortillas. So many tortillas. I had tortillas pretty much every day for 4 months.
And I walked a lot. I walked through desert while dodging poodle dog bush, through wind farms filled with giant turbines. I walked over a lot of sand and snow and dirt, across logs and bridges and roads, and I walked – a couple times swam – through creeks and rivers.
I slept under the stars. Under trees and bridges. On cliff sides and rock islands and in melting tree wells surrounded by snow banks.
And I met some incredible people.
And when I realize that I’ve been standing here for more than a few moments reminiscing while the other person stands there waiting for a response, I struggle to find the words.
“It was good,” I usually say. “Really good.” But to describe it doesn’t really do the experience justice. And I worry they don’t understand how good it really was.
People also sometimes ask why I hiked the PCT. This is an even harder question.
I know that for a lot of other people, it was to change. To jumpstart a life that wasn’t what they wanted. And to see what adventures were out there.
Others were in it for the challenge. Because nothing worth doing in life is easy. And to take something so immense as walking across a country and make it real, to measure yourself day after day, to push yourself to your utmost limits – there’s meaning to that.
But it was never really clear to me, the why.
Maybe it’s the simple fact that I enjoy backpacking. I like sleeping under a starry night. I like the views and the vistas. I like a good meal around a campfire at the end of the day. I like the walking – that all there is to do in a day is to move one foot in front of the other. Simple start, simple end.
Or maybe it’s because I like the solitude and the silence. The world is so loud and everyone seems so very intent on telling you how best to live your life – that if you buy this or do that, you’ll be rich, or thin, or beautiful, or happy, or loved. But out in the woods, all that goes away. And I can listen to myself a little bit better.
But I think the most important reason isn’t really a reason at all. For me, it’s a compulsion. I feel compelled to be there. Some primal instinct, some deep-seated need to be among the trees, to hear the whistling wind on the mountain tops, to soak in the crackling streams and bathe in the womb-like quiet of the ponds and lakes.
And to give credence to that urge, to trust my gut, to have faith in myself, to believe that things will work out. Maybe that’s reason enough.
Most people start losing interest at this point. We talk about other stuff – how their summer’s been, what I’m doing now, the current state of the world, etc., etc. And life goes on.
Others are a bit more curious.
“What did you do about food?”
“How heavy was your pack?”
“How far did you walk every day?”
“Did you make any really good friends?”
And I’m happy to fill in a bit more detail, talk a little bit longer about our crazy hitchhikes into town, how attached I became to my ice axe, or how Wrecking Ball’s dad liked to burn things, and maybe even show them the photo I took of my feet in the end.
But eventually, these questions wane out too, and the conversation moves elsewhere. But in my head, I am still stuck in a melancholy remembrance. And when I get home, I find the photos I took on the trail and look through them. At the mountains and lakes and the dirt path that for four months, was home. And still, I think that the pictures don’t capture it all. They are the trail glorified, the most beautiful, intense, and breathtaking moments.
And they leave a lot out.
Even so, I feel a calm come over myself. To know that these memories are mine, that I shared in these places with these amazing and crazy and hilarious people, and that whatever else happens in the future – from now until the day when it all goes quiet behind my eyes – I’ll sleep well, knowing I’ve had stories to tell.