Note: I wrote the following to get down my thoughts as I transitioned from the PCT to the AT. I jotted this all down while flying on a plane from Seattle to SF. This is not well written or put together. Rather, these were my feelings, thoughts, and reflections directly after the PCT. Not three months after. Not once I transition back to my job in Denver; but rather right after the experience, when the emotions and thought provoking feelings are still strong. I took a long time to decide if I wanted to share this, or if this would stay in my personal notes (I kept a lot off the blog while hiking, believe it or not). In the end, I’ve decided to share. It’s raw, basically catching my thoughts and feelings as I’m having them. I want to remember these thoughts, remember these feelings. This may help you understand the feelings and emotions one has after completing an adventure such as the PCT.
I’m writing this from the plane (my first leg, from Seattle to San Francisco), and I’m filled with emotion. I feel proud as I watch Mt rainier, Mt Adams, Mt hood, the three sisters, and Shasta go by. The ground between them is vast and wrinkled, so much of the detail lost from this far above. We covered all of that ground – on foot. Yet here I am, flying by on a plane with strangers (that includes marshawn Lynch sitting two seats in front of me in first class, boom!). The screen says we’re flying at 37k feet, at a speed of nearly 600 miles an hour. The contrast pulls at me. I’ve spent my last few months on the ground, in slow motion, happy going 3 miles an hour. There is so much racing through my head. So many things I am feeling.
I said my last pct goodbye to Guthrie at the airport. I got really close to Guthrie on this trip. We’re both so similar, working corporate jobs, yet wanting more from life. He feels like an old friend now, no different than my buddies from high school and college. Last goodbye of the PCT, and I got a little choked up. That’s officially the end of my pct adventure this year. No more miles to hike, no more mountains to see, no more goodbye’s to my good friends, no more trail family that I spend my days with.
That last bit really hits me. ‘No more trail family.’ I went to the kickoff event nearly 4 months ago now. I didn’t know anyone on the trail. Rachel and Chris dropped me off, and I was alone in a giant crowd. I was excited; so many people to meet, so many landscapes to explore. Yet it was a risk. I knew no one. Would I meet people who I wanted to hike with, or would I hike alone? I assumed the former, as I’m a pretty social guy. But I didn’t know.
I often think back to what I expected out of this trip. This is something I spoke extensively with carrot and Guthrie about. Expectations. Everyone has them. In the years leading up, I think I expected solitude, a spiritual journey, one that could forever change me. As it became a reality, and the trip was in my sights, these thoughts changed. When I got to the Mexico border, I did not seek something monumental in this trip, life changing, spiritually enlightening. I just wanted to enjoy this experience and learn what the trail had to teach me. A clean slate, or an open canvas, as they would say. Open to being molded, open to new ideas and points of view. This is what I thought would be the best way to approach the trail. No grandiose expectations, just go with the flow and see where I naturally go, where the trail would take me.
Looking back at the trip, I think I accomplished what I set out to do. I hiked the trail, most obviously, but I also surrounded myself with those who were so different from me, I would have never met them outside of the trail. This happened naturally, as not many Career driven, ‘type A’ people hike the trail. That’s not a knock; that’s a beautiful thing. From my friends in high school to college, all are career driven. They all want to ‘make something’ of themselves, in the way that society dictates is the correct way. Work at Deloitte, and it’s like type A on steroids; the most driven and ambitious people I have ever been around. Everyone striving to be the best and prove their worth in their careers. That’s all very good and admirable, and those who do this are amazing people. But the past few years I’ve felt I wanted more than just that in my life. More out of my life than just my career. I wanted experiences, and I wanted to meet people that weren’t like myself. I did that on this trip, and I am so thankful that I was able to meet all of these amazing individuals.
I met people that expanded my mind, opened my eyes, and broke down so many pre conceived judgements I had of certain ‘types’ of people that I would label. The hikers I was with, I would best describe as ‘romantics’. They wanted the most out of life. Not concerned with financial stability, retirement, or a new car or house. they obsessed over experiences. One of the most memorable things anyone said to me was from my friend Carrot. While hiking in the desert having a very deep conversation, she told me she sought ‘wealth in experiences’. I thought about this so much on the trip. I discussed it with everyone in our hiking family several times. Wealth in experiences. It summed up my biggest fear of my life, that I think of often. I do not want to be near retirement, physically not what I am now, look back at my youth and wish I had taken more risks. Wish I had sought more riches in experiences. Taken more chances to have experiences, and grow from those experiences. I didn’t want to look at all of the time and effort I put into my career, and look back realizing I never saw or knew anything else. And would that really make me happy? Now that I’ve been in a career for several years, I know what it’s like. I had financial stability, I have a promising ‘career’. I knew well before this trip that I needed more wealth in experiences. Not that I hadn’t had my fair share. I’ve been extremely fortunate and over privileged. But I still felt deep inside, I needed a more ‘full immersion’ type of experience. One that would take over and consume my life for more than just a few short weeks of vacation. Thru-hiking was the obvious choice all along. The pct is what I had my eye on from the start.
That’s still my biggest fear, that fear of regret. That fear that I didn’t make the right choices. That fear that I would choose riches in dollar value over riches in experiences. This was the first step towards changing my life, and obtaining those experiences that I seek.
I think of the trip, and the first thing I think of is my hiking family. Guthrie, carrot, sheriff woody, not a chance, Mac, brainstorm, tiny, coughee, Krispies, Twigg, lead dog, McButter, la terry, ed the duck (wildo), big sauce, dirt monger, Bearclaw, kimchi, Sochi, 10k, grapenut, handy andy, pigpen, and many, many others. My memories are completely shaped by my experiences with these others. I learned much from each and every one of them. In talking with woody and Krispies on the last day, we discussed our future adventures. We all learned that adventures are in our future. Even in our last day, we only wanted more. What would be our next big trip, because surely this wouldn’t be our only one. This isn’t my ‘trip of a lifetime’. I’ll have many more in my future, I’m sure of that. We discussed the adventures we were jonesing for, noting that we’ll surely have more, and hoping that some would collide and be shared.
“The pct will always be here.” I remember someone saying during the trip. That’s true, but the people I’m with will not. This experience won’t ever happen to me again. I’ll never have the same group of people that have all grown to care for each other so much. That’s what makes my experience on the pct distinctly different from anyone else’s. It’s the people around me. Sure, everyone who hikes the PCT sees the same mountains, forests, and valleys no matter what year or when they hike. But each thru-hikers experience is vastly different from one another. That’s not to say I’ll never have another trail family. I’ll just never have this same trail family. And damn, it was a good one. Every last one of the hikers I was with left an impression on me in some way or another.
I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, what I’ll take with me, what might fade away. I feel I learned a lot about my happiness. What it means to me. When I’m happiest. When I’m in my element. On the pct, I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, and I can only hope that I can say the same for my future adventures.