Books telling you how to plan, how to prepare, and how to hike the Pacific Crest Trail – there are a lot of them (and most of them suck).
Thankfully, a few of them are worth reading during your days, months, or even years spent anticipating your PCT adventure (if you can successfully read books on the trail, congratulations, it’s not as easy as you would think). One of the more recent arrivals to the ever-growing library of trailside readers goes by the name of Pacific Crest Trials.
Officially titled Pacific Crest Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, it’s exactly what it says it is. It’s not a book that’s going to try to tell you how to hike the PCT, nor is it a book that simply shares the story of a single hiker.
Instead it presents the realities of the PCT and discusses some of the greatest struggles on the trail: the mental and emotional ones.
One of those struggles comes to us from none other than yours truly.
So without further ado, here’s an excerpt from Pacific Crest Trials (see if you can guess who it’s by).
I plop down onto a rock and wonder how in the world I’m going to make it through another two days of this.
It’s still early enough to squeeze in some miles before the sun disappears behind California’s mighty Sierra Nevada, but the throbbing epicenter of pain crowning my right foot has other plans.
The fact I’ve made it this far today is a miracle.
I’ve struggled with ingrown toenails (when a toenail grows into the surrounding skin) since I was young, but never was I plagued with one this intense. Not wanting to take off my shoe for fear that I will find a blood-soaked sock inside, I hobble over to the edge of the nearby lake to prepare for my now daily inspection.
Relieved to find my sock’s color unchanged, it’s what I find inside my sock that sends my heart, stomach, and morale plummeting.
A crust of hardened blood and pus covers the nail, as fresh fluid is pumped out the sides with each aggressive and painful throb. Red and inflamed, the skin has become nearly indistinguishable from the mess around it as my nail dives deeply in the wrong direction.
I clean away what I can and plunge my foot into the frigid alpine lake.
As I wonder if it’s possible for any harmful bacteria that may be lurking in this lake to infiltrate my newest vulnerability, I lay back on the shore and question what the hell I’m doing.
Walking the PCT from Mexico to Canada? Yeah, that sounded awesome when I was home researching; looking at everyone’s beautiful photos, reading inspiring quotes about nature, repeatedly watching “Into The Wild” to get pumped up – nobody told me about all this awfulness I would be subjected to.
What am I doing out here if I’m not enjoying the trail? Am I doing this because I genuinely want to? Because I love the outdoors? Because I’m stubborn and don’t want to quit? A stab of pain shoots up my leg and reminds me there are more pressing issues at hand.
This toe. This toe is seriously fucked.
The soaking continues until the cold forces me to make camp and retreat into my sleeping bag. Tonight’s dinner of trail mix and candy bars reminds me again that this is not the glamorous thru-hiking sold off-trail.
I really hope I don’t bleed all over the inside of my sleeping bag.
The next two misery-wrapped days are filled with hour-long miles and more horror-filled scenes of my toe’s slow and seemingly deliberate mission to destroy itself.
Although I have plenty of food and wasn’t planning on stopping until Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite (another 36 miles), I know that if I want to save my toe, then I need to visit Mammoth Lakes.
I check into a motel and cheer myself in true thru-hiker fashion – with a six pack and a large pizza. For a couple of hours, life is good.
The next day I walk to the emergency room to show off my prize toe. The doctor informs me that my toe is badly infected and that it may require minor surgery to if it’s to return to working order.
“After this surgery, would I be able to continue hiking?”
“You would have to stay off it for a week. Honestly, you shouldn’t be hiking with your toe the way it is right now.”
Not hiking is not an option, so we explore alternatives. I’m given a ten-day supply of antibiotics and told if my toe doesn’t improve by Yosemite, then I need to catch the bus back to Mammoth for surgery.
Sounds fair. However, said antibiotics need to be taken every six hours. Now, in addition to constant and horrible pain during the day, I will also be disrupting my sleep cycle at night.
Returning to the trail, this time armed with supplies to clean and dress my wound, I again find myself wondering why I’m doing this.
Nine hundred miles – are you kidding?
I just walked nine hundred miles. I have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone else. The last two months literally amounts to the greatest physical achievement of my entire life. Getting off-trail now is what gamblers would call quitting while you’re ahead. It’s what an intelligent person, or a person with a horribly infected toe, would do.
Why am I choosing to subject myself to this? To this miserable existence? Why, when I could so easily choose for all of this to be over at any moment, do I voluntarily continue this seemingly doomed endeavor?
Maybe it’s just that. Maybe it’s because quitting would be so easy. Maybe that’s why I continue the daily struggle to make miles northward.
These questions are best left considered another time. For now there’s only one thing I need to do: I need to walk.
Northward I go.
It’s available in both Kindle and paperback editions, so check out the book here!.