Some people try to be everyone’s best friend, to wear so many faces that their true identity becomes a patchwork of social reflections, to always say the “right thing” even when it conflicts with what they truly believe. Some people suck.
Trademarked by their uncanny ability to sing songs of personal achievement while simultaneously failing to grant others the opportunity to do the same, they waste their time and energy building and living in a fabricated reality revolving around themselves. Generally, these people come across as genuine and kind, yet anyone willing to spend time them will quickly recognize the subtext of highbrow arrogance behind their friendly façade.
These are the people who deliver sickeningly trite speeches at birthday parties and social gatherings. They are they people who overplay the significance of relationships blooming over months of interaction as if some novelty existed in such an expansive amount of time facilitating friendship. They are the people who always sound like they are meeting their significant other’s parents for the first time. They are the people who think they are the ideal personality. They are the people who make me want to beat my head bloody against the sidewalk.
Fortunately, I met no such person on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Nothing brings two people together like thru-hiking. Not work, not school, not religion, not travel, not alcohol, not funny internet videos, not anything.
In the course of a single day on the PCT you can literally spend every waking second with a complete stranger, and by the end of that day, you know more about this person than many people you consider to be friends (and you have watched them poop behind a tree).
Whether it is physical stress, increased vulnerability, or unspoken acknowledgement of every hiker’s fallibility, the PCT evokes an extraordinary sort of honesty amongst hikers. People bare their souls to each other, and it is easy to transition from discussion of where someone is from to intimate personal details (from frequency of shaving to times contracted gonorrhea).
Once you progress beyond the various levels of hiker small talk, you really begin to know your fellow hikers – to the point of predicting their actions even.
I have seen hikers agree to share hotel rooms within seconds of meeting each other, I have seen hikers lend food, water, or supplies to complete strangers, I have seen hikers compromise the success of their own hike in the interest of helping others on-trail, and I have seen more hikers naked than I have seen naked old men at the gym (or in onsens).
Being alone of the PCT is extraordinary, but you are never truly alone so long as another hiker is somewhere on-trail.
If hiking the PCT doesn’t restore your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.
People offering rides to and from the trail or people meeting hikers in town are often shocked to learn that their company of hikers has only just met (once they get over the initial shock of everyone’s deplorable hygienic state and hiker stench).
“So you all didn’t start together?”
“Nope. Actually we just met yesterday.”
“Wow. It sounds like you have known each other a while.”
“Yeah, we get that a lot.”
And so it goes.
On the PCT, better and worse do not exist. Sure, some people are faster than others, and some hikers are willing to suffer more in the interest of making miles, but that does not make anyone “better” or “worse” than anyone else (unless of course we are talking about day hikers and weekend warriors). Judgement on-trail is reserved for those who judge, and everyone is friendly until proven otherwise.
The trail is a place for the lonely, the weary, the outcast, and the lost to find solace in nature, strength within themselves, and comfort in the selflessness of others. All (thru) hikers are created equal, and no person is ever singled out. Every hiker is a unique and autonomous individual, but every hiker is also a part of something more (like a magical PCT autobot).
But I digress.
There is something that all past and future thru-hikers need to hear: you’re not special.
No, you’re not special.
No, you’re not special. Has it sunk in yet? No? It won’t.
After spending what feels like a lifetime with once strangers, not only hiking, but bearing witness to unbelievable feats of human spirit together, you now share a bond forged by genuine on-trial experiences that only fellow thru-hikers will ever understand.
It feels like graduating from high school. You tell each other that you will be friends forever, and that you will all come back in ten years and do it again, but deep down, you know it’s all a fairy tale. Except it isn’t! (Yes, it is.)
If I were to meet someone on the street I went to high school with, chances are I would feign excitement at best, but if I met someone who had also hiked the PCT (even if I hadn’t met them on-trial), we would surely be enjoying a PBR together shortly afterwards.
I will never forget the people I met out on the trail, and I can’t imagine that any of them feel any differently about their own experiences.
Do yourself a favor and hike the PCT, maybe I will see you out there.