Days out in the wilderness with only your thoughts for company – basically the perfect getaway. No dealing with other people, city noise, traffic, television, or any other of life’s distractions.
As awesome as I expected this life on the Pacific Crest Trail to be, it is also quite eerie at times (and by eerie I mean incredibly frightening).
You walk, and you walk, and you go days without so much as seeing a road. Your only friends become the now recognizable footsteps of all the hikers in front of you, and you really do begin to get a sense of aloneness. Suddenly, the highlight of your day has become seeing a sign out in the mountains (as in a wooden sign – maybe even just a post), because it confirms that you are not quite completely lost and bound for a slow death, alone and hungry. At this point, you may have been away from it all for a little too long.
When you are out away from civilization and you have not seen anyone in days, seeing footprints is reassuring. A trail marker? encouraging. A car? Exciting. Another person? You damn near wet yourself. But once you find yourself in a town or crowded campground, you all of a sudden find yourself longing for the solitude of the trail (seriously though, people are the worst).
Throughout the desert portion of the PCT the number of other people you encounter is quite limited, and as you approach the Sierra you find yourself wishing that the sightings were more frequent. However, once you cross into the Land of One Water Bottle you will find yourself wishing for quite the opposite.
After entering the Sierra the number of people you see everyday increases dramatically.
The demographics begin to shift as every person you meet on the trail is no longer a guaranteed PCT hiker. You begin to encounter day hikers, section hikers, John Muir Trail hikers, authority figures, and “fat children playing in streams” (as Rocket Llama so graciously put it).
Suddenly you have to compete for decent camping, occasionally yield to uphill hikers, and watch people set up camp at two in the afternoon as they relax and you press on to finish your twenty or thirty something miles for the day.
It is nice to know that the ever-present pack of hungry mountain lions stalking you now have other options to fill their bellies, but I would prefer to be alone and scared than surrounded by people who for some reason I find myself hating (it really makes no sense, but for more on the phenomenon, check out the “PCT Superiority Complex“).
But the worst part is that if you think of asking one of these (usually southbound (I am northbound)) people for information about the section of the trail they supposedly just passed through (water information, bear sightings, etc.) you can forget about hearing anything short of blatant lies. I do not know what these southbound liars stand to gain from not simply admitting that they do not know the answer to your question, but consider yourself warned – do not trust the south-bounders.
And as you continue on through the person-infested wilderness you now find yourself missing the solidarity of the trail.