At some point during all the small talk on the Pacific Crest Trail, it can be expected that your reason(s) for starting the PCT in the first place will be brought up. I never had a good response to this.
The story of my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike doesn’t begin with me wanting to profoundly change my life, a long-standing desire to hike the trail, or even a love of the outdoors. No, my PCT hike begins in a simpler manner – my appetite for adventure (or my being irresponsible, but I like the ring of the former).
It comes as a surprise to many people, that the first time I ever even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail was in October, six months before I started my hike. It comes as even more of a surprise to people, that the PCT was also my first time overnight backpacking (seriously). But then how did I even hear about this trail in the first place? The story of how I decided to hike the PCT begins in a bar (like most good stories), in a place called Fire Island.
I spent the summer before my thru-hike working at a bar on Fire Island – a small sandbar off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island that basically exists to harbor binge drinking and anonymous gay sex (read more about Fire Island here, if you’re interested).
My experience on Fire Island taught me something very important: that it is possible to earn a living without hating what you’re doing (and as much as I enjoy hating on Fire Island, I did enjoy my time there). After Labor Day weekend (the first Monday of September), Fire Island’s summer season officially ends and the place becomes a virtual ghost town. With the money dried up, I set off with friends from the bar to spend a week at the family home of a friend in New Hampshire.
One day, we go to visit with said friend’s neighbor, Sean, at the end of the street. Sean is 53 years old, retired, and in the midst of planning an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I don’ know what that means, but I’m curious. “So, I’ve heard of the Appalachian Trail before, but I don’t really know anything about it other than its name and that it’s on the east coast. What is it exactly?” I ask Sean. He proceeds to explain to me what the Appalachian Trail is and what hiking it entails.
“Holy shit! You’re going to walk from Georgia to Maine? That’s awesome.” (That’s 2,168 mi / 3,489 km for those of you who don’t understand my reaction or who are bad with US geography.) I immediately want to do this. Sean, probably not knowing that I tend to follow through on outlandish claims I make about what I am going to do, invites me along for the adventure which he plans to start at the beginning of next year.
A few weeks later, and back in California, I begin researching the Appalachian Trail and “how to thru-hike”. However, early in my research, something unexpected happens – I come across the Pacific Crest Trail. “Holy shit again! There’s another one of these super long trails that’s in California? And it goes all the way from Mexico to Canada. Alright, I’m doing this one instead.”
And just like that I change my (still young) plan from hiking the AT to hiking the PCT. I spend the next six months tirelessly planning my thru-hike (a waste of time) and gearing up for what will be perhaps the most meaningful (or nonsensical) walk of my life. All this because I had a chance encounter with a stranger in New Hampshire.
You never know who or what will spark your life’s next great adventure (or what you missed out on while reading this).