Earlier this year, I began my second thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Earlier this year, I prematurely ended my second thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail after nearly 1,000 mi / 1,600 km of walking northbound through California from the US-Mexico border.
And if I’m being honest, I am quite pleased with my decision to do so.
So what happened? Obviously, I knew what I was getting myself into having hiked the trail before. Did I injure myself pushing through the snow-filled Sierra? Was I so mentally beaten down by the monotony of living my life one walking-filled day to the next that I cracked under all the pressure? Did I finally find a sleuth of bears willing to take me in and let me live amongst them in the wilds?
I guess the best way to look at what ultimately convinced me that a complete thru-hike of the PCT wasn’t in my 2019 cards is to start with my reasons for beginning in the first place.
PCT Round 2 – Why?
I guess the first thing I should do is either go over why my motivations for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail were fulfilled, ignored, or even valid in the first place. Let’s examine them one at a time:
REASON 1: My inexperience, a late starting date (May 17), and the wettest September on record in Washington made for an unsatisfactory end to my first PCT thru-hike. Hiking the PCT now (knowing more or less what I’m doing) will (probably) be a completely different experience.
This is basically me saying “I need to hike the entire PCT again because I missed some miles in Washington”. Making up a section is not a great reason to hike the entire trail a second time.
REASON 2: Due to inclement weather, I missed out on the entirety of the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon and Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington (it was quite sad hiking through these areas in heavy rain and dense fog).
I don’t need to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail a second time to see small sections of Oregon and Washington. Most northbound thru-hikers can expect not-so-good weather in Washington and so I don’t know why I would be any different. Going up there and waiting for a good weather window is a much better option.
REASON 3: When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I made some great friends, but I didn’t meet a lot of people (in the desert I probably met fewer than 30 thru-hikers). The crowds of thru-hikers on the PCT nowadays will certainly make the experience a different one (hopefully, not one I hate).
I have officially seen what the desert section of the PCT looks like when it’s filled with thru-hikers. Can confirm, the experience was much different than my first thru-hike.
REASON 4: I write a lot about the PCT here on Halfway Anywhere and although a lot of the basic ideas and strategies behind thru-hiking remain relatively constant (buy unnecessarily expensive ultralight gear and fuck the haters, live your best trail life), things on the PCT have evolved since my first bout of thru-hiking. I need to get out there again and make sure I’m reporting only the most current and relevant information.
I experienced a much different PCT this year than my first time hiking, and I am confident my article-to-come regarding the changes in the PCT over the past seven years will be well enough informed.
REASON 5: As much as I hate hiking, I love the adventure of thru-hiking – the sense of accomplishment at the end of each day, the justified eating of pizza in a hotel bed all day, and the general sense of being in complete control (or maybe being zero control?) of every decision I make.
It turns out that I really do enjoy the thru-hiker life, but I’ve realized that death is slowly creeping up on me and my days spent thru-hiking are better invested in new trails and adventures (currently eyeing the Great Divide Trail in Canada or the Hayduke Trail in Utah for my big hike next year).
REASON 6: I could really do with losing like 10 pounds (5 kg) and instead of using diet and exercise for a couple of months I prefer to use EXTREME WALKING and EATING WHATEVER I WANT for five months(ish).
I could always do with losing 10 lbs / 5 kg and always appreciate the opportunity to guiltlessly gorge myself on whatever foods I desire. However, days of gluttony can be earned doing things other than thru-hiking (and I can’t imagine what I eat during a thru-hike can be very healthy for my non-thru-hiking body).
I had a couple of months of eating whatever the hell I wanted, I finally completed my two-marathon day of hiking (53 mi / 85.3 km), I made some new thru-hiking friends, and I saw what had changed on the PCT since 2013, and I had myself a solid adventure. Mission accomplished, I would say.
But Why Really?
A big part of my decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail again was “I don’t know what else to do”. Could I have gone and hiked one of the other long-distance trails I’m interested in? Sure. Could I have gone back to Nepal and lived on the cheap all summer (monsoon season)? Sure. Could I have just gotten a job at REI and talked to people about “when I hiked the trail”? Probably.
But I didn’t do any of those other things, instead, I was driven down to Campo, California (where the southern terminus of the PCT is) and I started walking north. I suppose one could make the argument that I was simply biding my time and trying to figure out what to do with my life – an all too common (and usually disappointing) reason to be on a thru-hike.
I decided to spend the remainder of my summer doing things I wanted to. Not slogging through the Northern California and Oregon sections of the PCT for the sake of a thru-hike (besides, I have already hiked those sections). If I wanted to go hike in Washington, I could go hike in Washington. If I wanted to go hike more in the Sierra, I could go hike more in the Sierra, if I wanted to live at the Motel 6 in Mojave and wait for the southbound hikers to arrive, I could do that too.
What was important to me was that I did what I wanted to be doing. That, and I found myself in a relationship.
“Ahhh, now I understand,” I can hear you saying, “you got off the PCT because you got yourself a girlfriend.” There’s certainly a convincing argument to be made here.
But again, I was pursuing what I wanted to do and I had decided to act instead of passively hike the PCT and wait for things to happen to me (like death by falling tree – did you know someone died on the PCT this year after being struck by a falling tree? Don’t underestimate the danger of burn areas or rotten tree trunks).
In addition to a girlfriend, I also got a car (and to be clear, the car and the girlfriend are not the same) – a Subaru Outback, since I know you’re wondering. With a new mode of transportation (and mobile bed) and a new partner to go on adventures with, I did not waste the remainder of my summer not hiking the PCT.
With the rest of my 2019 summer I:
- Hiked Wyoming’s Wind River Range
- Hiked Colorado’s Holy Cross Wilderness
- Went stand up paddleboarding (down a river) for the first time ever
- Hiked Washington’s Wonderland Trail
- Hiked Oregon’s Timberline Trail
- Attended my first PCT Days in Cascade Locks, Oregon (because I needed to see what I was missing on the PCT)
- Spent a lot of time bouldering in Tuolumne (i.e. Yosemite)
- Did my first multi-pitch trad climb (also in Yosemite)
- Put nearly 12,000 mi / 19,000 km on my Subaru Outback (which has included a shattered windshield and being rear ended)
- Moved my home base from Los Angeles to Sacramento (more on this in future posts)
When I laid out my 2019 agenda at the beginning of this year, were any of these things on it? No. Although I did say that I might “Just say ‘fuck it’ to the PCT and go hike somewhere/something else instead (I hear it’s never as good as the first time – I think it was the PCT someone said that about).”
Do I have plans for the next six months? Yes. Am I certain what’s to come? No.
What’s To Come
So what’s on the agenda now? I’ve been spending a lot of time climbing recently and intend to be doing a lot more this winter (need to get to Ama Dablam in 2021).
I’ll be on the East Coast for the bulk of December and then will be mostly bouldering in Bishop before heading to Barbados in January. I’m thinking about hitting the Lost Coast Trail in November or February before heading back to Brazil in March for six weeks of climbing and hiking. Then I’m thinking either Peru or Bolivia for another four weeks of trekking before coming back to California for a couple of months.
Beyond that, I can only speculate, but I’m hoping for more international travel, more trekking, and a stint on either the Hayduke Trail, the Pyrenean Haute Route, or the Great Divide Trail late next year.
But who knows? Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow or an enormous meteor will impact the Earth and wipe us all out for the rest of time.