I started the PCT with grand plans of going from the border of Mexico all the way to the California-Oregon border. I had around 80 days and finishing California was a nice goal. The average mileage that I needed to do was between 20-26 miles a day depending on how many zeros I would do. It seemed like the right amount of challenge for me and while I knew that this was a large snow year I also chose to not think too much about it. I did, however, not know this year would also later go on to rival 2017 as one of the highest snow years in recent times.
I started out on the 24th March, eager to do 20 mile days from the outset. 20 mile days are pretty standard on the PCT but for most people it’s what you do a month into the PCT, after gaining your trail legs, not necessarily what you do on the first day. But I was determined. I wanted to give myself some leeway in the Sierras where I knew I would not be able to do 20 miles in altitude, snow and steep traverses. So I pushed it to 20 miles the first day. Only to regret it the second day where pain and tiredness kept me from doing 20 miles.
On the second day I was part of a trail family and were following their pace. Our trail family consisted of 5 young guys meant we were pushing 20 miles every single day from that point. I was struggling. I barely kept pace and spent more hours walking to catch up with them but my pride and determination to reach my goals kept me going through the pain and fatigue. Peer pressure is a powerful force as well as none of us really wanted to be the one asking for a lower mileage.
It didn’t take long before we broke. However fit we were before the trail didn’t matter in the long run as none of us had the endurance required for the PCT. The trail slowly wore us down as it does to anyone. In the beginning it was just one of us who couldn’t keep up anymore and slow down to nurse an injury. The rest of us kept going, sure that he would catch up to us in the next town. Another lagged behind but he did very big miles to catch up, only to get injured due to doing 25+ mile days so early on when his legs weren’t ready for it yet. The three of us remaining continued until one slipped and slid down a steep snowy traverse that almost killed him. As he left to tend his wounds in a nearby town it was just two of us left, the two of us who would end up walking together for 650 miles and become best friends in the process. We managed to do 20 miles a day early on and after two weeks, our legs and bodies strengthened, our nutrition strategies finally worked out and we found ourselves easily doing 20 mile days without being tired or in pain. Even as I was now more physically capable of doing 20 mile days, my relationship with the trail had changed.
I realize after two weeks on trail that I didn’t have to do big miles. That nobody would be shame me for doing less than 20 miles in a day, that nobody really cared about the numbers and that I actually didn’t care that much either. The Sierras which was getting more and more snow, and with no melt in sight would not be ready for me to enter. And even if I did, I would likely not be able to reach the California-Oregon border, my arbitrary goal that I had set in the comfort of my home and which meant a 20+ miles a day average. So I reevaluated and decided to just do as many miles as possible but at the same time enjoy things. That meant going 20 miles a day if I felt fine doing it and then skip the Sierras as many would end up doing. But at the time I wasn’t even looking that far ahead.
I had started living more moment by moment by week 3. That meant saying yes to whatever came into my lap. Whether it was my hiking buddy saying that he had arranged a stay at a trail angel for both of us, or saying yes to go with some hiker friends who was going to LA for a beach day, or stopping for the day at 1 pm at a huge empty campground to do a barbecue and shoot the breeze with my friend, I slowly unlearned the habit of saying no in my normal life and learned to say yes on the trail. And that had incredible results. I started to not worry about “the plan”, I felt more relaxed than I’ve ever been, I stopped thinking of what was next for me after the trail, after my travels, about careers, about settling down and adulthood. I felt like I was living out the best version of myself, being genuine and present in every moment. The ultimate proof was me asking my buddy to have a zero day in Casa de Luna, a legendary trail angel’s place, which my hiking buddy happily agreed to. I wanted to wait for some friends who was behind us and just wanted to relax and have fun with the hikers around. So we did. And we never regretted a thing.
As we got closer to the Sierras, my hiking partner was going home to work for a month while I was considering what to do. We would stop at Walker Pass, mile 650, and he would get back to LA to fly out. I was thinking of flipping up to Dunsmuir and continuing my hike north. And despite living in the “now” for a few weeks, I instantly fell into the trap of setting arbitrary goals. Suddenly I wanted to do Northern California from Dunsmuir plus the entirety of Oregon. At the same time I heard my friends who were a day or two behind me wanted to go to Portland and relax for a bit before going south from Ashland. And I was torn. Between doing the miles and going with them. Between the goals I had just set and taking things in my stride.
I then remembered the cliche quote that I had thought about on and off throughout my trip. That it isn’t really about the destination, it’s the journey that is the destination. Or something like that. I am really bad at remembering quotes. That’s when I decided to join my friends instead. And while we haven’t been crushing insane miles, every day has been filled with laughter and joy as we have been on several roadtrips up and down the West Coast, we’ve been to places like Portland, Seattle and surroundings, hiking on roads, trails and whatever was possible and having the time of our lives.
Cliches are cliches for a reason. The journey really is the destination.