Honestly, I could be having more fun.
Of all the many reasons I left my comfortable life and headed out to hike the PCT, now that I am out here two reasons in particular seem to be the most important for me. The first is to spend time alone in the wilderness. The second is to push myself hard physically.
If you’ve been following along you know I’ve been doing great on the second one. Three 20’s in a row! Clearly, I’m not dead yet and my body is capable of athletic achievements not unlike the days of my youth. I’m hoping the pain and fatigue will diminish over the next few weeks, and this will certainly make me a happier hiker. I’m still pushing this old body all the way to Canada.
The first desire, to be alone in the wilderness has been a lot harder to satisfy. Mainly, I don’t feel like I am in the wilderness at all with so many people around. Even when no one is in sight, there is always the expectation that someone could come around the corner at any moment. This is very different from the wilderness areas near where I live where you can go a week or more without seeing anyone. I also work in the woods a lot out in the middle of nowhere. It’s not technically wilderness, but there’s no people, that’s for sure. It’s a whole different mind-set when you know you are totally on your own and there is not anyone to help you if something bad happens. Totally different.
So, I know two things: one, the crowd should gradually thin out as I get closer to Canada; and two, there is a huge herd of hikers behind me. Both of these things make me want to hike fast and stay in front of the pack to enhance whatever wilderness experience I can find.
But hiking full speed doesn’t allow for breaks and leaves me a little stressed like I’m being pushed down the trail. I either need to hike faster, so I can get in the miles and still have time for reflective moments, or do fewer miles and let The Herd gain on me.
For sure this next week I’m going to ramp it down a little and let my body rest a little. It’s 104 miles to Wrightwood. I’m planning on six days, which is a casual 15.5 miles per day. I could try for five 20’s, but I don’t think I’m quite up for that. I’d much rather hike for time than distance. I’d rather hike for, say, 10 hours, at whatever pace and with however many breaks and get where I get, than have to hike to a certain point no matter how long it takes (like last week).
Now, it could all come together wherein I am feeling good and hiking fast and just happen to cover huge miles by the allotted time. We’ll see. The pull of the trail is strong and there is always more miles begging to be hiked. And I can’t deny that the urge to stay well ahead of The Herd is strong in me. I’m really not happy about this competitive aspect of the trail. It’s not something I’m used to in the wilderness, but I know if I get overrun and start seeing 20 people a day on the trail it will really diminish my enjoyment of the experience.
So, it’s kind of tough. My goals and desires are even in competition with themselves. I’m trying to figure out how to get what I want from this hike. Maybe my desires will change as I get farther along, which is fine. For the immediate future I’m going to try a little more relaxed pace and see how I like that. I’m honestly hoping that an easy week will be just what I need to get my trail legs under me and then I can hike some big miles without painfully slogging down the trail 12 hours a day just to stay ahead of everybody. I think it’s a good plan, and will hopefully lead to the fulfillment of all my PCT desires. It’s worth a try.
I’ll get this figured out. A thru-hike is what you make it. I hope if I can be honest with myself about what I want, I can make it happen. Looks like I will need to let go of the solitude in the wilderness thing. There’s too many people for that on the PCT. Ironically, I can get more of that at home. But maybe if I stay fast, stay a little bit ahead, it will be enough.