Thru-Hiker Blues

I can’t believe how much skipping ahead messed with my mind. I’m not sure you all understand, but I’ve been thinking about it for the last week and I will try to explain some of the intricacies.

Hiking the PCT is an epic undertaking. It may have changed, but last I checked, more people had climbed Everest than completed the PCT. But unlike Everest, there’s lots of ways to hike the PCT. So there’s kind of a gradient of PCT-ness from a continuous unbroken series of footprints from Mexico to Canada (the most burly and respected) to hikes that involve skipping over the hard parts and making it easy on yourself. I was never a purist (footprints must connect all the way), but I wanted to be pretty close so I could honestly say I walked from Mexico to Canada.

There’s something hugely powerful about saying “I walked here from Mexico”, especially the farther up the trail you get. It also allows you to have an attitude when you see other hikers that skipped a hard section when you didn’t. Thru-hiking includes the hard parts. It also provides an instant antidote to any criticism about your position on the trail or hiking style when you can say, well I might be slow, but I walked here from Mexico, just like you, and here we both are in the same place at the same time, so… It is a huge blow not to be able to say, “I walked here from Mexico” without an asterisk.

And then there’s the record books. I was never intending to set any kind of speed record, but I was hoping to have an official time, as in “I hiked the PCT in X days”. That’s all gone now. We’ll never know what my official time would have been without my injury. I was on a respectable pace, but there’s no chance for me to have an official time now that I skipped trail.

And towards that end, hiking from Mexico to Canada is bit of a race. You know the snow is coming in Washington in the fall, and pretty much you can’t go too fast or get there too early. As soon as it’s daylight it’s time to hike, and hike as far as you can each day, every day. Push, push, push! It’s a clear, straightforward, massive effort. You feel the pressure to keep breaks brief and to a minimum. It’s not relaxing at all.

So, I guess that’s behind me now. Which is not all bad. Yeah, I lost my trail-cred. But I don’t have to push anymore. I already didn’t make it (i.e., failed), so now I’ll just hike for two more months until I have to go back to work and see how far I get. I’m close to where I would have been without the injury. Maybe in a few hundred more miles I’ll feel like “I walked here from Mexico”. I wanted to slow it down, change it up, after my huge push to Tahoe, and here it is.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes. I got to spend three unexpected weeks with Kathy, which I think was good for both of us. I skipped what I expected would be the least interesting part of the trail. And I love where I am now. I’m grateful that the trail has been so awesome to come back to. I’m almost glad that my injury is making me go slow through this part. I’m “hiking my own hike” now. It won’t be the whole PCT like I planned, but it will still be a good six-month adventure. I should be able to hike at least 2,000 miles of it, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. If I make it to Canada, I think it will be closer to 2,200. I can be proud of that.

“How far is halfway there?

I didn’t see you on the trail.

Did almost become good enough?

Should a good life be so hard won?

Is that what our dreams have become?”

-Chris Cornell

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