"I realize that the only thing I’m still somewhat capable of hiding from my boyfriend is the fact that I sometimes fart when I pee."
John Muir once said: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” It's a slogan that's everywhere. Outdoor enthusiasts wear it on t-shirts, Etsy crafters embroider it on everything, and whoever those people are who make memes copy and paste it in a whimsical font over enchanted looking imagery.
I never received a direct call from the mountains. But I went anyway.
I never know what the hell I’m doing, and hiking the whole way through the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) this summer was no exception. I didn’t train by conditioning for months before I left (it was winter in Denver and I loathe gyms) and I have little to no backpacking experience, with the exception of completing a few overnight hikes (Conundrum Hot Springs in Aspen, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, where I did hike over 17,000 ft Thorong La Pass). I’ve climbed, like, two 14ers ever. I had never even worn a proper backpacking backpack until the day we departed from San Diego for the PCT’s Southern Terminus in Campo, and that bad boy was loaded up with six liters of water because the first twenty miles of PCT from the Mexican border are totally dry.
Perhaps if I were of a simpler breed, I may have been able to more thoroughly enjoy thru-hiking. Parts of the voyage were certainly magical and proving to myself that I was able to actually hike 25+ miles every day for about five months was a feat in itself. The pace at the beginning of it was punishing. After about 500 miles of walking in silence, thinking deep thoughts – every thought I could imagine, in fact, and then some – it was time for music to keep me company. Then to podcasts, then audiobooks. After a long while, I felt like my brain was melting and seeping out my ears from all the hiking — dripping down my neck and joining the sweat and grime in my sports bra, which maintained an impressively consistent degree of dampness all summer long. Blech.
But I began to miss the variety of my day-to-day life. My 2000+ mile, five month hike provided me with a severely nature-centric summer, including a lifetime supply of fresh air. I lived in that technology-free utopia modern day rubes allegedly dream about while basking in the glow of their computer screens, with their Smartphone close by and the television prattling away in the background. But mile after mile of staring at my feet became monotonous, no matter how beautiful and vast the scenery. I longed to go dancing, to read books, to ride bikes. I missed drinking copious amounts of coffee and rock climbing and road tripping. I missed my leather boots and wearing impractical, revealing clothing. I missed food, real food. Not processed junk food and dehydrated chili-mac. I missed ice cubes and my Sonic Care toothbrush and couches.
But I learned a lot. I learned that my threshold for being cold and wet is extremely low. I learned that skinny-dipping has the capacity to turn your whole day around. Also that seeing a Bald Eagle in the wild is one of the most exciting things ever. And marmots are really freaking cute. And it is possible to go to sleep at 7pm. And every time you think there’s a bear creeping around your tent in the middle of the night, it’s just a deer.
Most importantly, I learned that you can do whatever the fuck you want to do, no matter what. Vonnegut once said, “Paddle your own canoe!” His point is my point. No one in this world can tell you how to live your life.
If you want to walk from Mexico to Canada because you think it’s a good idea, then do it. Put on a backpack and start walking. But don’t think you’re going to have fun the entire time. Because it’s really hard, and you have to be certifiably insane to even attempt something like this.
Which I suppose I am.
I often hear about how nature “cures all” and how these long walks in the wilderness are often satori inducing and transformative. I smirked when an elderly lady wistfully informed me someplace near Lake Tahoe that, “Whatever problems you had before hiking the PCT will disappear when you’re finished hiking.” I scoff at new age-y wisdom and sometimes think that I am incapable of possessing deep and profound feelings or having epiphanies without the aid of hallucinogens. Thru-hiking the PCT wasn’t a spiritual experience, but it was a solid test of strength and endurance. I certainly cried more than I thought I would. And by hiking the PCT with my boyfriend, I realized that the only thing I’m still somewhat capable of hiding from him is the fact that I sometimes fart when I pee, which is challenging to disguise when you’re squatting in the woods just a few yards away.
Would I do it again? Nope.
Am I glad I did it? Sure.
How much money did I spend over the course of hiking for five months? Too much.
How many spa suites did we splurge on? A lot. But I’ve never needed a bath so badly, and how else was I supposed to get all that dirt out from under my toenails?
I think the moral of the story, though, is that “moderation is the key to success.” I read that on a coaster once someplace. Hiking is fun. But doing anything for five months straight, all day, every day… well, it’s just a bit much.
Photo credits: Andy "Dally" Blair