Saturday, October 30, 2010

On "A PCT Through Hike" or Walking for Six Moons

It is Psycho's birthday today, so for his birthday he would like to present you with his first entry on post trail thoughts:

On “A PCT Through Hike” or Walking for Six Moons

"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
— John Muir

Looking back on a six month hike, and reflecting on changes, experiences, growth, and lessons learned is no easy task. I have been sitting at home reflecting on my hike, and even did so as I hiked. When we were at Snoqualmie Pass, my parents surprised us with a visit. It was my mother’s birthday wish to see her son in the midst of his hike, so they drove from their house to the trail. Over lunch, I turned to my mother and asked her, “What is something new you have learned in the last year of your life that you would like to share with us?”

She looked admiringly at me and said, “You would be the one to ask such a question, forcing upon me a moment of reflection. This is no easy question, let me think on it.”

As she scanned her memory of the experiences she had over the last year, I thought to myself, “How would I answer the same question?” Now I sit here trying to answer that very question.

Long distance backpacking is a unique endeavor. It is a complete wilderness experience that tests your mental limits and pushes your physical abilities. Along the trail, I met many people who said they could never do what I was doing. I once believed the same thing myself, but I challenged myself to do it. I tried once, and several circumstances led to an incomplete through hike. While I left the trail incomplete, I felt that I had learned much about myself and I had become infected with the long-distance-backpacking-bug. I spent the next several years telling friends and family about the hike, and my ultimate goal to go back and finish the miles I missed. I had an incomplete puzzle, and I needed to place the missing pieces to understand the bigger picture. It took me five years to get myself back to the trail.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. This time was different though, as I had a hiking partner for the entire endeavor, and I believe that is what made it a successful through hike. Most of the people I meet along the way who say “I could never do that,” think largely of the physicality of such a hike. The truth of the matter is that the physicality of the hike is only about ten percent of the struggle. The remaining ninety percent is the daily mental battle. I tell people along the way, your body can handle a through hike. Thousands of years of nomadic ancestry honed our bodies into walking machines. It does take a bit of time to adapt to a walking lifestyle, but the body quickly gets used to walking for nearly endless hours among seemingly endless days. Before you know it, the day has passed and the physical pain that you experienced when you crawled out of the tent is long gone. The body gets a rhythm, and while the pain nags (and sometimes screams), the body gets stronger. If you take proper care of your body while hiking, it can endure countless days of hiking.

The real struggle, the struggle that is ninety percent of the through hike, is the mental struggle. Every day you wake up with pain, or challenges ahead, or a general lack of motivation. You have to have the mental willpower to convince yourself that what you are doing is worth it. Sometimes you could walk for days in bad weather, extreme heat, or boring viewless trail. It is hard to understand that these are part of the full through hiking experience, and you need to endure the trials to experience growth. I would be lying if I said that I never wanted to get off the trail. In truth, I probably had that feeling every day at some point. At least once a week, I felt like it was time to give up and get off. I can recall a few times on the trail when I really really really wanted to quit. It was times like these, where I found strength in having a partner who knew I didn’t really want to quit, but rather was just completely miserable with my physical condition at those times. She had listened to me rave about the greatness of through hiking for years, and how disappointed I was to have left the trail last time. Every time I wanted to quit, she reminded me that I would regret it and that my misery was only temporary.

She was right. Often times things would turn around for the better within a couple hours. My physical pain would be gone (or at least forgotten), the weather would change, or the trail offered up some sort of magic which restored my desire to hike – a cold drink, a warm sun, a trailside cache, a spectacular view, or a heartwarming exchange with another hiker. It wasn’t always a couple hours. At times I would hike for a day or two experiencing gloom, wanting nothing more than to find the nearest road and get off the trail. Sometimes we did cut off the trail early, to restore our bodies and minds.

The interesting fact about going into a town full of luxuries, running water, cooked food, and shelter from the elements, is it did nothing for me other than remind me of why I was hiking. Trail towns are amazing healers for the broken spirit, but they also seem to carry a haunting feeling of emptiness. I enjoyed my zero days, and was thankful for the towns, but I was surprised how quickly the hustle and bustle of even the quietest towns made me yearn for the open quiet outdoors. Life is simple on the trail, and the senses are at peace. In towns, it is complicated and I would experience some sort of sensory overload. Often times, Apricots would comment on how I walked around in trail towns with a glazed over zombie like look on my face. I found it difficult to make decisions because I had an abundance of information being thrown at me, forcing me to constantly process what was important from what was not.

So while I found myself yearning for rest days, and town stops while I was hiking, I too yearned for the trail when I was not hiking. This dichotomy existed for the entire hike. Even now that I am off trail, Apricots and I are already discussing future hikes, future long distance backpacking, and future camping. If the trail taught us anything, it taught us that camping is far more relaxing than through hiking.


  1. happy birthday, roger. i have thoroughly enjoyed reading of your and lauren's trail experience almost daily (tried to keep up with your posts); typically i was drinking coffee, it was morning and i was about to head off to work. your posts really helped me through my day... i was having my own mental struggles (still am!) about daily, tedious living in the city.

    thanks for giving us some post-hike reflection. i love where your mind takes you (thus, us) and can relate to a lot of what you say, actually.

    not sure if you and lauren are ever in portland but if you find yourselves here, please please call me. it would be lovely to see you again. hope the transition is going ok.

    love and light, luka

  2. Future hikes and the beaten path...sounds like a rewarding time to me...I'm sure there are many more to come for you two. Into the wild.xo