One year ago today on October 7, 2013, I completed my 2,663-mile hike from the border of Mexico and California, to Canada – along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve come to realise over the past year that there is no real ‘end’ to the trail; as it continues to remind me of the lessons I learned, and teach me about who I am, well beyond the day I said goodbye to the monument at the Northern Terminus.
I refer to the PCT as ‘The Trail’. For me, there has been no other pathway through life quite the same. Like many who spend close to six months living in the wilderness with nothing but a backpack, the trail changed me. Not in a way that is visible from the outside (although I continue to wear my bandana and hiking clothes in the civilised world); not necessarily noticeable in my personality, (because yes, I’m still wandering the world looking for answers to life’s big questions); but it changed something deep in the core of my being, in the way I see the world and the people within it, that will always stay with me.
One of the hardest parts about getting to the end of The Trail is saying goodbye. You’re not just saying goodbye to the extraordinary wilderness, mountains, forests and deserts that were once your home; the community of people that became your family; or the generosity of the individuals who helped you along the way. You’re saying goodbye to the person who you were before the trail. The person who once had a dream of walking the entire length of the United States from South to North. That person no longer exists, and it’s the beginning of a new life, with the person who did just spend six months in the wilderness, walking all those miles.
Day 1 on the PCT:
Day 174 completing the PCT:
What I miss about The Trail is not just the environment, the freedom, the beauty or the mystery. It’s not the independence, the solitude, the energy or the unknown. What I miss the most is the feeling of accomplishment – the realisation that for 174 days I was achieving something exceptional. I was pushing the boundaries of what I thought possible. I was proving to myself what I was capable of, and I was growing stronger with every step.
Re-entry into mainstream life after the trail:
It’s an inevitable transition for life to go from extraordinary back to ordinary after realising your dream; and I really struggled with this when life went back to ‘normal’ after the trail (post from January 5, 2014, about reminiscing). But there’s a common saying amongst thru-hikers that ‘the trail will provide’. When you hit the bottom and were at your lowest, the trail would always come through with a little bit of magic. I also believe this to be true with the roller coaster ride we call life; and that like the trail, everyday we move a step closer to achieving our dreams (even if we don’t know what they are yet).
The trail provided me with countless gifts, and many of those are ones that will last a lifetime: an unprecedented appreciation for nature; an understanding that when you live with less, you live more; an introduction to the best of the human spirit, and to the most inspiring of people; and the belief that if you want something bad enough, you’re the only person who’s going to stand in your way.
I want to thank the trail for all it has given me, the people who shared the experience and became like family, and the support network that helped carry me (many of whom still travel along with me today).