When Journey Man and I hopped back on trail after flipping down to Burney, CA, we were in a whole new bubble of hikers. It feels kind of like starting over in a new elementary school and having to re-make your friends. However, on trail we’re all connected by the shared experience of being on trail, so it is not difficult to befriend fellow hikers.
One afternoon, sweaty and tired from an exposed morning hike in a beautiful burn zone through Lassen Volcanic National Park, we gathered under some shade near a stream for lunch. This group we found ourselves in consisted mostly of SNOBOs (hikers who started from Mexico going northbound, but flipped up to hike south from Canada to circumvent the Sierra snow) but also included some true SOBOs. The topic came up of how exhausted our bodies are. Shaggy noted, “I think some people really like the idea of thru hiking the PCT, but then I think they come out here and find they don’t actually enjoy hiking.” Hmm. We murmured in agreement.
I turned his words over in my mouth like a butterscotch candy over the next few days. What is my mindset on this hike? Do I actually enjoy hiking? Or, do I just like the idea of it?
I certainly relish in the idea that I can tell people when I’m finished, “I thru hiked the PCT.” In fact, telling people that I planned on thru hiking the PCT prior to starting is an accountability tactic to motivate myself to finish.
I enjoy the views, seeing new places, exploring mountain trails and fording streams in places that feel they are tread upon by few. I like swimming in alpine lakes, sunning on granite boulders, looking up at a huge juniper tree and feeling small in the face of all it has witnessed in its lifetime compared to what I’ve seen in mine. I like pausing to watch a spider spin it’s web around an unlucky fly, noticing fungi breaking through the earth the morning after a rain, watching water-soaked moss glimmer under a cascading waterfall. I enjoy walking into a new town or hitching to somewhere farther off-trail, talking to locals, getting a brief taste of different cultures throughout the country, and participating in unending reciprocity between hikers and those who are strangers yet do the most to help us succeed.
But, do I enjoy hiking? My muscles are sore even at the beginning of the day. My feet need to be massaged at lunch. Some days I have an insatiable hunger from the amount of calories I burn. I look forward to reaching the top of a climb. I’m always more than ready to sit down for a long lunch break when I can soak my feet in a cold stream. The moment I can crawl into my tent to rest can never come to soon.
Hiking is what allows me to see the views, explore new places, and witness small nature. It feels rewarding to push my body and see what I can accomplish, how many miles I can walk over time. Step by step, I make forward progress; I tick down the miles of my thru hike. Step by step, I’ll reach the top of the climb. Step by step, I get to revel in the beauty of the world and experience the kindness of strangers.
Thru hiking feels unique to any other experience I’ve encountered. It’s active—and not just by the way of walking every day. You are an active participant, and you can shape your adventure to look any way you want. Hiking is what gets you to point A to B to Z. Sure, I love the idea of thru hiking. But, yes, I still love hiking too.
When they returned, they revealed goodies that they carried for us. Fresh cherries, huckleberry ciders, and cookies! What treats! We dined together and swapped stories, staying up well past hiker midnight. In the morning, Talia and Mohamed hiked with us for an hour before turning back to...
We immediately started seeing familiar faces once we arrived. It was a big, beautiful reunion of wonderful people. By day, we wandered around with various friends and visited all the vendors. I even got to see...
Our hiker friend Twist grew up in Portland, OR. He had a whole itinerary of people he wanted to see on particular weekends. Lucky for Journey Man and myself, Twist invited us to join him for a couple weekends. We first met Twist’s parents, Steve and Laurie, in Sun River. They