One month ago today, I finished hiking the PCT. I spent the day working at Donut Savant and at one point, someone asked me how my trip had been. This is a question I struggle to answer because it was so many things. Usually my answer is something lame like, “It was… amazing, the best.” Today I said, “It was…everything.” Because it literally was, everything.
One of the most special things about the trail is that you get to come out and be whoever you want to be. Maybe in your past life you were a drug addict or an alcoholic. Maybe you suffered from depression or severe social anxiety. Maybe you were a workaholic and woke up one day to realize your life was speeding by and you weren’t really experiencing it. Maybe you bullied or were bullied. But the minute you step foot on the trail, you simply love and are loved by the people around you. People ask you what you’re doing with your life instead of what you’re doing with your career. You talk about your biggest fears, your darkest shadows, and your hopes and dreams. The shape of your character is valued more than the shape of your body. It’s a place to simply be you.
We all walked with pain, physical and emotional. Our feet hurt, our knees hurt, our hips hurt, our backs hurt. We were hot, we were cold, we were wet. There were shin splints, blisters, sprained ankles. One of my closest friends on the trail walked with a stress fracture in her foot. Every morning her face twisted in pain as she shoved her swollen foot into her shoe. And yet she walked with a smile on her face. I cried in front of more people I had just met and had more people I’d just met cry in front of me, than I’ve ever experienced in my life. And there was no discomfort, no saying things to try and stop the tears. Just a kind presence, thoughtful commentary, shared experiences. My friend Bailey joked that she could hear me catching up to her because she’d hear my trekking poles and my sniffles coming up from behind.
Through these incredible, wonderful, strong, and inspiring people, I learned to forgive, to be honest, to make hard choices that were good for me. I learned to love myself for my values and my dreams, and to be vulnerable even though it’s frankly terrifying. I laughed harder and more often than I ever have in my life.
And then there was the hiking, the actual living in the woods for five months and six days. I would give anything to be back there right now. To experience the beauty and wonder of 2,650 miles of some of the most stunning landscape in the United States is a privilege that I will be forever grateful for. Watching the sun set in the mountains in the company of a deer. Walking through fields of sage and wildflowers. Sleeping by bubbling brooks with nothing separating you from the blanket of stars over your head. Living out there in the actual real world allows you to put into perspective what is truly important in our lives. And to me that is time. This may be the most important thing that the PCT gave me.
And then there was the fear. Getting caught in a lightning storm on top of a pass. Literally running for your life as the lightning strikes around you. Hearing a bear sniff around your tent while you’re alone in the woods at night. Falling and twisting your ankle. Feeling the beginning of shin splints and hoping you make it to Canada before they really hit. Feeling the painful grumble of hunger and knowing you have two granola bars in your food bag to last the next 24 hours.
For every beautiful view, there was probably an area scarred by fire. For every bruise and cut and scrape, there was triumph in rock hard leg muscles. For every tear shed, there were a hundred moments of gust-busting laugher. The PCT was everything and more, impossible to help someone to understand in one or two sentences. But that’s okay. Some people think hikers are crazy, some people are inspired, but at the end of the day we hike for ourselves and what we get out of it is all that really matters. And so, I’ll spend the winter working at the donut shop, dreaming of one day again calling the woods my home, and spouting off the same answer, “it was amazing, the best.” Because that’s also the truth.