I think I've wrote this in my head about a dozen times, I figured it was time to put fingers to keyboard. I plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail starting in May of 2021 as many of you probably know. I plan to start that journey a little less than a year from now. Part of my preparation for that is trying to wrap my head around every aspect of the journey as best I can.
I spend a lot of time writing mostly about the exciting and happy moments during my trips. Every once in awhile there's a scary moment, or a challenging point but for the most part, after they happen, my journeys almost always pan out to happy memories and lessons learned. I finish one trip and move on to the next adventure.
For almost five years I've been obsessing about doing a long trail, a thru-hike. My first thought was the Appalachian Trail right after college, but that didn't fill the void. Eventually, after not much thought, I ended up with an obsession to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico. The trail covers 2,653 miles across California, Oregon and Washington ending several days into North Cascades National Park at the Canadian boarder. The trail ranges from 13,153' at Forester Pass in the Sierras to 140' at Cascade Locks near the Columbia River. I've thought about every little detail of the trail, heavy snow in the Sierra, blistering heat in the Mojave, nonstop rain in Washington and the possibility of falls, injuries and failure on the trail. None of those possibilities or scenarios scare me, because I've come to terms with them.
Anyone who knows me knows I like to binge TV and movies. My latest victim is a YouTube series called "The Fifty". "The Fifty" follows Cody Townsend as he tries to climb and ski down the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. These mountains are massive, they're beautiful and they can be dangerous and deadly. Cody spends a lot of time during the series talking about measuring risk, and being in control. He's not someone like Alex Honnold or Tommy Caldwell who tend to appear fearless, he admits his fears and wears them on his sleeve. A big part of his process is thinking about the things that can go wrong and being as in control of the situation as possible. When he rips 4,000' down the side of a massive mountain, the guy has to be sure he knows what he's doing and throughout his journey he's had his moments where he's made the tough call and turned back.
The fear that sat in my mind during the past several months was that all of my upcoming trips would be canceled. Luckily I came to terms with that because fear became reality and none of them are happening. No Mt. Baker, no Havasu Falls, no 14ers, no South America. I affectively need to re-dream my year now. I've accepted that, I'm planning and I feel good about it, this was a tiny fear, barely present. The reality is that fear is something that's ever present in our lives, it hides in the back of our heads and often, our fears present themselves at the worst times. I believe the only way to beat your fears is to confront them before they confront you.
My greatest fear that has burrowed its way into my skull over the past six months isn't failure on the PCT, its not a delay because of CoVID, oddly, my greatest fear is finishing the trail. Weird, right?
The past 20 or so years of my life have been planned out for me, go to school, graduate, go do some more school (yes I got to decide some of that but just barely), get done with that and get a job. Maybe the last four years of my life have been entirely decided by only my decisions but even then there was still a path and a reason for what I've been doing. I've been working so I can hike the trail, when I get paid I think about how much needs to pay bills and how much I can hide away for the trail, when I exercise my reason is to get in shape for the trail. A lot of what I do has been for the trail. What do I do when I get done?
Do I just continue the trend and go find the next adventure, settling back into where I was before my journey? Do I change my life and try something new? Maybe I'll have fell in love with a place during my long walk and stay there? Will I be so sick of walking after five months that I'll never do anything like that again? Will I be so consumed about the idea of being outside away from everything that coming home and sitting down on the couch becomes something that makes me feel uneasy? Will the mundaneness of life be something I can't put up with so I wander off into the woods never to be heard from again? Okay, the last one was a joke (kinda), but you get the point, I don't know what comes after.
I'm fearful of the end of my carefully built path, I'm fearful of accomplishing my greatest goal and not knowing what the next one is. Is that dumb? I mean, in all honesty, I'll dream up the next great adventure while dehydrated in the desert or lightheaded at the top of Mt. Whitney but until then, the idea of crossing the finish line into Canada will continue to give me the jitters in so many different ways.
I think this bothers me so much because I'm terrified of finally growing up. In my mind, when I finish the PCT, that could be my greatest journey (really don't want to peak young). I still want to run away every weekend and travel. I would, will and have told work I'm leaving early to go paddle or go on a long weekend trip. My priorities in life feel different from other's that I spend time around. They get busy with work, are focused on money or working on relationships and just in general have different pursuits. I would rather spend the day suffering through a climb than sitting on a beach. I would rather walk through the rain all day then sit at my desk. I'm a little weird...
I watched a movie recently called "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Becky", Fred Becky was probably one of the greatest climbers of all time. He spent his life climbing first ascents around the world starting at age 13, he wrote the guidebook on climbing in the Pacific Northwest and the man had a passion that he let nothing get in the way of, he kept climbing until his death at age 94, the man has a friggen mountain in Alaska named after him... I fortunately/unfortunately will never be able to live up to the accomplishments of Fred but the idea of how he lived his life always gets me thinking. Always in pursuit of the next journey, uncompromising in his dedication to living the life that he wants. At the end though, what's left?
The Hopeless Wanderer