A few weeks ago, I wanted to quit. And the day before that, and likely the day before that. Though I’d had my fair share of difficult days, the Mojave broke me. Physically, it was no more strenuous than any other. The weather was prime, ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-70s in a place that can easily boast triple digit temperatures this time of year.
The first day out of Mojave on the longest waterless stretch on the trail, I got violently ill, possibly as a result of food poisoning from the local burger joint–forcing me to carry enough water for 42 miles on a continually emtying stomach, through thick fog and rain which seemed to push into my mind.
Though I’ve known it to be true from other situations and experiences, it has never been more apparent than when thruhiking: you take your shit with you. All of your mistakes. All of your beliefs and judgements and insecurities and beliefs.
Many people think that attempting a thruhike of this magnitude is impressive–a physical feat beyond imagination. But when we hikers sit on our bear canisters over stained pots of Knorr Sides or dehydrated bean soup, we laugh. “We have the easiest job in the world! All we have to do is get up and walk. Every day.” The real difficulty of the PCT is the long climbs over passes or through canyonss–it’s in the mind. Its easy, after a days and nights spent alone, energies spent climbing hills and thinking about your next snack (even though you just ate four minutes ago) and making sure you’re drinking enough water and looking for the perfect spot for a cathole (with a view, naturally), to fall into a bad headspace.
I have since left the low hills of the desert and exchanged them for the mighty and impossibly beautiful Sierra Nevada. It is almost impossible to describe. The rugged, snowcapped peaks surround pristine alpine lakes around which myriad coniferous trees push out their thick branches and wildlife ignores your presence, their search for food far more important than your footsteps down the trail.
I’ve disvoered that I’m far more extroverted than I’d ever thought. Last week, I left the several people I’d een hiking with for several days to climb another pass off the PCT in order to resupply in Independence, CA. Upon returning to the trail, I hardly saw any other northbound hikers for four days. Though I knew from John Muir Trail hikers headed south that I was surrounded by fellow PCT-ers, I was just far enough to miss trailside chats or shared campsites. It can be intensely lonely, and seemingly endless solo struggles up mountain passes left me feeling physically and mentally weak. My fourth day out, I caught up with Puzzler on Selden Pass, a hiker I met 500 miles before and had seen off and on for several weeks, and all of the sudden we were best friends–neither of us having had much conversation for days.
Despite the struggles, I’ve never before encountered such incredible beauty, nor had to put so much faith in my own step, or resourcefullness.