As I sit alone by tonight's campfire I reflect on the last few days, the 70 miles since Sierra City.
What's become clear to me, by this point on the trail, the honeymoon is over, not just for myself, but for most other thru-hikers aswell. How each hiker progresses after this revelation perhaps reveals more about the hiker's personal motivations than the trail itself.
Two days ago I crossed paths with a thru-hiker who had just quit the whole darn PCT moments earlier. At the time, when he was headed south back to Sierra City to hitch a ride, I wasn't aware of his intentions. Having never previously met the guy, I just assumed he was a day hiker.
But later that day I saw him again, further north than when we first crossed paths.
Through conversation I came to understand that for him the PCT had stopped being fun (for the most part). But as fate may have it, on his way to exit the trail for good, he crossed paths with a girl who was also feeling down on her luck, and about to quit. They both resolved to push on 60 miles further north to the next town on trail (Belden), then see what happens...
And for the next 24 hours I hiked with them both. I haven't laughed as hard these past four months since I quit my job.
Sharing our highs and lows of the day by campfire I think reminded us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And there is still fun to be had in the daily grind. I hope they both take some time to re-group and stay on trail. But if this guy does leave the trail early, I hope he leaves behind his nursing career and pursues his passion for cooking by starting that food truck business he described.
For those reading from home who have not hiked the PCT, by this point in late July on Mile 1,200+, the average hiker is looking to cover at least 20 miles a day. What this also means are 10, 12, 14 hour hiking days including breaks inbetween the miles.
Last night, for example, ended a 13 hour 23.5 mile day with a 4,000 foot descent. Today started with a 3,000 foot climb. Tomorrow will end with a 4,000 foot descent. And the next day will start with a 5,000 foot climb.
The "grind" is a sacrifice of the more flexible days of the months gone by. Before there was more wiggle room to cut days short, to nap, to swim, to dilly dally. Now that slack is just about gone (but I still make time for pictures).
Most motivational speakers, in the context of just about any personal goal, will tell you to fall in love with the process, the "grind". But where thru-hikers will differ amongst themselves is the actual goal itself. Some are here strictly for an enjoyable experience. Therefore the process of a seemingly never ending hike isn't held in the same regard by all.
What is my goal?
My goal is to walk from the US border of Mexico to the US border of Canada.
I never signed up for the honeymoon. I signed up for the scenic route between those two borders. And for that reason I think it's alot easier for me to fall in love with the process than hikers with different motivations. The day I make it to Canada is just one day out of 160 to 180 similar days. That was what I had in mind all along.
For those not focused on completing the walk between borders, I can understand why they might throw in the towel after the honeymoon. The trail becomes your life and there are daily inconveniences that just disappear when you quit.
The physical and mental demands of walking 20 miles a day aside, the last 170 miles I've been eating with a tent stake because I lost my spoon. For the most part, only cold "showers" are available from the lakes and creeks I cross. Mother Nature claimed my beloved Maryland sunglasses, whisking them forever down stream. I haven't had cell service in 4 days. Today an internal piece on my water filter broke, quadrupling the time I spend filtering water. And by dinner time tomorrow I'll have had my 36th individual Pop Tart pastry in 5 days. I really can understand why some might call it quits by this point. (And by the huge drop-off in the number of thru-hikers I've encountered lately, I can tell many have already thrown in the towel. Others hitch ahead and skip chunks of miles to make the remaining hike to Canada more manageable).
But make no mistake, I'm not complaining. This is hardly a death march for me. I'm having fun. I'm grateful to be here. I'm grateful for my health, my two feet, hands, eyes, and ears. And though some days are more fun than others, I'm very much in love with the process. You can burn my white flag.