Thru-hiking is a fascinating filter. Of the hikers I've met over the past two weeks, hardly a career has overlapped between them. Ranging from the just of drinking age self employed house cleaner, to the retired oil man, hikers from all ages and walks of life find themselves weaving to this common thread, the Pacific Crest Trail.
The sacrifices we've made to be here vary as well. And while emotional connections to significant others and careers in cities and even countries far away from the trail are important, the financial implications of a 5-6 month hike loom large for most.
How can we afford this?
Some walk away from jobs on temporary leave, some are retired, but others walk away from their jobs into a cloud of financial uncertainty.
There's no clean answer here for what kind of cash you need on hand to pull this off. I can only answer from one limited perspective, my own.
Four years ago I graduated from Ohio University with a mountain of student loan debt in order to earn a degree in Civil Engineering. To put a number to my cash flow requirements, even from the trail, I owe $600/month in student loans, $70/month for my cellphone, and another $80-200/month for Obamacare depending on how much I end up making by the end of the year. All told, fixed costs for me total at least $750/month before even eating a snickers bar. That's $4,500 over 6-months.
So how do I make this work?
Well, my first move was to get a credit card with 18-months 0% APR so I could assemble that gear list.
But to pay for this gear, this thru-hike, I had to sacrifice something I was almost done paying off, my car. And, in the face of the written history of sound financial advice, I also had to withdraw $3,500 after tax and penalties from my 401K to have some working capital.
The car, which I sold at CarMax when I finally ended my road trip from Ohio in San Diego, was paid for with dollars I earned myself. After the remaining loan payments were subtracted, the 2013 Ford Escape I put 50,000 miles on was now worth $10,000.
Between the check for the car and cash from my 401K, I can make this thru-hike work.
Looking beyond the trail I'm betting on my ability to create value for a future employer in order to replace the income from the job I left behind.
My focus on the financials is not meant to undermine the very real sacrifice of moving away from friends, a job, and a life back in Columbus, Ohio I really did love.
The check for that car speaks in common terms, dollars. How many dollars a thru-hiker spends, and how they get those dollars will vary.
This was my sacrifice, and my dollars have never been better spent.