The hike didn’t exactly end at the monument. I had another 35 miles to hike back to Harts Pass. When I arrived I bumped into Patches friend Bone Spur and stayed the night at the campsite there. It rained heavily all night long. It was too much for my tent. It started leaking from various seams. I was cold, wet and tired by the time morning arrived. Bone Spur drove me out of Harts, down to Winthrop, after a stay there, I hitched to Seattle, stayed with a friend for the night, then took a 38 hour train ride home.
Why did I do this?
Well that story began when Alice’s parents took us to Yosemite for yearly camping trips. Her father John Castorena introduced me to the trails of Yosemite and offered suggestions for day hikes he had done when he was younger. I started day hiking longer and longer trails, hungry for more distance. Climbing the next hill, crossing the next pass.
On one of those trips around 2003, I remember visiting Curry Village to buy something. Outside the general store were three skinny hikers sitting in the dirt each eating an enormous ice cream cones. Two guys and one gal. They looked fit, tired, happy, and sooooo dirty. All three had easy laughs and just seemed at peace with the world.
I struck up a conversation during which they explained the PCT to me. I asked the usual questions, ones that I now answer frequently. Where did you start? How many miles do you hike? How heavy is your pack? How long does it take? etc. Then I bought them some beers and parked the conversation in the back of my mind. I had more pressing concerns with family and career.
Over the years I began to do longer backpacking trips. Refining my understanding of the art. How to hike difficult terrain. Learning about my endurance limits. Buying and replacing gear as I sorted out what worked best for me. Dialing it in. As with most backpackers in the Sierra’s I kept running into PCT hikers. Kids, middle aged people, a few old timers. Each of them I revered. By the time I’d meet them, they had already done 900 miles. Thru-hikers.
Eventually this made it on my bucket list and got prioritized. I had to do it before I got too old. I’m under no illusions about that. Get it done before I’m 60 or I may never do it. With Alice’s support I put the wheels in motion.
Just about anyone is physically able to do a hike like this. If you can walk 10 miles with 30 pounds on your back for a few days in a row, you qualify. Around 7,000 folks start every year and as far as I can tell, most meet this criteria. The next question is one of mental toughness and that is much harder to quantify. You’ll be baking in the sun, cold, thirsty, lonely, incredibly hungry, sore, fighting bugs. You’ll be dirty most of the time, eating bland food, and sleeping on the ground.
In my view, the positive aspects are far greater. You’ll be hiking with a unique set of people seeing stuff virtually nobody else will ever see. You’ll reawaken abilities buried deep in our genetic history. Humans have been migrating huge distances since we climbed out of the trees millions of years ago. Turns out we are pretty good at it. That’s what makes the experience truly is transformative. You’ll change from a modern couch potato to a lean mean hiking machine, loved and admired by (mostly) everyone. In any one year, only .0000875 % of the world’s population will hike the trail. Half of that will complete it.
Then it will be over.
In 2017, I had a hard time adjusting back to normal life. This time will be much easier. I know what is coming. Fitness and tolerance for physical hardship will fade. The world will get noisy again. People around me will be complaining about stupid shit. Soon I’ll even catch myself complaining my Latte doesn’t have enough foam. That is the reason I wrote this journal. In those moments of despair, I have only to open some random page and be reminded. There is more to the world than a perfectly toasted bagel.
There was only one reason I had the mental toughness to pull this off. It came from my Dad. He taught me that anything worth having is worth working for. If you fail the first time, work harder. Goals, perseverance, hard work. It is second nature to me now and I owe a huge debt to him for that. Now that I’ve completed the journey, it saddens me that I’ll never be able to share my achievement with him. Or John Castorena. Or those 3 dirty hikers I met long ago.
Someday, sitting in my rocking chair, drifting off to sleep, I will be hiking this trail again. After long, hot, sweaty day, I’ll clear the next pass and descend into a nice flat campsite. They will all be there. Laughing, bitching, enjoying the sunset. They will greet me with a fist bump or a hug, then direct me to a spot nearby. I will setup my tent, unpack my bag, and join them.