I decided to leave the trail for a multitude of reasons. Yes, my feet were trashed, yes, I was tired, and yes, the trail is hard. But none of those were the main reasons.
I learned so much in just under a month on trail and 300 miles-ish of hiking. Within the first three days I realized that my expectations of the experience were wildly different than the reality, despite my years of planning. I knew it would be hard, both physically and mentally. I knew it would be unlike anything I had ever gone through.
But one of the first things I learned was that I am indeed a social animal. I need people. I did not like hiking alone. I did not expect this and the amount of couples, partners, and groups I found that hiked together from the beginning was more than I thought. Solo hikers were fewer and further between. It’s easy to say people suck and that the world is a fucked up place, especially in today’s environment being bombarded by social media (if you let yourself), the internet, and the endless other connections available, but humans are capable of really kind and considerate behavior too.
One of the things I wanted to get out of the trail was a restoration of faith in humanity. I got that in a very short time with the people I met on trail and off. Interacting in a deeply personal way with people so dedicated to the same goal was such a rewarding experience. From Sticks and Clay to the Rocket Surgeons to Postmaster and 4Runner and everyone in between, they all gave me a deeper appreciation. Not to mention the trail angels. I know this would have continued on down the trail, but I will come back and experience it again later on.
Second, I reaffirmed something I really already knew and one of my bedrock, core values: I want to experience this world with my family. Courtney and my dogs are the most important things on this earth to me. I am 40 years old and have set up my life in a very specific way on purpose, with the intention of sharing our experiences together. Shit, it was in my wedding vows. I wanted to try this solo adventure and see how it went, but I quickly realized it wasn’t aligned with my values.
A thru hike is an amazing idea and accomplishment for people who are in certain circumstances. I will venture down the road of folly and say that a thru hike is more suited for people who have a very specific reason for staying on trail (Sticks) or those who have no reason to not leave the trail. I am not one of those people. And there is nothing wrong with either situation. It’s just not me.
There is a reason many people are section hikers, a class of which I now consider myself. You can hike parts of the trail whenever and wherever it pleases you. You can pick and choose sections during the most beautiful parts of the year for that area. You can stretch out the experience over multiple years or even decades, which actually sounds even more appealing and amazing to me than a thru hike. Most importantly, you can tailor your hikes to what fits with your lifestyle. Six months on one trail sounds great on paper, but in my reality, it’s much better broken up.
Sticks met a guy in Julian named Cheez It. He has hiked the trail 7 times and never finished. Every time he’s gotten to the point where he’s just done with it and wants to go home. To paraphrase him: Don’t make up an injury or something. Just admit you miss your family and you want to go home!
He’s not wrong.
What am I at? Third? I really got tired of the lifestyle. Living in the dirt is just…not that great. I love hiking. I love camping. But after two or three weeks, the minutiae of camp chores is just mentally exhausting. That said, I did learn to love the simplicity of it. I loved my little tent and the system I had down. Once I got everything done, I was damn comfy in there. But there were definitely times I was setting up and was like, “this is asinine”. Also, I got good at shitting in the woods, but I still vastly prefer a toilet.
Fourth, my feet are actually trashed. As of this writing, I can’t feel my left big toe, though it seems to be getting better. It also feels like there’s a hole boring into the ball of my right foot. Not super fun.
Another thing I want to make sure I say is that this adventure was something I wanted to do for my grandfathers. Moondad, my mother’s father, passed in 2006 and Granddad, my father’s father, passed just recently. Both of them were men who appreciated the outdoors and I feel like they would be proud of me for this. I am not a religious person, but I want to think there is something spiritual in this world and I like to think they were looking over me and would have been interested in this. They definitely were family men that also would have understood my reasons for putting family over trail. I loved both of them and am glad they were with me on this journey.
As I sit here writing this with my wife and my dogs next to me, I know I made the right choice for me. Biff just gave me a full on whine/groan for no reason. That’s what I love. They are my world.
I came back home and two days later, Court, Biff, Finn, and I set off on a road trip to one of our absolute favorite places: Telluride. We have spent so much time there in the past three years that it is starting to feel like a second home. So I’m already back on trail, just a different one!
I plan on going back out to trail this July to meet Sticks and Clay. I don’t know if I will hike a couple of weeks or maybe just do trail magic for hikers. Being out there is what matters. Not how long you are out there or how far you hike.
The producer of one of my favorite PCT documentaries told me to get out on trail for a week and it would change my life. He wasn’t wrong either.
I look forward to continuing the trail over the years and I’ll probably blog it here. I’m paying to keep this blog up, so I might as well use it.
Thanks to those who followed me on this abbreviated journey and I hope perhaps it was inspiring or at least entertaining.
Hike on and, most importantly, hike your own hike.