It was my last day in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park when the emotions that had been brewing inside me since the start of my Appalachian Trail Thru Hike finally manifested into tears that streamed down my face onto the freshly fallen snow beneath my feet. I was just over 200 miles in and by then the trail had given me a glimpse as to just how brutal it could be. I dealt with many of the same challenges that every thru hiker does at the beginning of their journeys; fear, blisters, cold, the list goes on. Despite this, it wasn’t until that cold and snowy morning as I descended into Davenport Gap that I felt I had actually actually accomplished something. There had been challenges but I had overcome them, and that feeling was so powerful that there was simply nothing i could do but walk on sobbing like a moron down the trail. It felt good. It felt great actually. And it wouldn’t be the last time I would shed tears on my way to Katahdin.
Time and time again my emotions reached their boiling point, happening more frequently as I inched closer and closer to the end of my journey. The final days before reaching the northern terminus of the trail were very surreal. The trail wasn’t just the trail anymore, and i wasn’t just thru hiking. I was simply living. The trail was my home and walking was my profession. Doing anything else was inconceivable, and knowing that soon I would be doing something else was heartbreaking. There were a lot of tears in those days. There were happy tears as I laughed alongside my fellow 2000 milers, proud tears as I looked behind me in the direction of all the mountains I had conquered to get to that point, and sad tears when I looked ahead of me at Mt. Katahdin as it grew ever so close until I was standing on top of it touching the famed sign inscribed with the words “Katahdin: Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail”. At that moment there were no happy tears, there were no sad tears, there were no tears at all. There was nothing. I fell to my knees, head against the sign, waiting to feel the feeling that I had felt so many times on the past six months.
That feeling never came. The fact that my hike had come to an end just wouldn’t register in my mind. It simply wasn’t real. I walked away from the summit feeling more confused than ever. Wasn’t I supposed to have some grand revelation? Wasn’t I supposed to have figured out what I was going to do with the rest of my life by now? I suddenly didn’t want to be done walking, all I wanted to do was hike some more. As I headed back into civilization, the gears began spinning in my mind for a new journey, in a completely new landscape. It was one I had thought of and talked of countless times during my 2015 hike. It was the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a National Scenic Trail much like the Appalachian Trail, but its environment vastly differs. Spanning from the small town of Campo on the Mexican border, The PCT travels through the desert and foothills of Southern California before entering the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Kennedy Meadows, roughly mile 700. The Sierras are often covered in snow even late in the season as the peaks of mountains are often over 10,000 feet. The trail then crosses Northern California before finally entering the wet and forest Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington. The northern terminus lies 12 miles into Canada, 2650 miles north of the Mexican Border.
Returning home was by far the hardest part of Thru Hiking. As I drove south back to Virginia, memories of each state flooded my mind. I though about all the hikers still out on the trail, all the south bounders who had many miles to go before their journey ended. I longed to be one of them. Before I even got home I got a text from my former boss. “Hey, I heard you finished your hike! When are you coming back to work?”. It still didn’t seem real.
Life quickly sped up again as I returned to the work force. I suddenly had a schedule again, I had obligations to fill, I had people depending on me. I felt like a caged bird, waiting ever so patiently for the day I would flap my wings again. When you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, the people in the towns recognize what you’re doing and respect you for your accomplishment, but back at home there are only a select few who are truly interested in your experiences. The transition of culture from the small towns I had been frequenting to a bustling suburban area in central Virginia was strange to say the least. Not a day went by without thoughts of the trail. I worked and saved, and worked and saved some more. After two months, hiking the PCT in 2017 was actually starting to seem like a realistic goal. It had to be. Life was boring in the real world. I needed change. By January I had saved what I need to to walk across the country again, but with still 3 months to go until hiking season, I had to figure something out in the mean time. I packed my bags, said goodbye to my home after such a short reunion, and boarded a plane to Los Angeles, where I would live on my friends’ couch for the next two months until beginning the trail.
Being out west has made those two months fly by. It’s given me a chance to experience the kind of conditions I’ll face on the PCT. As the days go by though, my patience begins to wear thin. Its March 26 as I type the last sentences of this blog post, one I’ve been messing around with for the past month. In just six days, a new journey begins. This transitional phase has been tough, but the time has finally come. I feel nervous, but more than anything I’m excited. I’m excited for all the beautiful souls I’ll meet along the way. I’m excited for every sunset and sunrise I’ll witness along the way. I’m excited to stick my thumb out on the side of an abandoned road, waiting for someone to pick up my filthy, smelly, hiker trash butt. I’m excited for the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment I’ll have every day as I lay in my sleeping bag and cook my pasta sides. I’m excited for the pain, the fatigue, the blisters, and the tears. Pacific Crest Trail, here I come.
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