Why did I decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?
That’s a question we get asked a lot. Mostly by non-backpackers. Hell, mostly by non-hikers period. The easy answers are loving to be outdoors and in nature. Wanting to wake up under stars and be in the sunrise. Loving to hike and carry everything needed for life on my back. Enjoying simply getting to the next camp and of finding water. Those are the physical answers.
Before we started, I read the book Pacific Crest Trials by Zach Davis and Carly Moree. It helped me define my why and taught me about some expected pitfalls. The section on goal setting was especially helpful to me.
I’ve run two marathons in my life. The first was really because Steve had run a couple the year before and I thought it looked fun. I’d been casually running for years and had done fun runs, like 5 and 8k’s. I trained with Steve and certainly put in the miles but the day of the marathon wasn’t all that great. I hit a wall around 18 miles and the rest of it was a pure slog. I finished, but my time sucked and I didn’t feel the satisfaction I’d hoped for.
About ten years later, I decided to run another one, but knew I wanted to do it differently. I joined a training program, found my correct pace group, and met some great ladies who made the training runs so much fun. We became a part of each other’s journeys. We learned the physiology of our running bodies and how to best feed and nourish them. Most importantly, I learned to set many goals for the marathon day, beyond just “finish”.
One of my top goals was to smile, to have fun. I smiled all through that race. Another goal was to be strong when running up the hill to the St John’s Bridge. As it turns out, I wasn’t just strong, I passed so many people on that incline that other runners cheered for me, giving me words of encouragement. At the end of the race, I felt successful because I’d met several smaller goals, in addition to the main one of running 26.2 miles.
I tried to take that same sense of goal setting into our Pacific Crest Trail hike. Steve and I determined that our main couple goals were “don’t get killed (or permanently hurt)” and “have fun”.
The first sounds rather flippant, but it proved to be important several times. It reminded us to slow down, to assess the trail, to determine the best path forward. Sometimes that path was to take a zero day. Sometimes it was to continue a little more slowly over a sketchy part. Sometimes it was simply to acknowledge the danger or the challenge and to boldly hike though it! Ultimately, for me, it equated to buying a camper van. We wanted to not get hurt so we could continue to have fun.
Steve and I have talked about hiking the PCT ever since we’d spent twelve days on Mt Rainier, backpacking the Wonderland Trail in the 90’s. We continued weekend backpacking trips together and we went on many day hikes with our kids and after they were grown, more on our own.
The Pacific Crest Trail has been in the back of our minds for many years, just sitting, waiting for us to not only acknowledge its pull but to take action.
When Steve’s heart was whacking out, we began thinking about life differently. When he had the last surgery, we had to really look death in the eye. It changed us, both of us. We decided to actively and purposefully live life more fully.
Creating the time and space to live in the moment became our highest priority. We’d already been great savers, paying our house off early then continuing to make a house payment to ourselves. Years ago, we’d done the same thing with a car. That allowed us to save enough to pay cash for the next one. And the next one. We actively choose to live a debt free life, so that we can have more freedom.
A couple months after Steve’s surgery, my mom died. The combination of those two events convinced us to pull the plug on the societal norm. We sold our house then rented (yes rented) an apartment downtown. That move gave us so much life back, as it cut Steve’s work commute by an hour to an hour and a half each way. I switched to a closer job and suddenly we had more free time. We knew we wanted even more!
We met with a financial planner, who gave us the green light to take some time off work. The numbers showed that it was feasible and our retirement accounts should be just fine.
We knew we wanted an adventure but then the question became “which one”. Our decision to hike the PCT was based on our love of the outdoors and backpacking, but also on proximity to our family by staying on the West Coast. We’ve also talked about walking the Camino de Santiago across Spain for years, and we’re hoping to do it soon too. But staying on the West Coast was all about family.
We’re in our fifties, at the prime of our earning capabilities. Our decision to give that up was based in facts, in logic and in very careful planning. At the beginning of this journey, I was pretty caught up in planning, it’s who I am. Now, I’m okay to not know what our exact plan is. Right now we know we’re here. I’m doing everything in my power to experience right now. Good, bad, fun, tears. Just right now.
I wanted to hike to have an epic adventure with my best friend. That was my main personal goal. I also wanted to challenge myself, to see what I was made of. I think I did that too. Perhaps having less financial security would have removed the option of buying a van. Perhaps that would have been a good thing. I don’t actually know. Certainly I have some regrets. Certainly I still had an epic adventure with my best friend. I learned from the hike to appreciate now and that’s where I’m trying to stay. Right here. Right now.