Oh, sweet Pacific Crest Trail, how you beckon my wandering soul with your miles of unforgiving, lonesome terrain. To think one could walk in a relatively straight line through California, Oregon, Washington — from Mexico to Canada — has me considering options I never knew.
I recently explored a section of the PCT near Warner Springs, where I stopped to chat with a fit, young couple who had just commenced a thru-hike the week before (that is, they’re walking from Mexico to Canada). Fresh on the trail, they were clean and happy enough. Too clean, in fact. What does it take to walk the entire length of the PCT, I wondered.
It seems many people find thru-hiking the PCT to be a mostly miserable experience. “We are wet and freezing, especially since the wind is now going crazy and hundred-foot-tall trees are swinging like pendulums,” writes one PCT thru-hiker from his blog (yeah, people blog everywhere). “Word has it the temps are around -5 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill.” Bad weather and wet socks are common themes out there. Remember, our blogger put himself in this situation voluntarily, for fun. A realistic thru-hiker must ask the question, “Am I able to endure day after day of this crap?”
So why even think of thru-hiking if you’re sure of the imminent pain and suffering? Is it for bragging rights? A heightened sense of personal accomplishment? In honor of one cause or another?
Bill Bryson wrote a decent book on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, a long distance route stretching from Georgia to Maine. One of Bryson’s observations I found intriguing was the constant strain of contradiction while on the trail. “I was weary of the trail, but still strangely in its thrall; found the endless slog tedious but irresistible; grew tired of the boundless woods but admired their boundlessness; enjoyed the escape from civilization and ached for its comforts,” Bryson writes.
Are thru-hikers driven by underlying contradictions, the love and hate dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship? Maybe. But not much thought goes into such a long hike. You decide to go for it, you plan, you walk. Simple enough.
I believe the great explorers before us are responsible for passing along a gene of restlessness and undying curiosity. Sir Ernest Shackleton, Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, John Wesley Powell — all a bunch of fearless dudes out looking for a good time. You either inherited this DNA strain, or you didn’t. To me, as ridiculous and idiotic as it sounds, there’s something exciting about camping with crazy wind and hundred-foot trees swaying like pendulums. At the very least, it makes for a good story — if you survive.
As it turns out, there exist a few trails more epic in length than the PCT. The roughly 5,000-mile American Discovery Trail basically runs the horizontal length of the U.S., beginning in San Francisco, ending in Washington, D.C. Of course a few lunatics walk the entire thing. What the ADT doesn’t have is interesting topography. I can’t stomach the idea of walking through cornfields for two months.
So I’ll stick to fantasizing about the PCT. This isn’t just a young buck’s wild inclination. Plenty of older folks tackle the trail every year. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll get over the idea. I hope.
For the number nerd: the PCT is 2,650 miles long, give or take a few.
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