Why I’m thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

What on earth possessed me to attempt a 2,650 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)?

The short answer:  Because the idea snuck into my head and just wouldn’t go away. Every time I thought I could get past the idea, the PCT kept tapping me on the shoulder.

The longer answer:   I suppose you could say it’s partly a calling for epic adventure that resides inside many of us.  Once it gets a hold of you, there’s not much choice in the matter.  As has been suggested before, “the trail chooses us.”

As I naturally reflected upon “the whys” of this 5-month end-to-end walk from Mexico to Canada that has taken over much of my thought life, I realized that it can be a surprisingly difficult question to answer in words yet it is the most frequently asked.  Many PCT hikers are asked the “why-question” and they just go into this song and dance; they can’t think of a single good reason for walking thousands of miles.  They just know intuitively that they should do it.

Although setting out on this getting-away-from-it-all footpath can understandably be viewed as wholly impractical and quixotic, I decided it was something that I needed to do for myself.  Never in my adult life had I ever wanted something with such motivation and enthusiasm.  And for two straight years, the idea sustained.

By hiking the Pacific Crest Trail I will be dedicated to a singular purpose in an ever-chaotic world of distractions.  This renewed sense of purpose and focus is an important piece of human fulfillment.  The remainder of my life on earth shall not be dawdled away.  God gave me two good legs, so I ought to use them for something.

pct_map[1]
Map showing Pacific Crest Trail going from Mexico to Canada
Perhaps at some level it is filling a void in my life of not having a wife and kids of my own or maybe it’s running away from pressures of “normal life.”  The trail is a place of forward movement where I will have time to think through my entire life and ponder upon all the decisions I’ve made up to that point.  There is time to “figure it out.”  Most importantly, the trail, with all of its spectacular sunrises, will be a reminder that it’s a new day.  This kind of extended peaceful reflection is almost unheard-of in today’s noisy modern world.

Mankind is made to do this.  We are seekers and explorers.  It is not the normal state for humans to stare at computer monitors and pound  keys all day (except for writing this blog!)  This made-for-the-trail epiphany is what has led me to pay down debts, save up, resign from my job, and take a risk.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

One source of inspiration for me hiking the PCT came from reading a dusty garage-sale-edition National Geographic magazine dated June 1971.  Although the notion had been in the back of my head for a while, reading the article and studying old glossy maps of the trail encouraged me to start planning and prioritizing my thru-hike.  The magazine article depicting this scenery-soaked trail also reminded me of how far backpacking gear (especially external-frame packs) had come in 40-some-odd years.

National Geographic June 1971
National Geographic, June 1971

 

Even though the trail is excruciatingly long and has some of the harshest exposed terrain, there are many alluring reasons for wanting to hike this remarkable trail:

Starting in southern California, I’ll get to experience the expansive Mojave desert and the resilient life that inhabits there and walk along the Los Angeles Aqueduct.  As I head northward,  I’ll take in the sun-dappled mountain meadows and wilderness areas and hike up the vertiginous path through the snow-mantled High Sierra.  While there, I’ll ascend Forester Pass (highest point along the PCT) and side-trip up Mt Whitney (tallest point in the contiguous United States).  I’ll take in El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite Valley and gaze at the General Sherman Tree at Sequoia National Park.  Once in Oregon, I’ll circumnavigate the caldera rim at Crater Lake and see volcanic regions including Lassen Volcanic National Park.  In Washington State, I’ll start off by crossing Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River.  Eventually, I’ll be at the glaciated peak of Mt Rainier (highest mountain of the Cascade Range) and also see Mt St. Helens and the take-it-all-in views of the North Cascades.  And finally, I’ll cross over the Canadian border into Manning Provincial Park.

Now, after having committed myself to this hill-conquering expedition, I knew that it was not going to come easy.  I did not want to suffer from exaggerated expectations of my own physical and emotional abilities.  It wasn’t just “the whys” that needed answering but “the hows.”  So far, I have not had any doubts about making it to the finish line in British Columbia, despite the fact that fewer than half of the applicants who apply for a permit actually finish.

This May-to-Octoberish hike that I will embark upon will not be a fool’s paradise but a special chance in life to become a stronger person (physically, mentally, and spiritually) where I can learn more about myself and the natural world.  Henry David Thoreau, himself a naturalist, said it this way:  “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  Why am I doing this?  Because I just have to do this.  And, I’m single, so what the heck.

I am going to walk to Canada, God willing.

–David Mizer

Folllow House On My Back:  https://houseonmyback.wordpress.com/

 

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