PCT :: A LOOK BACK
How do I possibly sum up one of the greatest adventures of my young life in one paltry blog post? While this medium seems unequal to the task, I can’t think of a better one, so let’s just go with what we’ve got.
Though I’ve kept many blogs in many formats, this has been by far my favorite. Photos have proven a much more capable medium than narratives. I’m grateful that this current format is designed to include both, because it showcases my primary work and still allows me to relay the nuances of my experience which I either failed or neglected to capture on film. Taken as a whole, this blog encompasses my experience as well as I could’ve imagined. And yet, it feels altogether inadequate.
Either way, I must begin. But where? Well- at the beginning, of course. I began my trek at the US-Mexico border on April 18th, a cool overcast morning. The first day was surreal. Despite my endless planning and research, I felt disconnected from my ambition, like I didn’t fully understand what lie ahead.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a hike. Daunting and logistically cumbersome as it is, it’s just a hike. The path is well-marked, well-maintained and reasonably graded. It’s tame, a cookie cutter. In fact, I’d say it demands more luck than skill. Luck with the weather; luck with wildfires; luck with injuries. The resources are unparalleled: guides, maps, blogs, apps. It’s all laid out if ya care to have a look. The experience itself is challenging, but not so hard-fought as one might imagine. I don’t mean to undermine the accomplishment; it’s an amazing one. I also don’t mean to imply any shortcoming on the part of those who don’t finish. In a given year, only about half of all aspiring thru-hikers realize their goal. What could possibly go wrong on a trail where there is a smartphone application that tells you literally anything you might want to know, including your exact location down to the nearest hundredth of a mile? Lots, actually. Injury, obligations at home, inadequate fiscal planning, and shaky resolve describe a few common tales of woe.
My own resilience was tested at every turn. I always knew I’d spend most of my time uncomfortable. It would be too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. It would be too early, or too late. Even as I spent very little of my time content in comfort, I never wanted to be anywhere else. I loved every mile, every moment, every challenge. In the moments where I struggled and complained, I remained steadfast in my gratitude for the journey. And when it was all over, I appreciated that I was able to finish, especially because I knew so many wouldn’t. From my first step, I was certain that I’d make it, though I recognized with humility that it wouldn’t take all that much to stop me. I never questioned my ability or resolve, only my good fortune.
My unyielding conviction was marked by a need to maintain a continuous walking path from the Mexican border to Canada. I enjoyed alternates and side trips, followed snow packed descents and designated re-routes, never thinking twice about leaving the official PCT tread. Whatever lay ahead, I always found a way to continue north. No skips, no flips. EFI: every f***ing inch.
I don’t know what else to share here that I haven’t already written in these pages. I arrived at Manning Park on August 24th, 128 days after beginning in Campo. A dream.
While the official PCT to Manning Park spans approximately 2,669 miles, my trip encompassed just over 2,700. In these 2,700 miles, I captured 11,902 photos, which I ultimately trimmed down to 3,139. Of these more than 3,000 photos, I made public – on my blog and facebook – over 400 of my favorites. My photography is a primary avenue for processing my experiences, so I suppose it makes sense that I kept more than a photo per mile of trail walked. It makes my heart happy to share them, even though I recognize that each image means something different to me than it may mean to you.
A friend recently commented on one of those photos: “How is your life so cool ALL THE TIME?!” The answer is a surprisingly simple one, though not at all easy. We all have dreams. I began chasing mine and in so doing cultivated my passions and discovered new dreams to chase. If I’m lucky, the cycle will never end. It’s not very lucrative, but I do get paid – however little – to go on vacation. Seems I’m always on vacation.
It’s easy to romanticize this lifestyle and these kinds of experiences. Few people realize that the fantasy is far more romantic than the reality. I don’t always feel in the moment when I take a photo the way that I feel when I see it later from the comfort of a sturdy shelter and climate control. It’s really hard to live like this in the same way that it’s really hard to be in love. The idea of being in love makes many of us giddy. We imagine roses and kisses, hand holding and cuddling, support and encouragement. Yes, being in love is those things. It’s also sacrifice, compromise, and pain. When we think about being in love, most of us imagine the pleasantries. In this way, my lifestyle is very much like being in love. From the outside looking in, it’s sunshine and rainbows. From the inside, it’s sunshine and rainbows peppered with stretches of freezing rain and whiteout conditions. More often than not, I’m uncomfortable. But uncomfortable doesn’t have to mean unhappy. I’m psyched on my life, rainbows and thunderheads alike. A little discomfort is part of the experience and a small price to pay for the freedom and sense of accomplishment I feel.