What attracts people to the PCT is a difficult topic to write about definitively. Everyone has their own reason to hike the PCT and I certainly don't want to overgeneralize why people have decided to hike the PCT. From what I have observed though, there seems to be a common interest or at least the PCT serves people in a similar way. Not to mention there is an overwhelming interest in the PCT among everyone regardless of being a hiker or not. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say they've always wanted to hike the PCT, but now they can't. Life and health can get complicated and I understand why the PCT seems beyond the grasp for many. To reiterate the point though, everyone shares a similar admiration and I think there is an underlying feeling that connects us all. Of course we are in it for the views, the people, and to experience the challenges of the trail, but it seems we are also escaping the hooks of society and media and perhaps submersing ourselves into the wilderness in hopes that we can think a little more clearly. About what? Well that is typically a very personal question and different for every person. I would say more often than not that the point is to think clearly rather than think clearly about something.
The Simple Life
Life is simple out of the trail. Eat, hike, eat, enjoy the view, poop, get water, eat, sleep...Our minds are often dominated by logistics of the trail. How many miles until my next break? When is the next water source? How does my body feel? How much daylight is left to make it to the campsite up ahead. X amount of cliff bars and X percentage of battery life on my phone equals X amount of days until I need to resupply. We are constantly running the numbers of our supply, pace, miles,, and energy. At some point, it gets a little exhausting; the days we manage to just hike and not worry about the logistics tend to be more enjoyable. I wish I could say I think about interesting things most of the time...that happens for only about two to three hours of the day, otherwise I am either thinking of logistics or ways to motivate myself. [Soon I will be writing an interesting blog about motivation on trail, stay tuned]
But really, life is simple enough where we carry everything we need in a pack for several months. I've notice upon returning to town after being on trail for five to ten days that I get confused and have trouble choosing what to do. I mean the first choice is simple at least...go get whatever food and drink I've been craving for the last 150 miles. But after that, I don't really know what to do. I sit there content with a full belly and usually just people watch. Things/society doesn't seem to make as much sense as they did before. I'm not sure how to fully explain that feeling right now, but perhaps I'll develop it a bit and get back to you. Never the less, there I sit and am now both intrigued and timid about turning on my phone...
The Complex Life
I'm sure most hikers get a bombardment of emails, texts, notifications, etc. on their phones upon re-entering town. The bombardment is somewhat of a bittersweet thing, but more importantly, it is a rapid transition from a simple trail life back to a connected and complicated life. I'll be honest, it is nice to focus on something other than the facets of the trail; however, I get blindsided by the demands and expectations of things in my life that have continued after jumping out of cell range. There is always employment related tasks, financial responsibilities, and monthly services that need attention. There are also social interactions that crave my attention, which feels great but is also overwhelming.
I mean, I've "ignored" my life for eight days and upon returning into town, it is like an explosive digital parade of support and love that has been backlogged and I've just returned from listening only to myself. It feels as good as much as it exhausts. That's a reason I like this blog; I can share it with everyone without saying the same thing 30 times individually. There is only so much emotion a person can harbor before we lose grasp of it and become dull. To be clear though, I appreciate the support and would otherwise close my Instagram and Facebook if i didn't. I'm just trying to grab at the complexity of returning to town and how my phone is just a small device filled with insurmountable emotional interaction and the contrast can daze. Sometimes I wonder how we ever get used to such constant stimulation during our normal lives and in what ways do we seek the attention or push it away.
So this relates to an underlying allure of hiking the PCT, I promise. How do we go from building our lives to wanting to do a very long thru-hike in the wilderness...detached from everything we've built? And why does that thought intrigue just about everyone? Well, I'll take a stab at that. We live complicated lives. We have technology that can find us and demand our attention at any instant; alternatively, we can make the same demands on society when we need to. We have weighed and measured the schedules of our lives to the point of "Ultra Managed". I'm not going to lie, I like when my life is in rhythm...it is then when I feel like I am actually able to control the direction of my life. At the same time, if I get one more email notification or automated call, the phone is going off and getting locked in a box.
Social media is also somewhat of an abusive relationship...kinda like chips. The more you have, the more you want but I'm not so sure it's good for you, yet you can't stop. Unlike chips though, social media is tied to our human need to fellowship, except we never really interact with anyone; nobody ever sees your mannerisms or experiences your vibe as you react to things on your phone. I swear, texts are the conduit for misinterpreting each other. Side note, Emojis are a fascinating thing we've created to try and represent our emotional responses digitally yet they only work to a point.
This is life though and we work hard to fulfill our dreams. To do it, we maximize any methods to keep us on track. Cellphones are very convenient that way and can expedite life. At some point, things get a bit crazy and I end up thinking "I thought I wanted this"; I thought that these things that keep pinging me were leading me to the merits of building my life. Apparently, I seem to have ambitions that rarely get exercised. As soon as I start to woodwork, I get a call or an email that pulls me away. It seems strange that we put such a priority on work that we sacrifice important things in our life for it...our health included. I have to make it priority #1 to go for a run for the day, otherwise, it will not happen. This means managing my food and energy at work and pushing pause on everything in my life as soon as I get home so that I will run.
It seems that we just don't have a moment to spare in life and we can blow a lid by a simple email interrupting our rhythm. How can you breathe in that? Well, this is life and it's normal...we just deal with it. Imagine adding kids into the mix! Magical, but sounds demanding of your time and energy. Before we know it, we can't take any time away from work because we've selected a way of living that demands enough money to make ends meet. Building a life just got Ultra Managed and there isn't enough room for an unprecedented email. We like building our lives of course, it just can get exhausting...rarely a moment to slow down and think.
Then there is the PCT; a period of time to escape pings and notifications, a moment to think and not have to divert your attention to the demands of life. It's great to breathe the warm pine air and stare out over vast landscapes knowing your phone won't vibrate. It's kinda like regaining one's freedom from modern life, which is a double edged sword, but generally feels pretty darn good. I have yet to meet someone that doesn't like the idea of individual freedom...to have time once again. In fact, there is enough freedom out in the wilderness that it can be dangerous. There is generally a concern for safety on the trail because you can actually run into serious trouble. I think that's part of what makes it great and part of the allure; there's no sense of security, that's how much room you have to breathe. Hiking the PCT feels like relaxing your tense muscles and the knot in your back finally releases, yet the entire experience is invigorating. What a rush and recharge! When talking about the PCT with folks, I think people immediately sense that release and just love the idea of a thru-hike.
"I've always liked the time before dawn because there's no one around to remind me who I'm supposed to be so it's easier to remember who I am."
Before Dawn - Brian Andreas
But just as much as it feels good to consider, there are things in our lives that we are afraid to leave and afraid to lose. For those that choose to hike the PCT, the more we fear to lose, the more we carry social weight along our journey. But for five to ten days, we have the trees and moon to ourselves to simply think clearly. And when we return to town, our lives outside from the trail resurface and perhaps we know a little bit more about what is precious in our lives.