After big adventures – in this case a through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail – it’s always good to take time and reflect back on the experience and draw something out of it that would help you not only in your future adventures but could also be useful in your ‘normal’ life.
It was definitely a very long adventure for us: besides walking the entire PCT we also had a 4 month Expedition Leader Course and a month in Mexico prior to that, which means that it has been 11 months since we left our previous lives. It is still a bit difficult to comprehend that we have been homeless, unemployed and on the road for almost a year! A year filled with challenge after challenge, every next one being greater than the previous. Can you even imagine yourself doing that?
Remembering the time before this trip still gets me all excited; the nerve-tickling unknown that laid ahead. And there were plenty of unknowns and spontaneous decisions that we had to take or make as the trip unfolded, too. Now looking back at it, I think: “Wow, we managed, we survived and even thrived as human beings.”
But I have to be honest: it was not just the two of us on this journey. I don’t know whether it was luck, good karma or just a pure coincidence but I definitely felt like there was something beyond just us. And “it” kept helping us: the fact that we met so many good people everywhere we went. Somehow it just always worked out and a few times it was just like in a movie scenario, things happened as we were thinking about giving up on them. Not to put it all on some boogie-man, a more rational explanation might have something to do with us not walking on the regular beaten path; the things that we did and the places that we went to were kind of extraordinary and therefore the people we met were extraordinarily kind, helpful, welcoming and simply good humans.
Usually when you just travel to cities and do all the touristy things with everyone else in the crowd you simply don’t meet those kind of people. Was that a surprise that people were better than expected? A little bit, yes. Many things nowadays are shown and told by the media as just fear mongering; bad news sell better when in reality most of it is not the truth. Our faith in humanity was restored multiple times during the trip. We, people, are actually good, but not all of us realize that because it takes time and an extraordinary experience to learn and understand. Therefore going on a journey like this will not only change your view of life – it will change your life.
Despite not being alone on this journey you actually spend an incredible amount of time on your own, just hiking your own hike and thinking your own thoughts. In the beginning of the trail we hiked mostly together and the gap between us was never more than a minute. As we got more and more comfortable with the trail and with ourselves just being in the wild, the gap between us would grow as we would listen more and more to our bodies and hike at a comfortable speed, which of course was different for each of us. Don’t get me wrong: we still camped and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together. It’s just that during the day while we hiked we would more often hike separately – simply because of the different speeds that our bodies felt comfortable hiking at. And we really enjoyed it this way as we could hike our own hike during the day and then still have fun together whenever we took a break.
Spending so much time with yourself and being in your own mind really allows you to think through every aspect of your life, whether it’s the past, the present or the future. And by ‘so much time’ I mean almost the whole day: an average of 8 hours of generating and listening to your own thoughts. After a few months you will have thought through everything five times; that’s when I felt like my mind had settled. It was sort of like finally finding peace within my mind: I had thought of everything and played it out in my mind. Now I felt comfortably relaxed and at ease. That’s when you become more present – it’s like your mind has emptied and is now absorbing the surroundings; you are right then and there, you are present.
Nature and being in the nature is such a big part of us and who we really are. Just a hundred years ago people still lived in balance with nature, growing their own food and spending their days outside. But the modern era has come upon us so rapidly that we are totally thrown out of balance – we haven’t actually had time to adapt to all these changes around us. And you might think that one’s lifetime is plenty of time to adapt to anything but from the evolution’s point of view it takes thousands of years to adapt to even small changes in environment. We have changed our environment so drastically and without giving ourselves any time to adapt. Even if you shrug it off as nonsense, just look up the statistics of how many people have health problems these days: a hundred or even fifty years ago those problems didn’t even exist. All I am saying is: just be true to yourself, look around, think and try to understand that in nature, just as in the laws of physics, balance is always the key.
Nature is where we have been forged; it’s part of us and we are still a part of it;we just have to open our minds and find a way to reconnect with it and spending time in nature is definitely an amazing way to do it. At some point you realize that all the modern human problems don’t matter at all as they are mostly just man-made and self-induced. But the nature is real: it’s been there since the beginning of time and it will remain long after we are gone. So it’s all about living your life, being yourself and doing what’s truly important and matters to you. Trying to see the big picture of life, not the picture on the internet; but you can only see it when you reconnect yourself with yourself, your core values. It is in our human nature to be in the nature.
It is not always easy: hiking for 2652 consecutive miles with a heavy backpack takes a toll on your body one way or another. For some it’s more mental, for some physical, for some it’s both. Being pushed mentally and physically every day is a challenge and a challenge of that magnitude will make you look for strenghts within you in places you had never visited. When you find those strengths it makes you a stronger person; you have been where noone else has. But you have got to push trough those lows to get to those highs and for me personally it’s about not giving up, focusing on the goal and taking one step at a time. And it’s when you have to be really honest with yourself and ask yourself a question: Did I give everything I could to reach my goal? And if I can honestly say that I did everything, I gave a 110% but still didn’t reach the goal, I would be totally fine with that as I would know that the goal was perhaps greater than me. But if I would look back and think that I didn’t reach my goal because I only gave 90% I would not be able to swallow the regret and it would haunt me. On the trail I would sometimes say: Go hard or go home. That kept me motivated as going home would mean giving up, but giving up is not an option. Never give up.
At the end of the day it’s about the journey and not the destination or the goal. We were frankly unlucky that we didn’t get to see the official finish line because it was closed due to wildfires, but we still did walk the whole way, we did the journey, we reached the same boundary, the Canadian border just 15 miles west of the actual PCT endpoint. But, you know, in the end it really didn’t matter – the journey was the biggest reward we could possibly ask for.
To wrap it up I would say don’t listen to what others tell you, listen to your gut or heart, whichever you prefer, and just go out there and explore. Go on the journey or adventure of your lifetime; be in the nature and believe me: the experience you will gain along the way will be worth more than any thing; it will be priceless.