So, you’ve decided you are going to hike the PCT! Woo hoo! Congratulations. The next step is announcing it. If you haven’t already, be warned. It may not be the enthusiastic response you are hoping for.
In my 2005, I felt dejected when I announced to the world that I intended to follow my dream and hike the Pacific Crest Trail the following year and my announcement was followed by quite a bit of negativity. In my trail journal, I wrote:
“Through-hiking to me is just the logical next step in my progression as a backpacker and in improving on my self…The reactions that I have gotten from people when I tell them that I am going to hike 2,655+ miles from Mexico to Canada have varied from every side of the spectrum, from jealousy, to utter respect, to contempt. But they have all been emotional. That, to me, was very interesting. Why do some people get angry and feel the need to tell me that I am a fool, and why are others brought to tears? Even total strangers who have no investment in my well-being seem to care very strongly one way or another. I have been analyzing that, and (I think) it brought me to an interesting observation about our society.
We are raised to go to college, get a job, buy lots of stuff (because this is how we will be judged on our “success”), get paired up, procreate, and live a happy, fulfilled life. Except, people aren’t happy…
I think people have been reacting emotionally to my plan to give all of my comforts up and hike for 5 months because it goes against what we have been taught. Those who are angry truly believe that that concept is correct, and therefore, they believe, I am going to ruin my life. And those who react with tears of envy may deep down believe that I just may find my success in this other paradigm.
For me, a successful hike of the PCT would not only be completing the miles, but to come out a better person. I hope it forces me out of that comfort zone and to look at myself. I hope to become someone who is more comfortable in her skin and not afraid to live toward my own personal success, without worrying what that looks like to others. I want to learn more patience for people and see the beauty in them. I want to re-teach myself not to judge. I guess I want to try to get back to that loving, trusting, beautiful state of mind that we are born with–before anyone has told us what to value or how to judge or that we are ugly…”
Since then, I have discovered the source of all the negative backlash can be summarized in one word: fear. People fear those things that they don’t understand–and not very many people understand what long distance hiking entails! The actual risk of serious injury or death while hiking a Natural Scenic Trail during the hiking season is extremely minimal. But, instead of focusing on the logical risks we assume every day (heart disease, car accidents, etc), your family will likely focus on highly unlikely events that could happen to you: lightning strikes, bear and mountain lion attacks, etc. They will next quiz you: Will you carry a gun? What if you break your back? What if you get stopped by a band of skinhead gypsies out looking for a human sacrifice? The questions that seem so legitimate to the questioners may sound ridiculous. Yes, there are risks, just like in everyday life. Freak accidents also happen. Just as they do in everyday life. At least on a long trail like the PCT, there are hundreds of thoughtful, like-minded people out there watching out for each other–all following a narrow tread of soil.
In 2006, there were far fewer people on the trail than you are likely to encounter. We knew who was hiking ahead of us by the tread pattern of their shoes. One day, several hikers noticed that we could no longer see the tracks of a solo hiker named NEMO, a very competent and strong hiker. 2006 had been a difficult year for snow, river crossings, navigation, and wash outs and we were concerned that she may have made a wrong turn. We came up with a plan and covered various routes. But, the next day, NEMO returned to the PCT on her own, describing the beautiful alternate she had taken. Had she not returned at that moment, she probably would have had a 20-person search party of hikers out there to find her!
So, how do you help people overcome their fear? Just like all fears, knowledge is power. The people who really care about you will be willing to learn. In turn, they will become less fearful of your adventure. What worked for me was showing my family and friends documentaries that teach about the PCT, like Tell it on the Mountain. Some family members even read my guidebook, Yogi’s PCT Handbook. The more they knew, the more logical their questions became. Fear turned to excitement for my journey. My grandma became on of my biggest supporters and it brought us even closer!
So, good luck telling your family and continuing on with your planning. The good part is that after your second or third long trail, your family will stop trying to talk you out of it and instead ask you, “Where are you hiking this year?”.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for an upcoming post on “PCT for the Newbie: Planning”.