Pacific Crest Trail Life Lessons

I chose to hike the PCT for several reasons in which I won’t go into detail. I suppose I was looking to find myself in some way, as are most people.

Did I accomplish what I set out to? Absolutely not. The PCT left me more confused about what I wanted in life than before I started. Actually, it left me a bit depressed for several months (post trail blues). Although the PCT didn’t solve any of life’s problems, nor did it answer any of my “what am I suppose to do with my life” questions, it did teach me some of the most valuable lessons in life.

1. Accepting that you prefer solitude will set you free.

For hundreds of miles, I tried to hike with other people. I tried to hike with one other person, with two other people, with five other people… Each time, I felt exhausted from the social interactions, ended up putting others before my needs (per usual) and worried about the well being of others more than what I wanted. Each time, I made excuses to part ways from others, finding peace and serenity in the company of myself. However, each time I ran into a group, I would envy the connection they had with each other and end up trying to force myself to hike with others… once again. My trail friends actually gave me a hard time about how many hiking partners and groups that I attempted to hike with. “This is a record for you, isn’t it Bumblebee?”

It was a continuous cycle until I realized something; it’s okay to want to be alone. Heck, most people aren’t comfortable enough to be alone all of the time, or need other people for their own sanity. I was the opposite. I needed to be alone. I loved to be alone. So, I accepted that I was a lone wolf and that’s when I began to really take in the journey. I still enjoyed the company of others from time to time, especially in town, but I rarely got lonely, and still rarely get lonely in my solitude. After accepting who I was, I didn’t long to be part of a group anymore. I also found it great to hike alone because I had several groups of friends, instead of just one. I met more people and really got to know more people than I did when I was with a group.

I have always enjoyed being alone more than I do with others. I’ve taken road trips alone, traveled alone, gone to movies alone, gone to eat alone, hiked alone, camped alone, explored France and Switzerland alone, and many more adventures… alone. In all my life adventures in which I chose to do alone, I never felt lonely. I had my camera, which is how I express myself and my love for God’s creations. I now embrace this quality.

Did you know, some of the cutest and most beautiful animals live a life of solitude: red pandas, polar bears, platypuses, leopards, orangutans, and koalas, just to name a few. I suppose I am amongst these beautiful animals in my lifestyle choices and it is okay if you are too!

2. The best memories are made outside of your comfort zone.

The majority of the Pacific Crest Trail was well beyond the limits of my comfort zone.

As I previously stated, I do love to be alone more than I do with groups. In fact, interacting with groups and people for long periods of time, does push me beyond my level of comfort. However, the PCT taught me that making memories with other people is definitely more fun than memories made alone. It’s quite possible that it wasn’t until after I accepted that I love being alone and that’s okay, that I was truly able to enjoy the company of others when I was around it, despite being outside of my comfort zone.

Laughing with other people, talking with other people, experiencing fear and euphoria with others is much more memorable than doing it alone. I don’t laugh too much when I am alone (unless I am laughing at something silly I did) nor did I have anyone to talk out the trauma of crossing a dangerous stream, trekking endless hours through an exhausting snow field, or the scary wild animal encounters. The memories I made with other people on the trial, are the memories that I remember the most.

Although I feel more at peace and enjoy the beauty that surrounds me more, when I am alone, I had amazing times with others, outside of my comfort zone.

The Sierra section of the trail pushed me well beyond my comfort zone. 300 miles of snow, water crossings, cold temperatures and always being wet; emotions and physical pain that I had never experienced. After a month of snow travel, I gained confidence I never knew I had and started having fun in the snow. Snow skiing down a mountain pass on my shoes became easy and fun. Glisading became second nature. I laughed harder than I have ever laughed and cried harder than I have ever cried, which contributed to making the best memories on the trail.

This 140 day journey exceeded all physical, mental, social and emotional limits I previously had. Although I was way beyond all of my comfort zones, to date, this was also the most memorable time of my life. So, live! Live outside of your comfort zone!

3. Despite the battle scars that may come along with it, you can accomplish anything when you have faith and believe in yourself.

As you know, I quit after entering the Sierra Nevada section.  days of snow, ice and cold nights. I quit because I doubted myself. I didn’t think I was capable. 10 days after I quit, I returned. The difference was, I believed I could do it… and so I did.

I climbed snow and ice covered mountain passes with an ice axe and crampons, despite my fear of heights. With every step I said, “You can do this. God said fear not”.

I crossed white water rivers and streams, in which the current almost claimed me, as it did two other PCT hikers last year. With each move of my trekking pole, with each tiny step I took, I said, “He believes in you, I know you can do this”.

I took 7,042,372 steps in 140 days. This includes all the extra miles of walking into town and around town. If you take the average amount of steps per mile (2,000) by the number of steps I took in 140 days, I walked over 3,500 miles. I think that’s pushing it a little, but I do believe I walked over 3,000 miles in those days. My point is, there were days I wanted to stop walking. There were days I wanted to go back home. There were days where my feet were so raw that I didn’t think I could go any farther. But I did. I told myself I could and I did.

Not a lot of people thought I was capable… or better phrasing, they didn’t think I would stick to it. I believed I could, despite what everyone else thought, even my parents!

Don’t get me wrong, my parents supported me 100 percent, bragged about me, followed my journey, sent all of my packages, and loved me no matter the outcome, but back in indiana, people don’t walk 2650 continuous miles, nor do many people know anyone who has. So, I completely understand where they were coming from, and I probably would have thought the same thing.

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So despite the hospitalization related to the Giardia episode, in which I lost 14lbs, the undiagnosed broken wrist…

The fight I had with a fallen tree, which resulted in a gash in my leg that left a large battle scar…

The fluid in my knee from numerous post-holing incidents and various falls (which were usually the result of me running to try to get to food)….

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The painful, itchy blisters on my hands, that I still can’t explain…

A staph infection in my shoulder, and countless other scars I obtained from small battles with Mother Nature, I did it. I walked from Mexico to Canada! I believed in God and myself, and with that, you sure can accomplish anything.

4. Don’t take any time on the PCT for granted.

There were often times I would wish I was finished with the PCT. There were times when I thought the trail life wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I was off the trail that I realized how wrong I was.

So, maybe the PCT didn’t answer the questions in which I thought it would. And maybe I didn’t have my life figured out the way I thought I would after having finished the trail, but the PCT did teach me more about myself than I knew before, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the outdoors and adventure.

 

Savor every mile!

5. There are good, selfless people in this world.

Over the years, I’ve sadly realized that the majority of this world we live in, is quite jaded. Take the hospital system for instance. I have been a nurse for 6 years. I used to have such high hopes of changing the system, making a difference and protecting my patient from all harm. Slowly, the hospital system has taught me that their sole purpose is to make money. If this means buying the cheapest positioning aids, the cheaper implant that has a incidence of patient harm, understaffing, and so on, they will do it to save money to make more money. Businesses, such as Alamo rental car in Switzerland, will falsely claim damages of $900 and take advantage of you. People lie, cheat, steal, and will use you. Over time, some of us don’t trust others, while others continue to trust and believe in humans. I suppose I was at the point of not trusting anyone before I did the PCT.

The PCT showed me that there are still really good people in this world. Complete strangers who will let you stay with them, feed you, let you shower and do laundry in their home. Complete strangers who will pick you up on your birthday, bring you to their home, make you a birthday breakfast and hang up birthday banners for you. Strangers who will buy your groceries for you, give you rides across town, and who bring back your love and hope for humans.

The PCT showed me that others who are crazy enough to hike 2,650 miles, will do anything for you, without expecting anything in return. They will give you their last liter of water if you ran out. They will give you food, if you didn’t pack out enough. They will help you cross raging rivers. They will keep you warm in cold weather. They will give you sunglasses when the raging river stole yours. They will give you a hat when you left yours at your last camp site. These people are the most selfless, caring, and giving people I have ever met.

The PCT taught me I can still have hope in others and in this beautiful world.

6. The PCT is not a cure. 

As some of you know, I have post traumatic stress disorder from my experiences in the military. When I was hiking, every day, my symptoms went away. Maybe it was the mental exhaustion that kept the night mares away. Maybe the beauty that surrounded me, the challenge of the climbs, the pain, or the sense of accomplishment that distracted me from the anxiety associated with PTSD. I can’t explain it, but I thought I was cured.

Soon after my hike came to an end, my symptoms came back. I was devastated. I started planning another thru-hike; I felt like I needed that feeling again. I didn’t want to accept that I couldn’t be cured. The PCT taught me that I can’t be cured by the trail life; I needed to learn that and I needed to face my PTSD.

I am sorry to break it to you, but the PCT will not cure you. It will teach you about yourself, but facing your pain and heartbreak, working through it, and getting support, is the only way to manage your past trauma.

7. You need adventure in your life. 

I knew that another thru-hike was not in my best interest. After several months of the post trail blues, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to mentally handle the conclusion of another thru-hike. However, the PCT taught me that i still needed adventure in my life.

Instead of taking 6 months off and trying to adjust back into society, I decided that smaller adventures would be the healthiest way to get my adventure fix in. Fortunately, my career as a travel nurse, gives me the opportunity to take time off every couple of months for new adventures. In June, I took 3 weeks off to hike Tour du Mont Blanc and in a couple weeks, I will be hiking to Everest Base Camp. Coming back to this mundane life is hardly an adjustment after shorter adventures. As you can see, I am still fitting adventure in, and you should as well.

Adventure makes us whole. Adventure allows us to open our eyes to new possibilities. It makes us to feel alive. Don’t ever give up adventure; always make time!

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As you can see, the PCT impacted my life in ways I never imagined. A big shout out to the Pacific Crest Trail Association for all the work they have done and will continue to do. Please continue to support the PCTA so future generations, (or you!) can experience this life changing adventure! Just click on the link below!

https://www.pcta.org/donate/#donate

Thank you to all those that supported and followed my journey, helped me out in a time of need, said encouraging words and got me through my hike from a far. You all made a difference. Please continue to follow along for all my future adventures.

11 thoughts on “Pacific Crest Trail Life Lessons

  1. Love your blog and your beautiful photos – the very last one from this post (with awesome clouds) is my Wallpaper since you publish it last year. Thank you for sharing

    And my personal thanks for help me ditch my heavy DSRL camera and switch to smartphone – it was one of your old posts which inspired me : )))

    greetings from Europe

    Like

  2. Well done and well said! I am also a nurse and find it increasingly difficult to care for my patients in a country where healthcare is a money making business. Time on trail has gone a long ways to restore my faith in humanity.

    Like

  3. Thank you so much for sharing, validating and empowering others through your amazing experiences and reflections. So much learning for yourself and others too. Your photos are stunningly beautiful and so are your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Nurse Dani! It’s Saunter from Saunter’s Trail Magic mile 680.88. (not Saunder lol).
    Love the blog, it was wonderful to meet you and I’m glad your adventure was Awesome. I did the trail again this year, apparently there are always more lessons to be learned! Saunter

    Liked by 1 person

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