To thru-hike, or not to thru hike, that seems to be an underlying question to an avid backpackers goals. I myself have dreamed of the glory and achievement of completing a 2600 mile, long distance trail called the Pacific Crest Trail. The idea of hiking through the desert lands of the Mojave to the snow capped peaks of the North Cascades seems like a wild adventure that any hiker would try their hand at. Always on the move, getting in touch with nature, finding like-minded individuals on trail to build long lasting relationships with… this nomadic minimalism speaks to me and tens of thousands of other people across the world on an evolutionary and spiritual level. So, why the big question? Why not try living on the land through such a vast and expanding wildernesses, so full of mystery and ever-changing landscapes that even our dreams cannot capture? Because you might get sick of it.
Its no secret that I have not completed or attempted a long distance through hike. Like many, I have been forced to hike small chunks of these trails every year due to expenses and schedule related conflicts. But I have put on my miles. Being that I live in Oregon, I am fortunate to live within a hour and a half from three great trail heads of the PCT, and am proud to say that I have hiked many of Oregon’s sections multiple times. During my early travels, though my heart longed for California’s Sierra Nevada’s, I made due with what time, gear, and money I had, and started hiking the trails closest to me. Along the way I got to meet many great people that had been hiking since mid-April from the border of Mexico, and like an over excited puppy, would ask these great travelers many questions about their experience. Most, as I gathered, could not wait for it to be over.
The general lack of motivating words were not necessarily heartbreaking, but it made me think long and hard about the reality of the thru hiker. I had put countless hours into preparing for my much shorter hikes, watching YouTube compilations, reading maps, researching water sources, and where I would want to sleep every night. With that level of enthusiasm emanating from my very soul, it was hard to comprehend that anyone would ever want such an adventure to end. So as I hiked my route that I had planned out for myself, I began to wonder why I was in such an uplifting and energetic mood, versus the weary hiker that had a mere 600 miles to go until completion of (in my eyes) the greatest adventure of a lifetime.
I began to ask thru hikers more piercing questions to their growing disdain for the trail life. Many said that they were “just done with hiking.” Some had events that needed their attention back home, such as weddings, graduations, or in one guys case, and ultra marathon. That got me thinking about my situation. I was able to hold down a job, pay my bills, keep my house and all my furniture, attend certain family events and gatherings, and still throw down 140+ miles of wilderness travel for the summer. All this without feeling stressed about time, money, or missing a loved one back home. Or a marathon. Once I effectively nailed down certain pros and cons about thru hiking, the once highly romanticized vision of the thru hike began to fade from my mind. I became a believer of the section hike.
A huge fear of mine is that someday I may not love something that I once did. The idea that the light that drives my artistic intuition, map reading, and explorers mind may fade scares the crap out of me. So why would I ever risk that on something so time consuming and expensive as a thru hike? The thin and worn faces of these once excited and energetic explorers should be enough for me to rethink a few things and learn from their experience. I do not want to ever think about a hike as a waste of time. I do not ever want to take the wilderness around me for granted. I do not want to get sick of my sweet backpacking gear/setup. Instead, I want to feel alive. I want to know where the water is. I want to plan out and know how many miles I have each day and sleep under a towering mountain, or on a ledge overlooking the valley below. I want to know where I am going and what kind of beauty to look for as I get there.
Too many thru hikers seem to be “so done” with thru hiking by the time that they get to Oregon, that my state gets a bad rap for what it brings to the PCT table. All too often do I hear of the “flashing of Oregon” where hikers can feasibly fast-hike through my lovely state in a few short weeks, effectively missing the intricate details that I hold true to my heart. I cannot believe that someone would purposefully miss the miles upon miles of volcanic rock with the long dead and decaying volcanoes looming nearby. Or the dense old growth forests with massive natural lakes peppered throughout each valley you traverse. Each day reveals a new climate, it seems, with expansive habitats and unique wildlife that never ceases to amaze me. To be so sick of the nomadic way of hiking life that these natural wonders are purposefully avoided, is again, nothing short of baffling.
So why put yourself through the thru hike torment? Is the merit of completing such a distance worth the loss of your passions? I say no. I am an advocate for the section hike because I wish to continue my love for the outdoors without sacrificing much in my city or family life. For all of my experience and reasons listed above, I will continue my quest to see all that I can in short bursts, and recommend that people do the same thing. I understand that some people are very much cut out for the thru hiking lifestyle, and that no amount of seclusion or time away from civilization will sway their love for the outdoors. I find that this is a very small percentage of backpackers, and if finding that out is a part of your adventure, then my hats off to you. You’ll probably know if you are up for the challenge, but just to be sure, I recommend you do a section hike and discover for yourself if you are cut out for the thru hike. Either way, have fun and try to enjoy the hell out of it, because you’ll never know when you’ve visited somewhere for the last time.