PCT alumni on the importance of the trail, part 1/2

Part one of two.

That the trail is transformative almost doesn’t need to be said. But in thousands of stories, you shout it. As we close out the year, we’re reflecting on some of the stories that you’ve sent us this year. Your stories come to us in floods. Our staff pass them around, cry, laugh, cherish them and walk forward more motivated than ever to do best by the PCT. Here, people who have finished the whole trail this year write about what the trail means to them. In this season of giving, we are so immensely grateful for all of your support. Giving to the trail is essential to this transformative landscape. Long live long trails. Thank you. 

Rafael “El Santo” Martinez-Zepeda’s dedication to mom

I dedicated these many miles to my mother. She has been my support team, coach, cheerleader in life and on this journey.

I was born in El Salvador during the civil war. My mother, fearing persecution for being an educated woman, left me as an infant never knowing if she will see me again. She walked across 2700+ miles through war torn El Salvador, then Guatemala, and finally the long stretch through Mexico to reach the US. She faced many dangers both natural and human. In the US as a foreigner, she encountered prejudice and hatred, but she also found kindness and generosity. Six years later, she had saved enough money to send for me by plane. We were reunited. As I grew up, she would tell stories of her journey, her struggle, and the kindness she found. I was in awe of everything she went through. All that she did for me. She also taught me kindness through her actions. Always being a generous and caring person towards everyone. I’ve always felt I needed to do something in her honor.

I found the PCT while scrolling through YouTube and was reminded of my mother and her stories. I felt a connection to the trail and its community. I played around with the idea, placed it on the shelf as a “someday” dream and forgot about it. In October 2021, I was reminded again of the PCT. I had never gone backpacking before. I knew nothing and had no idea of what I was getting myself into. So, I did want any responsible young adult would do, I dove headfirst into the rabbit hole. I had to find out where it started, ended and all its curves and stretches. I needed to hike this trail. That November, I didn’t get a long-distance permit. This really shook me. It made me think hard about why I’m doing this. I remembered my mother and what she went through for me. I had to do this. I finally secured a permit in January 2022. This is when it became real. The last month before the start date felt like a mad dash. With my mother’s continued support, I got it all done. I quit my job of 12 years, bought all my gear, and learned as much as I could along the way.

On the trail I struggled as a brand-new backpacker. The first months were difficult. With every difficulty came a chance to learn. With every lesson, I grew stronger and persevered. I learned an unimaginable amount about myself and saw the world in a new light. It was like being born again while having the memories of a past life. I was doing this to honor my mother but along the way I learned I also needed it for myself. I laughed with strangers. Gave kindness generously and was given kindness unconditionally. I found fortitude in the struggle and where it comes from within me. I witnessed true beauty in the quiet places of the woods, on the mountain tops, lakes, and streams. I lived in the moment. I fell in love with the wild and found peace within myself. Only once before, when I was reunited with my mother, had I experienced this happiness. Thank you, Trail, for these gifts. You will forever be unforgettable.

Scott “Twist” McDowell’s drive home

It all went by so fast, but it also felt like it was the only life we knew. Driving home, it’s overwhelming to think of the open-ended life ahead, where we don’t have to plan the logistics for next week’s milestones. Will we succumb to routine, or will we wander for a while? Thank you PCT for this reset, this realization that the emails and the work drama don’t matter. Life, like the trek, will fly by and each moment is to be appreciated.

Sandy “Slo Mo” Van Soye on hiking in mid-life

My husband and I hiked the trail over the past seven years. It has been such a big part of and has such a big impact on our lives. The PCT has been the impetus to hike and explore other countries. The shared crisis of dealing with the ever-changing trail also kept our relationship strong.

Looking back to those early PCT days as a mid-50s female, I can see how much I have grown in my abilities and in my mental toughness. The trail changed me as a person. I’m more physically fit and more confident.

I will be forever thankful for all the great memories and the lasting legacy that the PCT has given both of us.

Author: PCTA Staff

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians, and for all the values provided by wild and scenic lands.