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

Part two 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. 

Wils “Carrot” Haffner on living life

Last March, I started. I had little planning, no training, two bad knees, and my only backpacking experience was a 12-mile trip over a decade ago. There was little chance that I would finish. Somehow, I put one foot in front of the other and found myself in Canada.

Jack London said, “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

The PCT was a life-consuming journey of camaraderie and perseverance, of hopelessness and pain, and immense triumph and victory. Being on the trail is where I feel the most human. My time in this world is limited.

Katharina “CEO” Schumacher on her broken heart

This was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had. It was the easiest and hardest thing I have ever done. The PCT is incomparable, invaluable, and simply amazing. The trail broke my heart forever, but in the best possible way.

Joseph “Hot Mom” Eagar’s transformational experience

Last year, I was coming out of the worst depression I had ever had. The PCT was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I needed change and I couldn’t think of anything better than a five-month hike.

Soon, I felt the most confident in myself I had ever been. I knew the PCT was exactly where I needed to be. The people, wildlife, views, and nights in camp were exactly what I needed. I met new lifelong friends. The experience forever changed my perspective.

Most of all, I know exactly who I am now. I won’t quit when things get hard, because trust me, things got hard on the trail. I will forever be grateful for this experience and what it has taught me.

Bob “Bob, of The Oregon Boys” Welch cost and benefit analysis

Would I have done the PCT if I knew it would cost:

  • One hundred and forty-eight days away from home?
  • Thirty-two travel days, just getting to and from that trail, requiring 17,701 miles of going and coming?
  • Some 180 miles of extraneous hiking miles needed to get to and from trailheads; to follow workarounds because of fire closures; to get to off-trail water and food; and to return to points that we overshot?
  • Military diet lunches consisting of half a cup of tuna and dry toast?
  • An estimated $17,000 for food, equipment, travel, and the like?
  • Pain, blisters, mosquitoes, monotony, chafing, and more than 200 squats over cat holes?

The idealistic me would argue yes, but the realistic me? I doubt it. But to be fair, if you ask that question, you must also ask another: Would I have said “no” if I had known, back then, all that I would have missed?

  • The privilege of spending 148 days in some of the most beautiful backcountry on earth?
  • The sense, from time to time, of walking on top of the world?
  • The grace of the cook in Belden who opened the kitchen after they’d closed, just so we could have chili cheese fries?
  • The honor of New Hampshire Don sharing about the loss of his son?
  • The hospitality of the woman at Packer Lake Lodge?
  • The pride of watching my friend Geoff transition from sluggard to PCT conqueror?
  • The delight of sitting in our backyard with five young hikers, including Eagle Eye, who, when Sally asked if they wanted more of some breakfast item, always eagerly said, “Yes, please!”
  • The bonding with a brother-in-law who not only saved my life but who taught me so much?

If I’d known what I would have missed, no way would I have passed up the trip. In fact, I now can’t imagine not having hiked the trail.

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.