Reflections from a Woman Who Walked

Anna Dearybury was born and raised in South Carolina, where she grew up enjoying nature walks with her family. However, for the majority of her adult life, she has called the West Coast home. She loves the West for how it invites adventure and embraces wanderers. It is only natural she would want to experience it on foot. Anna’s Pacific Crest Trail hike in 2023 was a personal love letter to a place that has given her so much. The PCT created space to reflect on the life she wants to live and the relationships she values. She is filled with gratitude for the PCT and the people who make it possible.

The following are a series of vignette reflections from Anna’s time on trail in 2023:

Anna in the desert


On Beauty

At mile 0, my backpack is as light as I can get it. I have considered its contents carefully. Every item I’ve packed is necessary.

At mile 369, I throw away my mascara and razor. Out here, I feel beautiful without them.


On Cycles

I groan and sit up in my tent, grasping my cramping side. Today, I’m unprepared for this monthly dance.

I pack my gear and walk north. Two hikers pass, both women, and I timidly make my ask. “No, I’m really sorry,” they say, pity in their eyes.

A few hours later, two specs over a mountain pass grow larger, and I look for signs of womanliness. Long hair. Pink shirt. The third time’s the charm.

“Do you have a tampon?” I plead when our paths finally cross. The woman shakes her head no.

Her male hiking companion, whom I had totally ignored, chimes in. “I do!” he responds cheerfully, flinging off his pack and rummaging through his enormous first aid kit. “I use them for nosebleeds. Handy little things,” he explains. “How many do you need?”

Anna in the Sierra


On Choices

For the first time in days, I have cell reception. My sister is on the other end of the line, and I’m pacing a ten-foot-long piece of trail so I don’t lose my single bar of service. The July heat bakes my arms through my long-sleeved shirt as I hold the phone to my salty, sunscreen-slathered face.

“The funeral is Friday,” she says. “If I were you, I would try to come,” she adds.

“I’m standing on a ridgeline in Northern California. I can’t get to Georgia in time,” I tell her, perhaps too matter-of-factly.

Back in April, before I started the PCT, I took a trip to say my final goodbye to him while he was living. I had peace with that. But now, I feel guilty. I hear my sister’s encouragement to leave the trail as an indictment against my priorities.

The conversation ignites into an argument, then spreads like wildfire to adjacent issues. We are children again in adult bodies, plastic swords drawn.

“Who goes on a four-month-long backpacking trip when they’re 34, anyway?” she stabs, piercing the corner of my heart that sometimes longs for the best reasons many people my age have to stay home.

“It’s a six-month-long backpacking trip, not four. And at least I’m doing something fun with my life,” I jab back defensively, swiping at her white picket fence.

I’m not sure who hung up first. We made up a few days later.

Anna in Northern California


On Trail Magic

Mile 11 on night one of the PCT is crowded, and I’m unsure how close I can pitch my tent to someone else without being rude.

“Hi, I’m Anna. Do you mind if I camp here? I don’t snore.”

“Sure, go ahead. I’m Leonie.”

Leonie is from Germany: the Bavarian Alps. Her English is excellent, and her animated nature gives her speech a musical effect. She speaks in song.

Over the next ten days or so, I learn that Leonie graduated from medical school and is hiking the PCT before starting residency. She ties the best camping knots I’ve seen and says it’s a lot like doing stitches. Together, we transition into PCT trail life: first swimming hole, first windstorm, first water cache, first slice of town pizza.

But around mile 150, at Paradise Valley Cafe, Leonie fearlessly marches ahead through Mount San Jacinto despite an oncoming storm. I hitch into Idyllwild to wait for the weather to pass and buy warmer clothes. By the time I return to Paradise Valley Cafe to continue north, Leonie is long gone.

For the next month, I scan the trail registers for Leonie’s name and watch in slow motion as her narrow lead grows wider. At Cajon Pass, she is two days ahead. At Walker Pass, she is four. At some point, I let go of my hope of hiking with her again.

From the beginning, the PCT extended me frequent invitations to practice a spiritual exercise of detachment—from things, from outcomes, and most especially, from people. “Happy trails,” I learned to say casually as the most interesting people I would ever meet walked out of my life forever down the trail. I imagined that Leonie’s “happy trails” would include a thriving medical career and a nice life with her boyfriend back in Germany.

6 months have gone by, and I’m still walking. It’s October and I’m a few miles from Rainy Pass in far northern Washington, nearing the end of the trail. I’m limping along at less than 2 mph, as I have for the last 300 miles. My feet are in agony, but with only 60 miles until Canada, I can make it. Barring an attack from one of the ten remaining grizzly bears in the North Cascades, I’m going to reach the northern terminus of the PCT.

I have accepted that I’ll finish the PCT just as I’ve hiked most of it—alone. No trail family. No celebration. I’ll tag the border, quietly congratulate myself, and go home. I let myself wonder what it would be like to hike this trail with someone I love—maybe my niece, Elliott, when she finishes high school. I’m already planning for next time.

Suddenly, I hear something strange. I pause to listen. Was that a bird?

As I get closer, I realize I’m hearing a person. The voice is melodic and energetic. “It can’t be a PCT hiker,” I say to myself. “We are too tired by now to make sparkly sounds like that.”

I round a bend in the trail, and there she is, in her black hiking shirt and brown braids.

It’s Leonie.

My heart leaps, and I scream her name. She stands up, turns toward me, and breaks out in a sprint in my direction. I drop my pack and hobble toward her as fast as I can, feeling like Shadow in the final reunion scene of Homeward Bound. We collide in a sweaty, smelly embrace in a meadow surrounded by vividly orange larch trees. It’s a Hollywood moment.

I tearfully ask if I can stay with her for the next few days and finish the trail with her. She says absolutely. I know she means it.

I am radiant in my terminus picture, largely because I am there with Leonie. I ended my journey with a friend — a bright, adventurous, vibrantly alive woman. The PCT is full of us.

Anna at the Northern Terminus

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.