Our thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail taught us many things. Here are five of the most important lessons we learned on the trail.
Senses awaken in nature. After years of living in a city, our minds subconsciously created filters to deal with the contant jumble of sensory information. It was thrilling to remove those mental filters and reawaken our senses in the great outdoors. The crack of a distant twig alerted us to an elk, almost hidden in the forest. We could smell day hikers’ deodorant and laundry detergent from several feet away. Our eyes tracked the subtle movements of a soaring hawk adjusting to shifting air currents. The longer we lived in the wild, the sharper our senses became.
People are good. On the trail, day hikers and trail angels gave us encouragement, kudos, and tasty food. Other thru hikers shared our joy during good times, and cheered us up during harder moments. Crews of volunteers labored to maintain the trail. The people we met in the small towns along the PCT were incredibly friendly and accommodating. Strangers went out of their way to give us rides, find us rooms, and some even offered us their homes for a night. The kindness and generosity we received went beyond anything we could have expected. We saw the fundamental goodness of people during our thru hike.
Hike your own hike. Hikers often tell each other to “Hike your own hike” (HYOH), recognizing a wide variety of backpacking preferences. We knew this phrase before starting the Pacific Crest Trail, but its meaning really sank in with a few hundred miles under our feet. HYOH worked for us in many small ways, such as our hiking pace — we walked slower than most thru hikers so we could take more pictures. But we also realized HYOH applied to larger life choices, such as our decision to continue hiking long trails, rather than immediately returning to desk jobs. To Hike Your Own Hike is to allow yourself to do what works best for you and your passions, and to support others in doing what works for them. The result is greater happiness for everyone.
Fewer possessions is freeing. We found that the less we had, the happier we were. Each possession was not only physical weight to carry, but also mental weight. Carrying just one set of clothes meant no decisions about what to wear in the morning. Instead of carrying chairs, which could break or get left behind, we sat on the ground or on logs. Taking only the food we needed made meal choices simple. We didn’t bring bowls and plates, all of which we’d have to clean. Rather we ate right from our pot. With less items to think and fret about, our minds could relax and be open to all the beauty around us. The simple lifestyle is truly freeing.
Wilderness is home. As the weeks passed, we became more and more comfortable living in the desert, the mountains, and the forest. A primal part of us came to the forefront. Fresh air, clean water, and open space surrounded us and sustained us. As our relationship with the wilderness deepened, we felt more at home there than we did in civilization. We had not expected this, but it turned out to be one of the most powerful aspects of the hike.