You're Gonna What?!

Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The entire thing. Starting this July. 

Other than our closest friends, most people who hear that we're about to take 4.5 months off from our regular lives to embark on a thru-hike of the PCT have a similar response. After the initial shock comes the barrage of questions, which break down into just a few broad categories. There are the hiking questions, the work questions, the home questions, the personal life questions (these last three could be lumped together under "adulting"), and the more existential questions. This kind of journey is a daunting endeavor, especially when taken mid-career instead of in the student years or during retirement. As a result, we have considered all of these questions inside and out. In case you're thinking about doing something like this yourself, or you're just interested in our own process, we'll go through it here.

Pacific Crest Trail overview map

The hiking questions are the easiest, because the answers are mostly data-driven. It's simple to answer questions like: How long is the trail? How long will it take? & Where will you start? (~2600 miles, ~4.5 months, the Canadian border). Those who have some familiarity with the trail wonder why we are going southbound instead of northbound (the typical start time of July fits our lives better, fewer people go this direction, and we'll hit each region in its most beautiful time of year). Others wonder where we'll sleep (generally camping, though sometimes in motels or with friends who live near the trail), how often we'll shower (usually every 1-2 weeks), how much our backpacks will weigh (it depends on what we choose to bring), and how we will get our food (primarily by mailing resupply boxes to ourselves along the trail). The specific questions go on & on, but rest assured that there is no need to re-invent the wheel - people have thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail since the 1970s, and there are many resources available to help plan such a trip. While there are numerous points with multiple options to consider, we just have to select what makes the most sense for us and will no doubt find that somebody else has experience to share.

The "adulting" questions are somewhat more difficult. Most people immediately ask how we will get so much time off from work. Both of us work full-time in careers that we love, and are each employed by small businesses where our absences for this long of a period will be keenly felt by coworkers, clients, and employers alike. Neither of us wanted to quit our jobs (as so many PCT hikers do), though it would be an overstatement to say that we have been "allowed" this time off. In reality, 4.5 months is similar to the length of time that many people take away from work in mid-career for family or other personal concerns. It is only our reason for leave that is somewhat less orthodox. In any case, we are hopeful that we can both return to our current jobs after the PCT. The follow-up question (for those who feel comfortable asking) is how we can afford to be away for so long with no earned income. Fortunately the hiking part of our Pacific Crest Trail journey is not terribly expensive. We have been backpacking together for years and already own nearly all of the gear we will take on the PCT. Food costs money, but we have to eat wherever we are and will probably spend less eating on-trail than we would on groceries & dining out for the same period at home. The required permits are free, or very inexpensive. We'll spend some money on meals, laundry, & showers in town, some on replacement gear (especially shoes), and some on transportation getting to and from the PCT. The most significant cost of our journey will be covering all of our fixed expenses while we are gone, along with the "opportunity cost" of not earning income during this period of time. The SF Bay Area is an expensive place to live and many bills (mortgage, various insurances, utilities) do not disappear just because you aren't at home. The short answer to this question is that hiking the PCT will cost us a lot, which we have been saving up over many years in hopes that one day we could find a way to go. Taking inexpensive vacations, renting out our guest room on Airbnb, and putting away every little windfall in a special fund have all helped to get us here. And what about our personal lives? Since backpacking is a passion that we share and the PCT thru-hike is a joint dream, we don't have to make sacrifices in our relationship to go. We'll have friends watch over our cat. All of our activities, hobbies, and social engagements will be put on hold while we're gone. Some will require continued payment of dues, while others can be temporarily suspended. And of course we'll stay in touch with friends and family via tech & social media while we can't see them in person. We're hoping that at least a few friends will meet up with us along the way, and some may even hike with us for a day or more. The house itself will be empty, and in fact we've decided to go forward with a long-planned remodel project while we are away. This last point feels very hectic now in the planning stages, but we have put together a good team and we are certain to be happy with the result.

The existential questions are the hardest of all. Why are you doing this hike, and why now? Why is it so important to you? There is something magical about walking across the entire country from one border to another, through the most beautiful mountain ranges of our region, in a single journey. Cheri was raised in rural northern CA and has perhaps always wanted to do a PCT thru-hike, while Andrew caught the bug after our JMT thru-hike in 2007. At that time we were starting out in our careers, had just bought a house, and were facing a substantial student loan burden. Although it seemed crazy that we could ever do such a thing, we started saving for this dream in a little fund we called PCT as we chipped away at the loans and worked hard on our careers. As the years went by, a thru-hike started to feel within reach. Because we didn't choose to have kids, we didn't have to worry about leaving them home (or taking them), or how such a plan might impact their college funds. The only tangible thing keeping us from going (aside from concerns about work, finances, etc) was our pets. Our pets are family members and enrich our lives beyond reason. We knew that we would likely only have one chance to take a mid-career sabbatical like this, and we couldn't bear to leave a pet behind that might have a significant health problem while we were away. The loss of our dog Sula this spring was the biggest single factor in the timing of our hike. She came into our lives as a puppy and shared so many outdoor experiences with us over the years. She was nearly 8 by the time we started to seriously consider a PCT hike, and by then it was too late to go. She had a major health scare at 9 but pulled through and hung around to continue camping and backpacking with us through the summer she was 11. Each year that we mentally prepared to potentially thru-hike the PCT, Sula would continue to thrive and we were thrilled to stay home and enjoy every bit of time we could with her. A few months before her 12th birthday she took a downturn that initially seemed like a small blip in her generally graceful aging, but in fact marked the start of a rapidly progressive decline. We lost her just a month later, 3 weeks before she would have turned 12. It was during Sula's final weeks with us that we made the final decision to follow through with a thru-hike of the PCT this season, in her honor. There are many things going on in our lives right now and together with the potential impact on our careers, we have seriously questioned going forward with our PCT thru-hike this year. But each time that we go through this exercise we arrive at the conclusion that we must take a leap of faith that everything will work out for the best. Our guiding principles require that we live with integrity and authenticity and create space to follow our passions. We do not know what the future will bring, and it may not be possible to take this hike at a later date if we delay now. As John Muir famously said, time spent in the wilderness will never subtract from your life but can only add to it in the end. 

We remain firm believers in the universe and so we are headed for the Canadian border in July, with much gratitude for our wide community of friends that support this enormous journey.