The title is a bit misleading, as I’ve been backpacking in the mountains since May, doing trail maintenance for the Washington Trails Association. However, lugging crosscut saws and other pieces of heavy metal attached to wooden handles miles up hill, to then camp out for several days clearing trails, doesn’t, in my mind, really count as backpacking. It’s work. Enjoyable, necessary work, but work nonetheless.
My idea of backpacking has changed quite a bit over the past year. It used to be that I viewed the point of backpacking as hiking to a predetermined point and camp there. The destination became the goal, and to some extent the destination replaced the journey. Last year I took a short trip through a remote area covered in blowdown, and several feet of snow, with a vague goal of stopping when I found a nice, preferably snow free, place to camp. This was probably my most enjoyable backpacking trip to date. Walking through the wilderness without a fixed goal meant that the journey became the focus, not the destination.
A few weeks later I set off on Section K of the PCT, and for 7 days I got up at first light and hiked until dusk, without knowing, when I set off in the morning, where I would spend the night. I didn’t meet many people on the trip, and had only my company for most of the day. I would set up camp, and almost immediately fall asleep. My spouse, who practices Zen Buddhism, told me, when I described this experience, that it sounded like a walking meditation, and that I had essentially been on a week long silent retreat.
I am 60-something, semi-retired, guy living an hour or two drive from probably the most spectacular scenery in the lower 48. I have spent countless nights hiking and backpacking in the North Cascades, and feel blessed to live in such a beautiful place. My entire life I have hiked and backpacked, from long cabin-to-cabin hikes in Norway as a child, to trekking in Nepal, rambling in New Zealand, and getting blown around in Patagonia. But I had never done a backpacking/camping trip that lasted more than two three nights. If asked why not, I would have felt it was too intimidating and, to be honest, scary. The longer you hike, the further from the familiar you are, and the more intimidating it becomes.
Upon setting out on the PCT hike, my greatest fear was not that I would not be physically able to hike 120 miles in a week, but rather the distance I would be from a escape exit in case something went wrong. It was the isolation that caused anxiety, and overcoming that was liberating.
The overarching purpose of this blog is not to tout my hiking accomplishments, meager as they are compared to others, but to encourage others to push the boundaries of their comfort zone, extend their hike a few days, go to a more remote area than you have in the past, hike without a goal, and discover that you are more capable than you imagined.
So this year I aim to hike sections I and J of the PCT, about 170 miles, without any resupplies, to push my own boundaries, and to take you along as I prepare for the hike reflecting over how last year;s experience has influenced my choices from gear, to food, to conditioning.
I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
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