Die-hard “thru-hiker” or aspirational backpacker (like myself), a trip along America’s infamous Pacific Crest Trail has much to offer. Here we explore 5 reasons why hitting the trail is a no-brainer. Could a call to the wild be just the life-altering experience you need?
1. Fresh air anyone?
With 2,650 miles of primitive trail snaking all the way from Mexico to Canada, one thing the PCT has in abundance is space. In epic proportions. Rarely will you find yourself crossing a road or treading tarmac of any kind. How refreshing it is to walk a path absent of crowds and wafts of other people’s cigarette smoke. Whilst you’re enjoying this new-found clean air, expect to repetitively utter the word ‘awesome’ to describe the surrounding scenery, in a totally non-ironic way. Take for example, Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. Home to the oft-photographed “Knife’s Edge”, where you will inhale lungfuls of frigid mountain air as you scale across its perilous ridge. The remnants of an eroded stratovolcano, these sharp, serrated peaks resemble a Stegosaurus’ spine, perfectly sandwiched between deep valley drainages – vertigo-sufferers be warned!
2. The opportunity to finally disconnect
Unsurprisingly, the wilderness isn’t known for its high-speed data connectivity – in fact, good luck if you find any mobile signal out there at all! When was the last time you didn’t sneak a peek at your phone’s captivating screen for more than a couple of hours? Yet, being forced to switch off those swiping reflexes and tap-out of the bombarding online world is invigorating. It may take a few days to adjust, but once you do it’s incredible just how far your other senses are heightened. You will begin to appreciate your surroundings in a whole new light, the small things we otherwise miss, such as the vibrating tones of circling hummingbirds, or the fragrance of evergreen pines so indicative of Christmas. Call it mindfulness, a digital detox, or whatever you like, but clearing your headspace of over-stimulation to get in touch with your more intrinsic-self should be on everybody’s To-Do list.
3. Trail Magic
I probably shouldn’t even list it here, because the whole point of “trail magic” is the unexpected element associated with receiving a gift of unsolicited kindness. Yet, the PCT is renowned for attracting just this. Total strangers – with no hidden agenda – time and time again aid hikers by providing free rides into town, food donations, and even sometimes hosting them in their homes. At my lowest point on the entire trail, having hiked through rain for three days solid, a chance encounter with an American-Irish family reunion saved me. Welcomed into the fold, within 24-hours of being fed, laundered, and provided an actual bed, I hiked out not only stronger, but with a restored faith in humanity. You will undoubtedly meet a plethora of genuine people from all walks of life on the PCT. Often known solely by a playful trail meme, many a colourful character will become a life-long friend.
4. Appreciating simple things
There’s nothing like an extended trip along the PCT for highlighting the simple things we often take for granted. With an average of five days living in the wild standing between any facilities or food resupply, you will begin to appreciate things like never before. Take for instance, being able to drink clean water straight from a tap – without the need to source and filter it first. Simply mind-blowing. Not to mention how good it feels to remove days of sweat and grime with a steamy shower, or the pleasure derived from a hot meal that wasn’t once dehydrated. The modern world has desensitised us from the wonder of such utilities. Reaching them becomes an exciting, tangible goal. One that holds with it an unparalleled sense of achievement because let’s face it, it requires sheer grit and determination in the face of mental and physical hardship to make. After all, there’s no Amazon on call when you’re days away from the nearest extraction point.
It’s human nature to lust after a sense of freedom. We didn’t always live crammed into cities after all. So where better than the vast American wilderness to embrace your liberty? Nowhere else have I ever experienced the thrilling delight of marching to the beat of my own drum. Gone were the days of bus timetables, clocking-in, and struggling to figure out my tax obligations. Life sure is liberating when the usual mix of daily worries are dissolved into a simple but variable rhythm: Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. What’s more, no two days are ever the same. Each morning I would awake – slightly sore from sleeping on the ground – to pumping of adrenalin supplied purely from the exhilarating anticipation of facing the unknown. Who knew if I would be mauled by a bear or fall into a ravine? I can’t say that ever happens to me in London.
If the above sounds tempting, but you find yourself short of the circa five months required to attempt hiking the entire PCT, just pick a section. Whatever section you choose to discover, one thing’s for sure: the trail will embed in your soul a vivid collection of images and memories that will last a life-time. So, why not try it for yourself? I am living proof that even the unlikeliest of backpackers can not only survive, but be completely moved by the wild.