We decided to record some thoughts and expectations of our experience before we set out, as a reference point while on trail and after. We both answered the same set of five questions. Betty’s answers are here.
1. What made you decide to thru-hike the PCT?
My parents were both avid hikers, and some of my most magical early memories were of the bleak beauty and profound silence of the English Lake District hills. Waking up in a tent on top of a mountain, smelling the camping gas and the first sizzles of bacon; seeing a crow flying below me as I stare down into a valley. I treasure those memories. There’s something so right about being outside, wearing sturdy shoes and carrying my entire home on my back. I didn’t appreciate this enough when my parents were still able to hike with me. My dad died right when I was just beginning to understand that my time with him might be limited; in fact, he died just when I was starting to plan our first hike in years. In a way, I feel that a thru hike will be a tribute to his legacy, and will give me some closure on all the opportunities to spend time with him that I never took.
But there are a raft of other reasons too. I want to feel like I’ve explored America in a meaningful way; I’ve lived here for eight years and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m turning 39 in April, and I have a powerful need to achieve something spectacular before I turn 40. I want to see the world with the woman I love, and I love the idea that we will support each other through such a huge undertaking. It was a big compliment that Betty chose to share in my dream and make it her own, and I want very much to help her get to the finish line. I imagine looking in her eyes as we hug each other next to the monument at Manning Park. I try to picture what her expression will be.
2. What will you feel if you finish the trail?
I think there are two ways to answer this. How do I imagine myself feeling, versus how do I think I’ll actually feel. For the former, I often get myself through the work day by imagining the elation in touching the monument and feeling every single one of the 2,659 miles I have hiked. It’s so hard for people to truly conceive of vast distances, and I wonder if walking every step of this huge distance will allow me to encapsulate it mentally, and therefore to grasp other vast concepts: infinity, my own mortality, the existence of seven billion other thinking human beings. A lot of thru-hikers say that the trail expanded their minds, and I’m guessing this is how it works. I also hope I might have a new perspective on my life; I have my day-to-day career goals worked out, but I want to be less selfish in how I spend the rest of my time. Having an understanding of the larger world and its delicate ecological balance might encourage me to give back more.
But then there’s how I’ll actually feel. I suspect I’ll feel numb with exhaustion and extremely glad not to be walking anymore, yet terrified about leaving a life of simplicity in order to rejoin society.
And I will feel stinky. Very stinky.
3. What will you feel if you don’t finish the trail?
I’m sure I will feel utterly devastated. Even contemplating having to quit the hike is enough to make me feel upset. I know that a serious injury will end my hike regardless of what I want, and it’s always a possibility. It will probably take months to come to terms with the end of the dream, compounded by the fact that we won’t have an apartment to come back to. I am going to do everything in my power to prevent this from happening.
I know there will be plenty of times when I want to quit: it happens to everyone. A string of bad days – or even bad weeks – will leave me wondering what the hell I’m doing this for. The golden rule is never to quit on a bad day. Wait until you’re clear headed before you make the decision. Betty and I have gone all-in with this plan, moving out of our apartment and publicising our hike for charity, so I don’t think willpower will be the deciding factor. If a broken leg does force us off the trail, the main thing is not to feel guilty about it. Accidents happen. The trail will (hopefully) still be there next year. But I know I won’t be happy for a while.
4. What is your biggest fear, and how are you coping with it?
I actually wasn’t scared of the snow until I read other people on Facebook freaking out about it! I am a little concerned about navigating the high passes if they’re socked in, but I’m also confident that we’ll be able to get through if we take it slow. We’re both sensible and observant people, and we learn fast. Plus there’s a whole month’s worth of thru hikers blazing the trail ahead of us. My own pet terror is crossing rivers on logs: I’m very tall and gangly, and my center of gravity isn’t great. I’ve never had a significant fall, but my nightmares are haunted with visions of falling off a log into a raging river and never being seen again. I’m terrified of bereaving my loved ones, even more so than my fear of death itself. I always suspected I would die feeling guilty, and this is my chance!
5. What are you most looking forward to?
It changes every day. Right now, as the kick-off approaches, I am fixated on what that second morning will feel like. Waking up under our tarp after our first night in the desert (I’ve never been in a desert before) and staring at the unimaginable distance ahead of us, knowing that nothing in the world is stopping us from just walking. I can’t imagine what it will be like to live for five months with no deadlines other than the ones we set for ourselves. We’ll be totally in control of our lives, and yet we will also let bodies be carried away, floating on a man-made river, with nothing to do except cross an entire country at three miles per hour. I cannot wait.