Lessons From the Pacifc Crest Trail

This article was originally written in November, 2007, right after our 6 month, 2650 mile hike from Mexico to Canada.

Frigid river crossings and snow traverses, unending ascents over high mountain passes and soaking rain permeating through layers of waterproof clothing. Our Pacific Crest Trail adventure gave us plenty of uncomfortable situations, but the uncomfortable and difficult was a large part of why we wanted to do the trail in the first place. The trail was most definitely beautiful; the stark, subdued tones of the southern Californian desert, the jagged, whitewashed spires that bridged the intense blue of the sky and the lakes in the Sierra Nevada, and the mountains of the Cascades, rising sharply from the foothills to sharp summits covered in ice. Yes, the scenery was fantastic, but this trail was as much about ourselves as it was about the beautiful scenery that moved passed us on a daily basis.

Goal Setting
The power of goal setting was apparent every day on the trail, so much more than in the normal, day to day life that we are all so accustomed to. Of course we had the large goal in mind (making it to Canada), but the success of the trail wasn’t due to the main goal, the success of the trail rested with the small, daily goals that gave us the power to make it through each day. 

Not only did we have a daily goal for hiking a certain distance, but the key was to break even the daily goal into smaller pieces…the smaller the better.  We generally took an hour lunchbreak, which formed a natural goal during the middle of the day, but we also took shorter breaks in the morning and afternoon.  These smaller resting periods allowed us to once again break the day into smaller pieces.  At least with the Pacific Crest Trail, these smaller goals broke what was a fairly daunting goal (hiking from Mexico to Canada) into manageable, enjoyable pieces.

When you are embarking on such a long journey, a certain level of patience is required. At the beginning of our adventure I questioned whether I had the patience for such a journey.  Of course the trail made this easier since it really is quite enjoyable most of the time. With the Pacific Crest Trail, as with life, it really is about the journey. With this realization, patience is the easy part–the difficult part is now attempting to apply this realization to normal life, where aspirations, work, and living send us on our way in frantic fashion.

The hike also offered a refreshing, positive view of people, a much needed realization that the overwhelmingly vast majority of people are good, thoughtful, and caring. Generally it seems as though the only newsworthy events are based on when people act badly. What we need to realize that the news doesn’t highlight the normal, the everyday, the good — it only highlights what is out of the ordinary, the worst in people, the bad.

People absolutely amazed me along the trail. Generosity is giving several foul-odored backpackers rides to the nearest town, and we never seemed to have too much trouble finding these people. One family of five loaded the three of us into their vacation-loaded minivan and gave us a 15 mile ride down a windy mountain road into town, the three daughters sitting atop a pile of suitcases and bags, offering us three the back seat.  A motel clerk in northern Washington ran all over town, looking for a place to send a fax to our motel in the next town stop. A fisherman cut his fishing trip short to give us a ride into town, dropping us off at his favorite deli. Generosity is all around.

The lessons learned along our trip helped to frame the world in a new and encouraging light. The goal (and challenge) is to take these lessons and new perspectives and apply them to everyday existence, to remember these realizations when bogged down with everyday existence.