I almost deleted this and re-wrote it as a typical happy shiny blog post, but, the truth is, not every adventure is as awesome as you think it’s going to be, so here it is:
I can’t remember how many Triscuits I eat over thee days of hiking, which is frustrating me as we pack our bear canister for a long weekend of hiking in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington. Come to think of it, the number of Triscuits I eat over three days of hiking now, when I spend most of my days on my butt in front of a computer instead of putting away miles, has changed from when we were thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. No matter how much hiking you’ve done, every hike is a new hike, and doesn’t really get any easier, which seems to be my lesson of the summer.
It’s hard to get into a rhythm as a weekend hiker. This is yet another way thru-hiking ruins you. Before the trail, if I did a day hike I’d be satisfied, but now, it’s like when you open a carton of your favorite ice cream from the freezer and there’s only a tiny spoonful left. I want a whole bowl –okay, I want the whole carton. Having done a long immersive hike makes any time spent hiking now a little bitter sweet. Sure I enjoy it, but I always leave the trail a little unsatisfied, craving more. On this trip I also realized weekend hiking can lack a certain external motivation that can be needed to push through the rough parts.
As usual, by the end of Day 1, I was exhausted. But what was missing was the motivation to continue two more days like that. The rest of the trail was probably more maintained and going to get easier, but we didn’t know that, and there was no prize at the end. Yes, they say it’s all about the journey, not the destination, but what motivates the journey? Isn’t it, in part, the destination, if we’re really being honest with ourselves? On the long trail, it was the culmination of a larger goal that propelled me to keep going. On many of the hikes I do it’s the anticipation of reaching the summit, seeing those 360 degree views, or an epic waterfall, or something I can’t find anywhere else. But this hike –I was just not feeling it. It was just a loop through forest and fields that looked similar to what we’d been hiking for the last year; we were, in fact, going in a circle. The only reward seemed to be sore muscles and exhaustion to start the work week with, and since we were behind schedule, that meant pushing really hard for two more days, or extending into a third day, and I’d have to go into work for a few hours when we returned. I didn’t have enough internal motivation in me to make it.
I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the weekend –like most backpacking, it involved hiking, filtering water, eating, and more hiking. This one did have the unique quality of containing more bushwhacking than I’ve ever experienced (or ever care to again!), so much so that our pace was cut in half and we didn’t make as many miles as planned on the first day, throwing off the rest of the trip. There was also the fact that wading through knee-to-neck-height bushes, and being unable to see the ground beneath my feet, trusting in Not-a-Bear that we were in fact on a trail (we always were, he has mad trail-finding skills) was not my idea of a fun backpacking weekend.
The trail did finally become visible in the afternoon, as we zigzagged up steep switchbacks through fields of wildflowers cleared of trees by a not-so-recent burn. We climbed up and up and up through little clouds of pale purple wild hollyhock that emitted a soft sweet scent. We were greeted at the top of the ridge by views of the valley and opposite hills. So yeah, that part was nice, but the bushwhacking before it had just exhausted me, physically and mentally.
There are a few advantages to being a weekend warrior, like getting to wear clean undies everyday, and deciding to turn back and go home if you’re not having fun, which is what we did this trip. You can’t really turn around and go home when you are in the middle of the wilderness, but you can have a Plan B, which, for us, meant modifying and shortening our loop.
I don’t really know where this post is going. Looking back at the photos I took, the nostalgia of Type 2 fun has already set in, and I’ve deemed it a good weekend now that I’m showered and rested (still 24 miles over two days). I guess it’s to try to explain to you, and to myself, that things still feel different post-thru-hike, and that continues to surprise. It’s been two years since our PCT hike and I still think about it almost every day, especially this time of year. (Although, I think because we moved to a completely different part of the country and started new jobs, some of that processing time got pushed back.) I know from keeping in touch with other hikers, some of them feel the same (and I also follow the blogs of a fair number of them who just never stopped hiking). I still haven’t quite figured out how to place that five months of my life into my current life. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a problem (hiking the PCT was an amazing experience I wouldn’t trade for anything), it’s just a thing that is different about my life that I’m still trying to figure out. For any of you out there thinking of your own future thru-hike, it’s food for thought. Any other Class of ’15ers out there reading this, what is it like for you two-years-post-hike?
We’ve got a few more trips in store for the summer I’ll be sharing –a little lower on the adventure scale (i.e. no bushwhacking), and higher on the bucket list. You can also check out what I’ve been up to at https://passionproject.net/ and https://catiejoycebulay.com/publications/, and keep in touch on Twitter @catiejoycebulay or Instagram @catesway.
And here’s a few hikers who managed to keep the party going:
Puff Puff, who did the PCT again, backwards last summer and is currently cycling at The Mountains are Calling
One of Us, hiking the CDT, after hikes in South America and Europe at The Connor Chronicles
and Shepard, whom I never met, but who’s blog I enjoyed reading to learn what was coming up ahead of us on the PCT, and who is now on the AT at BikeHikeSafari.
Going wherever it leads as long as it leads somewhere worthwhile,
July 5, 2017 at 7:40 am
As a fellow PCT ’15 thru-hiker, I’ll say thanks for this post. I haven’t been out on a multi-day hike since finishing the trail, and part of me definitely worries that I’d feel like I was starting over from zero—that I’ll have lost that thru-hike mojo and any smaller hike will feel like a let-down.
I’ve been maintaining my connection to the PCT with PCTA trail crew work and trail angeling when I can, but this time of year I’m looking at the current class’s Instagram feeds every single day and missing the sights and the rhythm of the trail.
July 5, 2017 at 2:01 pm
Thanks Bucket! Yeah, I spend a lot of time drooling over this class’s Instagram as well. Not-a-Bear even checks out the snow and weather reports.
August 14, 2017 at 10:12 am
Great read!!! Love the hiking tale 🙂 I gave ya a follow. I have a few hiking tales myself you might enjoy, would appreciate the follow back. But otherwise thanks for the tips and story 🙂
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August 15, 2017 at 10:32 pm
Thanks Zane! I enjoyed browsing your blog, gorgeous photos!
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September 8, 2017 at 9:09 am
I completely understand
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October 18, 2017 at 8:06 pm
Stream-crossing would be interesting to try
March 22, 2018 at 8:58 am