“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I was thinking it during my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike last year and I’ve been thinking about it a whole lot more since finishing.
I believe that hiking the PCT from start to finish is more a mental/psychological challenge than a physical one. Perhaps 60% mental and 40% physical.
Don’t get me wrong, it is physically challenging. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But you don’t have to be an athlete to attempt it, because as the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Of course, if you are thinking of embarking on such a hike, you’ll be trying to get as fit as possible in the lead-up, you might do a wilderness course, first aid course and you’ll make sure all your gear works for you etc etc… but just as much as preparing physically, prepare mentally as well.
You might have friends, family, colleagues and even strangers thinking that you’re crazy for what you’re about to attempt, and some of them may even tell you that you can’t do it. You might even be thinking these thoughts yourself. But don’t. Start picturing yourself at the start (even if you’re not planning to do it this year or next year), and picture yourself at the end with an enormous smile on your face and tears of joy running down your cheeks because you’ve completed this incredible challenge.
Why do I think it’s more a mental challenge than physical?
Because it’s easy to quit. You just quit. Maybe you’ll find it too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry, too hard or too scary. Being fit won’t necessarily change these things, but being mentally prepared might.
Being fit won’t help you walk past the rattlesnake on the trail. Determination to get to the end will.
Being fit won’t help you in a storm. Determination to make it through the storm safely so you can get to the end will.
Being fit won’t stop thoughts of quitting come into your mind. Determination to get to the end won’t let those thoughts enter your mind.
Being fit won’t help you over the lava field in Oregon. Determination to get to end of the lava field so you never have to walk on it again, will.
Being fit won’t help you from being scared all night long if you’ve never camped by yourself and you think you’re hearing a bear/mountain lion outside your tent. Determination to not fall asleep will 😉
So if you are preparing to hike the PCT, start mentally preparing too. Envision yourself at the start, at the California/Oregon border, at the Bridge of the Gods, at the end and maybe even lots of places in-between. Tell people you’re going to do it, tell yourself you’re going to do it. Think about all the people who tell you that you can’t do it, and how good it will feel to show them that you can! When things get hard on the trail, and they will, motivate yourself, talk to yourself if you have to and tell yourself that you can do it, because you can. (“I’ve got this” is what I said to myself hundreds of times a day.)
Listen to your body and rest when you need to. You’ll know if you have to leave the trail. Just don’t quit on a bad day.
And if anyone thinks they can’t do it, take me as an example:
A 35 year old female who’s been on various walks before, but is scared of spiders, snakes, bears, mountain lions, scorpions, lightning, snowstorms, getting lost and I’m sure a few more things. I had never camped alone (in a country with bears and mountain lions) before doing the PCT. Three months before starting the PCT I slipped a disc in my lower back and had to have 5 injections in it (lying on the couch eating ice cream for these three months wasn’t ideal fitness training!). I think I had enough reasons to not even begin the PCT, but by this time I had told friends and family, I had blogged about my plans to hike the PCT and I could already see myself at the end. My dad calls me stubborn, I call it determination. (Most importantly, my doc gave me the go-ahead too.)
It wasn’t easy and I certainly had my fair share of break-downs – like the time I got stuck in a storm on Mt San Jacinto and told my husband I thought I was going to die right before we lost the phone connection. Or when I was camped by myself in a snow-storm and couldn’t see the trail in the morning. Or the time I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, but somehow managed to leap over it, before tripping and falling backwards down a slope, landing on a cactus. Or when I went so far off-trail to do a number 2 that I got lost and spent 10 minutes slightly panicked trying to find the trail again. Then there was the time I rolled my ankle at the beginning of an 8 day, 8 mountain pass stage in the sierras and tore my ATFL & CFL ligaments in my left foot (an MRI in December showed that it’s still unhappy). And Washington – it rained and snowed for days on end and nothing was ever dry…
It was physically and mentally challenging.
Just remember to mentally prepare too.
Kat – Hummingbird