Our first day on the PCT, we walked eleven whopping miles. We were sweaty, aching, and sore halfway through. A few miles later, we doubted our sanity. At dinner we could not light our stove and made the ill-fated decision not to set up our tent because the sky was clear. Of course we got rained on. It’s amazing we ever got up the next day.
Who did we think we were to embark on this journey? But as the miles wore on and our confidence grew, we knew with absolute certainty what many have forgotten: humans are bipedal beings. This walking thing is in our bones and, if given the chance, it leaks out despite ourselves. Our feet are miraculous, our legs are nothing short of amazing, and our lungs, hearts, and minds are absolutely astounding!
Hiking the PCT can be a very grounding, focused sort of excursion. One is headed in the same direction for the duration of the hike; thus, one’s goal is growing closer every day. In a confused and chaotic world, this can be a very reassuring, beautifully orchestrated gradual centering of body and mind. It is a realignment, refinement, and a buff and shine opportunity. Like creating a pot from clay on a potter’s wheel, one may arrive at the beginning a bit misshapen, but if one pays attention to the lessons of trail life, one can regain shape and define one’s constitution.
An unbelievable joy comes from seeing mountain ranges unravel from afar, from sunsets and sunrises, from the ridge-top breezes, from a successfully accomplished river- crossing via boulder-hop, and from the starry sky on a crisp, cold night. Joy comes from seeing one’s progress, from achieving a ridge, and from glimpsing an elk, a frog, or a heron. It comes from the light in the sky, the wind on one’s face, the conversation at dinner, and the warmth of hot coals.
These moments still carry me through my days on the streets of Philadelphia. Crumbling sidewalks become tree roots and pieces of rope become snakes. Suddenly I see the sunset reflecting off canyon walls as concrete buildings sink away. I carry with me pockets of peace; they are the PCT’s gifts to me.
This piece has been adapted from an essay written by Erin for the PCTA Communicator magazine. Erin lives in Philadelphia where she teaches community and global health at Drexel University.