(1) Where are you from?
Grew up in Champaign, IL
Currently living in Denver, CO
(2) What day did you start?
Started May 16th, 2018
(3) What day did you finish?
Finished October 5th, 2018
(4) Do you have a trail name?
(5) If so, where did it come from?
I received my trail name pretty early on in the desert. It’s due to the fact that I typically “go with the flow”. While many hikers made intricate plans surrounding resupply boxes, or strict daily mileage goals, or meeting with family/friends along the trail, I decided to go with the more relaxed approach. I also love the word in general, and the vibe that it insinuates, and feel that it matches my demeanor… so it stuck.
(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?
During my toughest moments, I always tried to go back to a place of gratitude. Throughout the hike I tried to train my mind to default to a positive outlook. “Embrace the suck” was a common term that I would mumble to myself while hiking up a steep section of trail. I thought about my parents, and just how much they have done for me growing up. I thought about the fact that my mom and dad always encouraged me to be myself and have supported me no matter what. I thought about the fact that my girlfriend was patiently waiting for me back in Colorado, and the fact that she fully supported my dream, even if she didn’t fully understand it.
(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?
My goal throughout the PCT was to consider that each day was miraculous. I tried to embrace and appreciate even the smallest things. There were many times that I would just smile and start laughing, all by myself. The fact that I got to hike every day, without any “real-life” pressures or worries was miraculous to me. I’ll admit, there were a few times that I experienced “coming to God moments” where I was moved to tears. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I spoke to a higher power on the PCT. There were two moments in particular that I felt very small, yet so connected to nature and the universe around me.
Specifically, one of these moments occurred right after I passed over Forester Pass and into Kings Canyon in the Sierra mountain range. I remember listening to “Society” by Eddie Vedder (one of my personal favorites) and I just started weeping. The beauty of the scenery, and the song went perfectly together. I haven’t cried like that in years. It was such a grateful, positive cry. A cry that reflected just how in awe of everything I truly was. I WAS HIKING THE FREAKING PCT! In that moment, I thought about all those that are closest to me, and just how much they mean to me. The support and love that I feel on a daily basis, despite all my flaws and past fuck ups.
Another miraculous moment occurred on Sonora Pass at the very end of the Sierras. The whole day I had been hiking it was overcast and cloudy. As I summited Sonora Pass there was a brief moment when the clouds broke, and the sun cast through. Think of those biblical paintings where God is represented as powerful rays of sunshine. This is the scene that I was hiking with. I couldn’t help but be moved. I remember telling myself in that moment that I would be a better person from then on. I would do my damnedest to break bad habits and only foster positivity. I made a promise to myself and the universe that day.
(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?
One of my favorite moments on trail was coming face-to-face with a large black bear in Northern California. I had seen multiple black bears in Yosemite Valley, but those bears were tagged and were so used to humans that they seemed partially domesticated. I remember hearing a branch break as I approached a bend in the trail. Thinking nothing of it, I continued hiking at a quick pace. After all, branches break all the time in the woods. As I took the bend I looked up and locked eyes with a black bear that was casually hugging a large tree about 20 feet in front of me. He was about eye level to me. We both just stared at each other for a solid ten seconds before I finally let out a loud “HEY!”. This startled him and encouraged him to get a move on. He causally climbed down the rest of the way and walked his furry butt through the brush just beyond the trail. I could feel a sense of mutual respect, and I was in awe of just how big he was.
(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?
Throughout my thru-hike I became more in tune with my inner voice. I’ve always been comfortable with who I am, but I really got to test my limits mentally and physically on the PCT. I also feel that I’m more patient and at peace now that I’ve completed the trail. I’ve realized that minor complaints are just that, minor. There’s so many things that I used to get upset about that don’t even register anymore. Some guy cut you off in traffic? Who cares? It’s not even worth wasting your energy to get mad or upset. You spilled coffee on your desk? Is it really enough to ruin your whole morning? Clean it up and keep going. Life goes on.
(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?
The simplicity of the trail is what I miss most. There was no real schedule, or expectations. Each day and each moment was exactly what you made it. If you didn’t want to hike one day, don’t hike. If you wanted to swim in a lake instead, go find a lake. On trail you were fully in control of your own activities and happiness. I think that’s why I preferred to hike solo most of the time. I liked having control, and not having to cater to other people’s desires or schedules.
(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?
I wasn’t really scared of anything before starting. I was more just excited to start my journey and embrace each moment as it came. If I had to pick one thing, I would say that I was slightly nervous about running out of money along the way. I honestly didn’t realize how expensive everything was going to be. I started out with a budget that seemed like it would be more than enough. As the months went on, I realized I was spending a lot more on food than I originally planned. Luckily, I have amazing people in my life that didn’t let finances cut my thru-hike short. Shout out to my mom, dad, brother, and girlfriend.
(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?
My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to completely transition back into the “real world”. I immediately moved back to the hustle and bustle of Denver, and sometimes I catch myself asking, “for what?”. I’ve lived in Chicago before, and I know that I truly enjoy city life, but sometimes it doesn’t feel necessary. Do I really need to shower each day? Do I honestly need endless food options within walking distance? Do I really need to be surrounded by thousands of strangers that I’ll never truly get to know? What’s the point? Many thru-hiker alums talk about “post-trail depression” being such a strong force. Being of trail, I don’t feel depressed, but I do find myself questioning the validity of this modern American lifestyle. I’m just so grateful that I live in Colorado and I’m surrounded by others that understand the importance of finding a balance between society and nature. Although sometimes I do fear that I’ll never be able to recapture that peace and pure happiness that I felt when I was walking all alone in the middle of nowhere.
(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?
People on trail are just so accepting and open with each other. You can meet someone, and within five minutes you’re talking about how bad your ass-chafe is. Any and all topics are free game on trail. Now that I’m back in the “real world” I find myself having to watch my words a little more carefully. In addition, while hiking, it’s just so easy to connect with people around you. You are both participating in the same thing, day-in, and day-out. You both have this unspoken bond and understanding of what you are going through. This makes meeting and connecting with people you’ve never met so much easier. Hikers have this common ground that is sometimes tougher to find in life off the trail.
(14) Would you like to add anything else?
I would like to add that if you’re contemplating hiking the PCT, or any other long-distance trail for that matter, just do it. Stop overthinking. Stop over planning. Stop making superficial excuses. Just by the plane ticket. Commit. I can guarantee that you won’t regret it. Thru-hiking is the experience of a lifetime, and you gain something that can’t be recreated anywhere else.