(1) Where are you from and how would you like to be identified?
JJ Perino – Boise, ID
(2) Thinking back to your “day-1 self,” what is going through your mind at the start?
I feel like the right answer to this question is “pure joy and excitement,” but the truth is I was scared as hell. My wife and I had been weekend backpackers for years and I was extremely thankful to have her by my side in Campo because I was very anxious about starting a 4 month backpacking trip through climates and environments I knew nothing about. “I’m not a fan of the burning hot desert and I hate snakes”..that is the thought that kept racing through my mind as I started walking north.
(3) Do you feel ready?
Yes, as ready as someone can be setting out on their first thru-hike. We had done our research, made most of our own food, had her parents dialed into a resupply plan, and tested our gear (even though we had way too much of it), but I also knew so many things would still go wrong. I was honestly looking forward to the mishaps that we would learn from and be more confident after, not to mention those mishaps make great stories.
(4) What are you most afraid of?
My biggest fear dawned on me as we were driving to campo, I was mortified of not enjoying the trail. We had been talking about it for years and planning for almost as long. I’d spent months researching gear, studying maps, making food, and telling everyone about our trip. It had to be a success, and that never meant finishing to me, I didn’t’ care about that, I wanted to deeply love it and have the unexplainable experience I had heard so much about. To me, if I was out there 2 months or 2600 miles and didn’t love it, it was a failure.
(5) What are you most confident about?
My physical and mental ability to overcome whatever is needed to do this. I have put myself in some stupid situations that required pure physical and mental grit to get out of, so I knew I could do that part.
(6) Does anybody not want you to go?
I don’t think they didn’t’ want me to go, but my family was not super supportive. They didn’t understand why I would take a break from a career I’ve been working on over a decade to go “find myself in the woods.”
(7) What made you decide to take this hike?
It was something my wife and I had talked about doing for years and when she was graduating from her Masters program, we knew the timing was right. We’ve always had a wild sense of adventure and love backpacking, and before we have kids we knew we wanted to at least try this.
(8) What do you expect to get from it?
Amazing memories and stories. I wasn’t standing in Campo, CA about to walk 2650 miles trying to find myself or expecting some revelation that would change my life. I love my life, I’m the luckiest person I know, this trip was just another amazing experience I was lucky enough to have. I wanted to have an incredible adventure with my wife and make memories we could share with our families and friends.
(9) Have you ever done anything like this before?
No, with the exception of other thru-hikes, there is nothing like this. I consider myself a fairly accomplished, recreational, endurance runner and there is nothing I’ve ever done that is in the same realm as the PCT. Everything else I’ve done last for hours or maybe a few days, there is no way to recreate the constant, mundane, day-in/day-out of the PCT
(10) What have you done to prepare?
Standing in Campo, I felt good about what we had done to prepare, I was confident we were as ready as we could be. I had read books, poured over blogs, made hiking and food plans, made a few months’ worth of food, and tested all of our gear. To be fair, there is no way to be prepared for a thru hike, unless you have done a thru hike before. For first timers like us, there are only varying levels of being unprepared.
(11) What are you looking forward to the most?
All of the firsts that waited for us up the trail. Our first meal, first night sleep, first resupply, first injury, first mishap, first trail family member, first animal encounter, first hitch, first zero, first trail angel, first 20-mile day. All I wanted was all the experiences that were patiently waiting for us to walk up to them.
(12) When/where did you leave the trail?
The first time we left the trail was at the I-10 underpass at mile 209. It had taken us exactly two weeks to go that distance after spending 5 collective days off trail as the arches of my wife’s feet painfully collapsed more and more everyday. She’s as tough as she is stubborn, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it that far, and it took me screaming and waving my poles around like a madman to convince her to go into Palm Springs and evaluate our future. After 6 weeks rehabbing in Phoenix we completed Oregon NOBO from Medford before flipping to Donnor Summit to do the high sierra SOBO. After two weeks in the Sierras, it was mid-August and we were engulfed in smoke and no longer enjoying the trail. My wife’s feet still hurt, my love for the trail was fading, and the mountain pass views had given way to the smoke. We took a couple zeros in Mammoth Lakes and caught a bus to Bishop to start again, on the way there we knew our hearts weren’t into it anymore. I knew if we left the trail we were leaving on good terms, if we stayed and hated it, I would have felt like a failure.
(14) Would you like to add anything else?
The PCT is an amazing experience, we still fantasize about getting back out there and finishing the trail. Someday we probably will, but it will be on our terms, when we’re ready, and we will love it. To me, the PCT is not an achievement, it is an experience to be treasured. The trail angels inspired us with their selfless love and passion. The mountains welcomed us like we belonged there. We felt at home on the trail, even as our bodies ached, our minds traveled to dark places and we questioned what we were doing, I never doubted the decision to start. Even if we had had made it only one week or 100 miles, I was damn proud of having the courage to start, the discipline to prepare, and strength to know when enough was enough.