((1) Where are you from?
Colorado Springs, CO
(2) What day did you start?
April 18, 2018
(3) What day did you finish?
October 7, 2018
(4) Do you have a trail name?
(5) If so, where did it come from?
Right after mile 200 I was trying to avoid the notorious plant "poodle dog bush". It is known as a skin irritant that can cause a reaction in people similar to poison oak and is common in parts of the desert section. I started walking adjacent to the trail in a spot where touching this plant would have been otherwise unavoidable and ended up instead next to a swarming bee hive. Before I knew it I was swatting bees from my head and running down the trail. In my panic I tripped and tore my pants, snapped a trekking pole, lost my sunglasses off my head, got a little scraped up, and received a bee sting on my left ear. About 10 minutes after this debacle my hiking companion was able to get service on her phone and confirm that the poodle dog bush I had previously identified was in fact a harmless species of cat tail...
(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?
From a big picture perspective I dreamed of the feeling of accomplishment that I would experience from persevering to the end of the trail. On a smaller scale however it was making it to the next town, getting a hot meal, a cold beverage, and catching up on the news of the trail with my fellow hiker-trash that would surely be huddled in a shady spot close to the nearest Ben & Jerry's vendor.
(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?
I had a stare down with a cougar while I was looking for a campsite around 2 AM in the San Gorgonio Wilderness next to Mission Creek. Thankfully I was with a friend, and we first noticed its eyes reflecting off our headlamps approx. 30 yards away. We stepped up onto a large boulder while I clenched my pocket knife in my hand and waited for what felt like an hour before it finally left us, but it was probably more like several minutes. We continued hiking at a steady (not fast) pace for another couple of hours, unable to sleep from the recent adrenaline rush and kept our heads on a swivel the whole time. I also saw six bears in total on the trail (all in NorCal) but they were generally quick to scamper away, more scared of me than I of them.
(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?
I feel more confident now in my ability to surmount arduous tasks where the steps necessary to achieve my goals aren't readily understood or clearly defined at the get-go. Also, my pants sure fit a lot looser!
(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?
I miss the camaraderie of my fellow thru-hikers; the ability to round a corner in the middle of no where, discover a total stranger, immediately bond with them over the shared experiences that we all had, and leave that spot with a new friend. Sometimes I wouldn't see a friend for weeks or months, having no idea where they were, and then BAM, they're standing right in front of me. Those conversations almost always started off the same way: "Hey (insert trail name)! I thought you were way ahead of me!..."
(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?
Rodents eating through my gear to get to my food. No lie.
(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?
Never having another experience that can compare with the epic nature of this one.
(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?
On trail, I had a clearly defined purpose: get to Canada. Every action I took was in support of that goal. Even menial tasks felt like a step towards the grand conclusion, giving them much more weight and significance. Off trail, I'm just a guy trying to get by in the world. I'm not walking a linear path; it's more like a spider-web. I have so many options now for how I spend my time, and it's slightly dizzying.
(14) Would you like to add anything else?
To elaborate on the subject of being on trail vs. off trail: there are definitely pros and cons to each lifestyle, but off trail life is the default setting, so I always reminded myself while out there to appreciate even the crappy times because they would not last long in the grand scheme, making them beautiful in their own way. "Embrace the suck" is how it's often framed in the hiking community, and there's a lot to that. There's a bunch of type 1 fun to be had on trail, but a great deal of type 2 fun as well. I knew several people who quit before making it to Canada who were struggling mentally, and nearly all regretted their decisions after settling back in to normal life. I admire those who have the strength to know when it's time to call it quits, but I would caution anyone feeling this way to make damn sure you know what you're doing, because these opportunities in life are often few and far between.