Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned on the PCT
Long-distance hikers live by a few mantras. During my 2,000-mile hike in 2014, I learned how to backpack like a champ, but I also learned how to think simply, avoiding unnecessary stress. The bits of wisdom I gleaned have stuck with me over the years, and I constantly find myself referring to these hikerisms. Here they are, broken down with "Real-World Translations," that apply to modern/urban life (although I could argue that trail life is actually more real than city living...but I'll save that for another post).
Hike Your Own Hike
Trying to keep up with others who are faster than you results in exhaustion and injury. Slowing down to accommodate those who can't keep up with you can lead to resentment and missed opportunities. Spending precious time and money in town when you'd rather be hiking isn't good for you. Heading back out onto the trail when you really need another few hours of rest or another night in a motel room isn't in your best interest. Whatever others are doing, let them do it. Learn to listen to the language of your body and your heart. Pay attention to what they're asking for. This isn't anybody else's journey but yours, you're making memories that will last a lifetime, and you have to do it your way.
Real-World Translation: Live Your Own Life
Let no one tell you what's important to you, or what you should be doing, or that your dreams aren't worth pursuing. Only you know what's right for you, and even if that doesn't fit into your family's expectations or the societal norms, go live your life on your terms. You may end up alone at times. That's how you'll know you're doing it right.
Everything Weighs Something
What are you carrying that you don't need? That tiny bottle of shampoo that you only use once a week? An extra shirt that you think you might want to wear but haven't worn once since you started this trek? How about all those extra straps on your backpack that you don't actually use to carry or fasten anything? All these things weigh something. It's easy to rationalize one tiny thing that "doesn't weigh anything," but overall they add up.
Real-World Translation: Let Go of What Doesn't Serve You
If you're carrying painful thoughts and beliefs about yourself or others, let them go. Forgive the person who hurt you. Forgiveness isn't for them it's for you. And if it's yourself that you need to forgive, do it. Accept yourself and your life as is, and if things don't look how you want them to, stop dwelling on the past and make a plan for what you'd like to change.
Real-World Translation: Leave Some Time for Yourself
We live in a busy world, in a society where we're expected to constantly be producing, achieving, and telling everyone we know about it on social media. Even children these days are suffering from the consequences of "over-scheduling," and between all their sports and lessons and academics, they don't have time to play anymore. If your never-ending to-do list is stressing you out (be honest...do you feel calm and serene when you look at it, or does your heart leap into your chest?), try slimming it down. You do not have to be productive every second of the day. Rest is critical. Overloading yourself with tasks and expectations actually detracts from your ability to succeed, not the other way around. Loosen your expectations, slow down, and give yourself some time to revel in all that you've already accomplished in life.
The Trail Provides
When you really need something—water, a ride, someone to talk to, a campsite—it will be there for you. Trust that you are supported on this journey, by your fellow hikers, by residents of the nearby towns, by rangers, by trail crews and volunteers, and by life itself. There will be times when you feel alone, when you feel scared, when you're suffering, but know that what you need is available to you and it will appear at the perfect time. Hey, what's that up ahead? A cooler full of beer? Yes, please. Now it's time to step out onto the edge of that highway and stick your thumb out. You'll get a ride.
Real-World Translation: The Universe Provides
You are always presented with exactly what you need. It might not feel like you're getting it...but there are lessons to be learned when things don't go as planned. Trust that all the dots will connect when you look back. Money will show up for you. Friends will show up for you. Food will show up for you. It's all part of a bigger web. When you're on the right path, you will be taken care of.
Yield to Those Climbing Uphill
When you're cruising downhill, feeling grateful for the breeze as it dries the sweat, step aside when you see someone climbing. They're working harder than you. They've got momentum they want to keep. It's polite to let them pass before skipping along on your merry way.
Real-World Translation: Show Kindness Whenever You Can
When you see someone having a hard time, give them a break. That mom with a screaming toddler behind you in the grocery line, desperately trying to quiet him down? Let her go first. Your friend under extreme financial stress? Buy their lunch, even if you usually go Dutch. Making travel plans with someone who insists that taking the long way is actually a shortcut? Let it go. Take the path of least resistance. Show kindness. There's a great quote around this concept: Would you rather be right or be kind? Make the choice.
Everything Is Temporary
It's the most beautiful day, with perfect weather and stunning views every direction you look. Soak it up, because tomorrow could be shitty. Climbing a mountain pass in the freezing rain feels like torture, but you'll make it up and over, and you'll be warm in your sleeping bag tonight. Your knee is killing you. You got a bee sting. You're swimming in the most pristine alpine lake you've ever seen, with bald eagles flying above and a tasty snack waiting on the shore for you. Doesn't matter.
Real-World Translation: This Too Shall Pass
No matter what you're experiencing, it won't last. This is bittersweet, of course, because sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we'd rather not ever be not in. The trick here is gratitude. Notice how good you feel and how lucky you are to be experiencing the sweetness of it. Revel in it. This helps you seal the moment into your memory. And when you're in pain, for whatever reasons, know that you'll get through it. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing.
Ultimately, what I learned on the PCT is how to trust myself and how to appreciate the ups and downs of my life. I learned to listen to my body. I learned to let go of the "shoulds," and how to follow my own heart. I learned to be grateful for every experience, even the times of suffering, because they're all connected. Without the lows, I wouldn't know how to appreciate the highs. I hope you'll find inspiration in this post. Comment below if anything you read here resonates with you. And remember...HYOH.