Proud. Accomplished. Healthy. Happy. Tired. Relieved. Changed. Overwhelmed. Surreal. Weird. Sad. These are some of the things I’ve been feeling since I completed my PCT thru-hike on Sept. 27, 2018.

In a society that’s predominantly sedentary, with people sitting in traffic five days a week heading to a job where they spend eight hours a day sitting in a chair in front of a computer, it’s hard for most people to understand how someone could thru-hike the PCT, let alone want to do it on their own freewill. Most people can’t fathom quitting their job to take five months off to walk more than 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada. I’m now part of a very small minority who has spent five months living on a dirt trail, sleeping in a tent, hiking 15-20 miles every day and carrying all of my worldly possessions on my back while enjoying every single step.

What Was Life Like on the PCT?

Life on the PCT was, for the most part, simple and drama-free. I’d wake up, break down camp, eat, hike, get to the next water source, eat, hike some more, eat, set up camp, sleep and then repeat it all again the next day. There would be steep climbs up and down. There was no shortage of incredible views. I walked through meadows and densely forested areas. I crossed rivers and creeks, sometimes on a bridge, sometimes fording with my feet. I climbed over blown down trees. I hiked over rocks. I walked through mud. I bushwhacked my way through overgrown brush. I swam in alpine lakes. I made friends with lots of other hikers. I ate a ridiculous amount of gummi bears, wild blueberries, instant mashed potatoes and Top Ramen. I never got sick of watching the sunrise and sunset from the trail. I hiked. I laughed. I cried. I fell. I rolled my ankle. I got dirty. I went days without having a shower or using a flush toilet. I conquered fears, some I never even knew I had. I learned a lot about myself. I re-evaluated my life priorities. I fell in love with both myself and the trail. I had my life forever changed.

Lessons I Learned on Trail

The PCT has taught me many lessons over the last five months. I learned that my feet can take me anywhere I want to go if I tell them to. With every fear I faced, I learned how to tap into my personal power and in the process, realized I really could do anything I put my mind to. I learned how to let go of things and be happy living with less. I fell in love with living out of my pack. I learned how to appreciate the simple things. Simple things in normal life like garbage cans, pit toilets with toilet paper, picnic tables and running water became day makers out on trail. I also learned there are plenty of good people out there who want to help other people through the incredible amounts of human generosity I experienced in the form of trail magic provided by trail angels I met along the way.

My PCT Thru-Hike Wasn’t Perfect

My pack was always heavy. I overpacked my clothes. I carried too much water and food in most sections. I wasn’t a very fast hiker. I tripped over my own feet and caught my toes on rocks and tree roots daily. I always griped about having to do the big climbs. I seemed to always be the last one into camp at night and the last one out of camp in the morning. I’d sleep in until 7 a.m., unless it was a town day. My sleeping system was probably overkill. I could easily be talked into taking an extra zero day. I drank an obscene amount of root beer whenever I was in town. I didn’t even walk all 2,652 miles of the trail. I walked more like 1,873 miles, having to skip a few sections for various reasons. The important thing here is it was my hike and I did it my way. I loved taking every single step on this trail. Even the ones with big climbs, lots of mud, overgrown bushes, large river crossings, loose rocks, piles of horse poop, blown down trees and heavy water carries.

Thru-Hiking is a Lifestyle

What a lot of people don’t realize about thru-hiking the PCT is it’s less of a hike and more of a lifestyle. You either love thru-hiking or you don’t and you usually know within the first 100 miles. Hiking is only one part of the PCT. Thru-hiking the PCT is about adapting to a nomadic lifestyle where you rarely sleep in the same place twice. Weather and water sources dictate how you spend your days on trail. There’s no worry about running off to the next appointment or trying to get to work on time. You eat, hike, eat, sleep and repeat. There’s plenty of time to take pictures, build relationships with other hikers, take breaks when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry and smell the wildflowers. There’s always something new to see and no one day is ever the same.

Thru-Hiking Has Ruined My Life

All my life, I always thought I was supposed to graduate from college, get a steady paying job with benefits, get married and have kids. Thru-hiking the PCT destroyed all of my ideas of what being successful means. After spending five months living on the trail, I realize life is so much more than the type of job I have, the shoes I wear, the car I drive, the zip code I live in, my marital status and how much money I have in the bank.

Thru-hiking the PCT has given me permission to dream big. Never again will I be able to settle for average or just okay. The trail has proved to me that nothing is impossible. I can manifest whatever I want like creating the job of my dreams, being paid to write about hiking the PCT, having people come listen to me talk about hiking the PCT and even doing another thru-hike in 2019.

The PCT has taken over my life and my mind. It’s all I think about and talk about – the experiences I had hiking it last year, the sections I missed, the sections I can’t wait to see again, the people I met along the way and my plans to hike it again this year. Thru-hiking the PCT has ruined my life in so many ways and all of them in the best ways possible. My life will never be the same.