One of the mantra’s of long distance hiking is;
HYOH: Hike Your Own Hike !
You see and hear it everywhere. It’s such a cliche… But you know, cliches are usually true…
I have always been a person following a path less traveled, always doing my own thing. So when someone said to me HYOH, I reacted defensively; “Of course, I will do my own thing! Don’t I always!” But usually when I choose my own path, there is a modelled path before me, so I can look at it and just wave my way through. The PCT is no such thing, there is no clear cut path to follow and all will be ok… It is not that simple! No, you really do have to figure it out yourself. It is a monstrous undertaking with thousands of variables…
A long distance hike like a PCT thru-hike brings it’s own challenges like the wide range in terrain and climate, choices in gear, the challenges of keeping your carrying weight down, resupply strategies, mail drops, water treatment, start date, different flight options… and many more decisions… Since I have never done something like this before, I am figuring it out as I go along… Luckily many people have gone before. And in this digital age, you can find a lot of information from these past thru-hikers to learn from. So I started reading books, blogs and Facebook pages. Pouring over maps. Studying hiker surveys. All to prepare myself for this massive undertaking. It will only give you an impression on how it might be and preparation will only get you so far. On trail, all bets are off and you will have to rely on your improvisation skills.
On Facebook I found my first PCT buddy; Paul, who was facing the same choices and dilemmas. We started finding our way together, bouncing ideas of each other and discussing the many dilemmas. Even though he had to postpone his plans for hiking, he helped me enormously in the first months of planning. Now in the last months of planning, I met two other Dutch hikers, Peter and Willeke, who are attempting a thru-hike in 2017. Awesome, because they face the same dilemmas as me; dealing with permits, flights, visas and resupply issues. We can share our pre-trail fun, and bounce ideas of each other.
I also started talking about my journey with people around me, but it’s very hard to make people understand the parameters on which these choices have to be made. Even though it is nice to have the people around you weigh in on your choices, in the end, you have to make the decisions yourself… It is your hike! You need to stay true to yourself. You have your own journey to make, both physically and mentally. It all comes down to what you find important. Nobody can tell you what to do or what to take with you. So HYOH!
When I try to explain it to people, I usually give this example;
A long distance hiker is called crazy for carrying five pounds of useless items. But when that item is a guitar, for example, making the six month journey more pleasant by sitting by the fire and playing each night, then those five pounds become priceless. Take it with you and enjoy the ride!! It’s worth the extra weight! These six months are not just a walk in the park! Punishing your body this much day by day for six months, you need something enjoyable to balance it out! Taking care of your mental side is as important as taking care of your body!
Everyone has their own kind of guitar, their own goals, their own priorities and their own mental uplifting things. HYOH!
I do not sleep a lot, which gives me time to think… I started to think about my guitar? What will help me through the tough times?
It started me thinking about the journey itself and my motivation… This is going to be a great adventure filled with beautiful memories, never to forget! But it is also a day by day struggle of putting one foot in front of the other, sleeping in a tent every night, while your whole body hurts and you are cold/hot and hungry all of the time. You are pushing your body daily to go beyond a point where you would normally go, way beyond comfort.
So why do it in the first place? What on earth attracted me to put myself through something like this?
I have been asked and asked myself this numerous times. Sure I like to do adventurous things. I like to push my body. But why this? Like I wrote before, the ball started rolling after reading this quote;
What’s worth doing, even if you fail?
– Brene Brown
It is actually based on another quote: What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail.
I made a decision a couple of years ago to try and live my life as authentic to myself as I can. End goals became less important. My focus shifted to the road in between. You come into this world with nothing and you will leave it with nothing, it’s what in the middle that counts… That is why Brene’s version of the quote resonated so strongly with me; it is not about achieving some goal, but about appreciating that road with all its curves. It became my strongest motivation when making choices; I had to like that middle part, for that is where you spend most time! For example; I chose a skydive team, not to be the best in competitions, but friends training and growing together, enjoying every step of the way.
I was reading a book by Brene Brown, in which she talks about this middle part and explains why you should not skip it. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. When telling a story, people usually concentrate most on the end; for that is the big achievement and the point of telling the story. After that comes the beginning, because that explains the motivation and start of the story. The messy middle usually gets lost in the scrumble. But that is exactly where my interest lies. That is probably why I like books and movies, they are all about what happens in the middle. Same goes for people; I am not interested in bright and shiny, no. Dark and twisty, yes; the messy middle…
I read a lot of these stories from PCT hikers as well. “I decided to hike the PCT… it was a long road… and I made it, it was awesome!”
If I look at that sentence, the beginning is sort of interesting; for why would someone decide to do a thing like this. The end holds only little interest; for they complete (yeah!) or do not complete (oooh, how sad) their journey.
But the middle; “it was hard, it was fun”… that intrigues me! What happened? What were those experiences like? How did it feel halfway up the mountain? It holds infinite possibilities!! That is exactly what I want to experience;
The middle, for that is where the magic happens!
People ask me; “Why do you want to hike all that way? Why not go for something easier? If you want to go from San Diego to Vancouver, just take an airplane!”
I can now tell them; it is not about getting from point A to point B, it is about the beautiful mess in between!
That beautiful mess in between…
That is my guitar!
and I will take it with me!