Why Would Anyone Hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

Ever wonder what it's like to hike the ever-more crowded PCT? I'm about to find out.

May 5, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
  • Something had to change.  Photo: Courtesy of Pete Brook

  • Something had to change.  Photo: Courtesy of Pete Brook

  • Something had to change.  Photo: Courtesy of Pete Brook

  • Something had to change.  Photo: Courtesy of Pete Brook

  • Something had to change.  Photo: Courtesy of Pete Brook

Hiking the PCT: 2016

I set out in April on a six-month trek north along the 2,650-mile trail. I'll be filing dispatches every two weeks. Follow my journey here.

“Why are you hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?” was a question I got asked a lot leading up to my departure on April 19, 2016 from the trail’s southern end in Campo, California, right by the Mexican border. But, since starting the trail, fewer people ask. 

For the estimated 2,500 people departing from Campo and attempting a thru-hike in 2016, the reasons are many. No doubt I’ll share a few with you in the next 23 weeks as I make my way north, 2,650 miles to the Canadian border.

pacific-crest-trail-map.jpg
  Photo: Courtesy of the US Forest Servic

As for my reason, I’d been receiving hints in life that something had to change. I’m 36, and for the past eight years I’ve worked as a freelance writer. I enjoyed the usual perks—no boss, make my own hours, flexibility, some tax write-offs—but of late I’ve increasingly wondered if I’m not in the same place I was when I started freelancing back in 2008. Writing for online publications pays the bills, but I’ve no safety net, no retirement plan, no sick pay, no paternity leave. I’d begun to wonder whether I was suited to the freelance game.

The niggling question is only relatively recent. In my late 20s, I had no qualms. I loved blogging; it was a way to get myself heard and to establish a voice. The Internet was my friend. But now, my website is an island, the RSS reader is yesterday’s tool, and Facebook and Buzzfeed dominate mindshare.

 

That's me, my old mate Lou, his cousin Casey and the border fence with Mexico. 7am. Mile zero.

A photo posted by Pete Brook (@petebrook) on

Aside from freelance gigs, I wrote about photography that focused on the U.S. prison system. My website, PrisonPhotography.org, is what I am most well known for. It was the springboard to lecture, curate, publish, and travel, but I’ve still lived one project to the next. Now that the Internet seems less of an ally, what am I to do with the website—with the origin, raison d’etre, and connective tissue of my profession pursuits? My commitment to prison activism is as strong as ever, but it might have to be channeled through other means like direct action or teaching.
     
For work, in the future, who knows? I may continue to write. Or maybe these dispatches from the trail are a last hurrah. Things are going to change and I’m not sure what they’ll look like, but for now, we’re on this trek together. Time out resolves things. Time out in nature cleanses things.

Also, while we’re talking about reasons, there’s another one that brought me here: I need to get away from my computer screen. I am writing these words on paper, longhand, then photographing the sheet and emailing the photo to my editors when I have cell service.

For the past decade, I’ve sat in front of a flat, glowing, talking, moving 24-inch surface that spews information at me for eight-to-ten hours a day. This isn’t a complaint, merely an observation. Walking two-and-a-half thousand miles seems like the opposite type of activity. Instead of software updates, I’m taking care of creaking joints, aches, and blisters. Instead of stress at the line at the coffee shop, I’m worried about my next water source.
     

 

After after.

A photo posted by Pete Brook (@petebrook) on

I’ve done a dozen or so backpacking trips over the years—mostly in the Sierras, but also in Washington, Utah, Arizona, and Montana's Glacier National Park. I love the sweat, the switchbacks, and the strength you feel your body muster. The re-hydrated food, the gear failures, and the chilly mornings (that muscle-tightening drop in temperature just before sunrise) are all part of the journey, reminding me that I inhabit a body. 

One way or the other, I plan to be outside, walking and camping, until October 1. I’ve not been telling people I’ll hike the PCT, I’ve told them I’m going to try. Let’s see how far I get.

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