What you can learn from a really long walk

Trail Life

So You Hiked the PCT. What Did You Learn?

(Pete Brook)
Photo: Pete Brook

I spent six months walking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. The transformative trek shifted my worldview, and revealed new insights and previously unknown strengths. And that’s just my personal experience. I also wanted to know what my fellow thru-hikers learned, so I started questioning them once I reached Washington—after more than 2,000 miles on the trail. Over 1,800 thru-hikers hit the PCT this year. I talked with 16 of them.

Photo: Christopher Juarez, 43

Trail Name: One Gear

Fresno, California

“Being out here alone and going through your head, you figure out what’s important in life. Every time I’ve been happy in life, family has been involved. When I first told my family I was going to hike the PCT, I don’t think they understood, but after a while of speaking with others and people getting excited and inspired, they appreciated why I was coming out here. I’m just trying to live life, enjoy life, and appreciate all I have.”

Emily Ketty, 30

Trail Name: Pancakes

Lake Placid, New York

“I’m stronger than I think. I love to eat: Corn Nuts, Twizzlers red vines—all junk. I still love Knorr sides. Cous-cous forever. Pop-Tarts need some sort of container though. They crumble too easily in the foil wrapper. I’ll still continue to eat them but they’d be better if they were in one piece.”

(Pete Brook)

Eric Anderson, 25

Trail Name: Dart


“It doesn’t matter where I am, I can be myself and do my thing the same in the woods, or in society, anywhere. Previously, my self-image was contextual, defined by studies or work. But now I realize it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, I am a relative constant in and of myself. The PCT is a momentum break; in the real world, you’re caught up with the next event, the next get together with friends, the next work. Getting away from all of that and just existing for a little while helps clarify things. It lets you know what you really want to do.”

(Pete Brook)

Ethan Bisset, 25

Trail Name: Homeboy

Salt Lake City, Utah

“I’ve changed on this trail. I’ve learned that we should put all our trust in who we know and not what we got. I’ll go home with the trail in my heart. I’ll go home with dirt in my lungs and my hair and under my fingernails. Be friends. Don’t burn bridges and try not to pee in someone’s backyard!”

(Pete Brook)

Holly Barbush, 31

Trail Name: Little Buddha

Northern California

“I learned to trust that everything is going to happen exactly how it’s supposed to, and not to force things. To purge things that are not benefiting you. Eventually, I’d have come to this realization, but this experience was crucial. On this trail, you have to be open and flexible. Hikers have wanderlust, and there’s a special something burning in each of us. People are here to search for something in themselves and that’s how it should be in life, always.”

(Pete Brook)

Jason Chrisman, 38

Trail Name: Crispy

Lake Placid, New York

“It’s amazing how generous people are and how many have helped me out during the journey. I can’t wait to pay that forward. I plan to come back to the trail next year and do trail magic.”

(Pete Brook)

Jeff Carloni, 37

Trail Name: Highroller

San Jose, California

“I learned to go with the flow. You come out here with a plan, but nothing ever goes to plan, so you gotta learn to be patient and ready for whatever happens. I’ll bring that back to society.”

(Pete Brook)

Jim Hutchinson, 53

Trail Name: Dr. Pepper

Lincoln, Massachusetts

“I learned that you should take it easy on Sour Patch Kids candy. My son ate too many of them and got severe heartburn and chest pains that we thought was a heart attack. We actually went to the emergency room at the local hospital. The PH of sour patch kids is 2.5, close to the level of acid. He was eating a pound of them per day! I learned that the trail is awesome and you should go out to hike wherever you can for as long as you can.”

(Pete Brook)

Jimmy Devore, 31

Trail Name: Roam

Asheville, North Carolina

“Freedom is a beautiful thing we should cherish. That’s something I learned on the Appalachian Trail and I’ve practiced ever since. It took a while for the cards to fall into place for me to do the PCT. Thru-hiking 100 percent changed my life. It revealed to me all the directions of life that are available to us.”

(Pete Brook)

Katie Copeland, 20

Trail Name: Tape Boss

Calgary, Alberta

“Getting outside of your comfort zone is where you grow. I’d not have grown had I not hiked. I’m way more confident now. I learned it’s important to have people around you. I’ll be returning to school. I’ve become smarter in many ways, but academically less so! I have a feeling I’ll return home and not be able to explain the wholeness of the PCT. It’s amazing and horrible and so many things. All the bad moments—rain, loneliness, homesickness—they’re part of it but make the accomplishment all the more worthwhile.”

(Pete Brook)

Kobayashi Shunsuke, 27

Trail Name: Koba

Tokyo, Japan

“I quit my job to come here and my mind is so spread because of the nature. I know American culture, having spoken to so many people. My mind is spread.”

(Pete Brook)

Kyle Hoyt, 30

Trail Name: MAGA

Eugene, Oregon

“I learned about different types of berries. I learned how to be alone and be happy. I’ve learned not to be scared of who you are; if you want to represent something, do it. You’re going to be a lot happier. If you’re afraid, you might regret it later.”

(Pete Brook)

Peter King, 25

Trail Name: SPF

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“Maybe the best thing you can do is to simplify everything down to the bare minimum. Reducing things to the necessities of only food, water, and shelter definitely clears your mind. I’ll return to the same life, but I hope it’ll change for the better in how I shape my attitude and treat others.”

(Pete Brook)

Rico Colomb (left) and Mandy Torres, 26 and 32

Trail Names: Cup and Ladybug

Windsor, California

Ladybug: “Hiking over the passes in the Sierras was a lot scarier than I thought it was going to be. Before the trip, I thought that if I got stung by a bee, I’d die, but I got stung twice by a bee and I am still here!”

Cup: “I learned I’m capable of going through a lot more misery than I thought I was. I can hike a lot farther in a day than I thought. Biggest day was 29 miles. At the start I did a 14-mile day and thought I was going to die.”

(Pete Brook)

Sasha Hashemipour, 28

Trail Name: Raging Pineapple

Portland, Oregon

“The biggest thing has been being kind and making kindness a part of my life, and paying it forward. I’ve received a lot of kindness. I’ve noticed kindness on the trail more than I have out in the real world. I’m sure it’s there; it’s definitely there, but maybe you don’t notice it as much. I want to focus on kindness more and bring it into my life. After the trail, I’ll try to be more peaceful, more present.”

(Pete Brook)

Filed To: Hiking and Backpacking / Adventure / Photography