Why the hell are we doing this?

It’s a pretty common question from those we tell about our plan. It might be masked behind messages of good will or admiration, but it’s almost always there. And to be honest, it’s a perfectly valid question. We ask ourselves that same question all the time, and seemingly more frequently and nervously as our start date gets closer, especially given the challenges we have had to deal with before we even start (more on that later). It makes sense, then, to dedicate some writing to this very question. Why on earth are we planning to take five months away from everything just to go, well, walking?

Jules and I are in this together. We will hike together, and the intention of this blog is to represent both of us. However, when it comes to motivations, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to speak for her. This blog post is therefore a little bit selfish. Whilst I feel incredibly lucky to be able to attempt such an adventure with her, I need to have, and understand, my own motivations for doing this. If you are reading this and are interested in Jules’ take, have a read of her post on the German part of the site. If you don’t understand German, use Google Translate, or better yet, ask in the comments section and I’m sure she’d be happy to share.  

I wrote in my first post that I’d wanted to do this for a long time. I am a little bit embarrassed to say I was one of those people inspired by the movie ‘Wild’ (I say embarrassed because the amount of people on trail has increased massively since the release of this film, and I do have quite a distaste for the influence mainstream media has had on travel and adventure). I remember watching this film and being struck by the journey that one can go through in a relatively short space of time, and how stunningly beautiful it can be to be alone. Subsequent researching of photos and videos revealed landscapes as perfect as they are diverse, but it was that idea of journey that really got the cogs turning.

Now, I don’t have the background story that Cheryl Strayed had, and the trail is sufficiently busier these days that I’m not likely to be as alone as she was. But the fact remains: this is an adventure that can challenge me and, potentially, define me. My initial answer, then to the question posed at the beginning of this blog is rather simple: I want to do this hike because I want adventure. I want a challenge. I want to do something that most people won’t. And I want to see places that most people will only see on Instagram, through the adventures of others.

It’s all pretty head-in-the-clouds stuff, isn’t it? How great would it be, to satisfy all these wants and desires in one go, through going for a little walk. Except it’s not a little walk. It’s actually quite long. And for significant portions it probably won’t be fun. We’ll be dealing with thirst and hunger, sun and snow, snakes and bears, mosquitoes and pain, boredom and fatigue, and anything else that nature cares to throw at us. At times, it’s going to suck. Suck so hard that the desire for adventure or to see something new simply won’t be enough.

Finishing the PCT will largely be a mental game. The physical stuff is entirely doable, but the mental defeats most people. I read a good book recently by Zach Davis, titled ‘Pacific Crest Trials’. In it, he suggests taking 30 minutes to think deeper about why you want to be on trail, and what you want to get out of it. More importantly, he recommends writing them down and taking them with you. I don’t intend on sharing these publicly (at least not yet), as some of them are quite personal, but in doing this exercise I did find another layer of reasoning as to why I want to do this. I’m sorry if this is somewhat of an anti-climax – there is no big reveal here. But rest assured that I have a solid set of reasons as to why I am doing this, and I believe that I am mentally ready to give this a decent nudge.

In fact, this self-reflection exercise has already come in handy, even before we leave Austria. It hasn’t been an easy path to the trail head. In January, Jules hurt her knee snowboarding, and was told by the emergency doctor that she had ruptured her ACL. With that diagnosis, our dreams and planning were pretty much shattered. I felt kind of hollow, and I really didn’t know what to think. Luckily, after an MRI and a knee specialist inspection, we were told it wasn’t an ACL, and we should be fine to hike. But, we haven’t been able to do any preparation outside, and Jules has only just begun walking without a brace.

Now, we are dealing with Coronavirus. As I write this, Italy, only a few hundred kilometers south, has quarantined its entire population. Austria has begun banning large public gatherings and closing schools. Airlines are cancelling flights not just because certain destinations are heavily affected, but also due to a general lack of demand. Some airlines are going bankrupt. Our booked flight is currently still scheduled, but we really don’t know if that will change before we leave. Without trying to sound too dramatic, it is beginning to look like a question of whether we can get out before the net closes. I think we will, but it is not the best way to leave home and start something new.

How have these difficulties affected my motivation? Mostly positively, I think, but in a measured way. It has given me a sense of perspective – that when we do get on trail, we are lucky to even be there. Any experiences that we do get, even if we don’t finish the thing, are valuable. It has been a good reminder for me, a bit of a reality check. Before January, I very much had a mindset of finish-at-all-costs, and now that I think about it I don’t think that would be particularly useful when things got difficult. I feel like I would be more susceptible to burn out, to not listening to my body or my mind when things didn’t feel right. I probably wouldn’t see the bigger picture, or stop and weigh up my priorities and goals, or even appreciate where I am at that particular point in time. I think I’m more likely to finish now, given this build up, than I was before.

Right now, I am only focusing on positive thoughts. We are going to catch our flight and we are going to make it to the southern terminus. Whatever happens from there is open, but I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.

Until next week,
Brendan

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