By Kathryn Moseley
Last summer I set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the same summer, my adventure was cut short. After hiking 782.9 miles from the California/Mexico border to Kennedy Meadows, chronic pain had finally pulled my heart out of long distance hiking. I skipped ahead to do one final section from Harts Pass to Stehekin, where I tagged the Washington/Canada border. Then, I left the trail behind.
In feeling like I’d fallen short of what I set out to do, I was reminded of a simple truth: Life is not a single line moving in one smooth direction forward. Maybe I wasn’t set to go forward in a direct line, anyway. Maybe none of us are.
There are still a lot of questions the trail left unanswered in this season of my life. What I do know now, though, what the trail clearly and definitely spelled out for me is this: I cannot let my life be a series of “maybe laters”.
Hiking the PCT was something I had dreamt of for a few years, but felt so afraid to do. I like backpacking and hiking, but somehow I just couldn’t picture myself setting out on my own.
My fears ranged from constantly being alone and probably, definitely getting attacked by a mountain lion, to the logistics of how to make such a long trip work. I had a nightmare in the months leading up to the hike that I didn’t know how to use my water filter, and that I forgot to bring any water bottles at all.
I also feared the unknowns of returning to life after the trail—particularly work-wise. In leaving behind my graphic design job, I worried about judgment from people who might forget about my adventure and focus on the fact that I’d be jobless and living with my parents after the hike.
I’m not sure exactly what changed, but as the days pass I feel myself loosely connecting those specific dots that led me to the Southern Terminus in Campo, California on an overcast, windy April morning.
Did this whole adventure end up as I thought? No. But I started. I was brave enough to begin. I realized it could be too easy to get comfortable; to go my whole life just wondering what that big adventure might be like, instead of stepping out and doing it.
Before I came to a resting point on this idea of ridding my life of “maybe laters” there was a string of decisions and waypoints that guided my steps.
Take, for instance, the privileges that allowed me to move forward with yes rather than waiting for my thru-hike: I don’t have kids to think about, or ailing family members to care for. I am physically healthy and able. I have a strong foundation of family support, which I can lean on for transitional periods. Not everyone has that luxury.
Don’t misunderstand, though. I have learned that choosing “yes, now” instead of “maybe later” will always require some level of sacrifice. That’s where the conscious choices come into play.
For me, it seems saying no to many things is what ultimately led me to saying yes to this one thing:
Ultimately it was all the freedom that my season of life affords, with many accumulated sacrifices, and the support I received from family and community that allowed me to embrace the yes. I think of it as a few major guideposts and a few dozen little waypoints throughout the past couple years that led me there to the start—not only the literal start of the trail, but also, a new season of life.
After 782.9 miles, chronic pain was too much to continue. I’d suffered two major knee dislocations prior to thru-hiking—the most recent injury less than two years before starting the PCT. Without a lot of cartilage left in there, hiking every day eventually triggered constant knee pain. Coinciding with the knee pain was intense pain on the ball of each foot. Walking became miserable. It would take weeks of rest for the pain to go away.
Although I left the PCT before completion, I have felt the reverberations of my time on it far past the moment I took my two aching feet off trail. The hike itself was the small, soft splash of a pebble into the water. The ripples are what I feel each day—the lessons I knew I had immediately learned, and those that I uncover quietly and gently each day that passes since starting, and leaving, the PCT.
Although I left the PCT before completion, I have felt the reverberations of my time on it far past the moment I took my two aching feet off trail.
I’m living back in Port Angeles now, thankful to be welcome at my parents’ house. Work-wise, I’m mostly doing freelance graphic design as I continue my search for an in-house graphic design role, but started working on the side as a part time Program Assistant for the marketing department at a local college to acquire additional, non-design skills. After writing about the trail each day, I find myself writing more now, too. My trail habit sparked that love in me again.
Beyond the practical changes, at my core, I find I am more empowered. There’s nothing like doing something I’ve said I wanted to do. I felt the fear and moved forward anyway.
There was much fear in the unknown when coming off the trail, so I cling to this knowledge. It is one thing to know that experience will breed confidence, and quite another to have an experience that shows you first hand you are capable. That is what the Pacific Crest Trail has done for me.
At my core, I find I am more empowered. There’s nothing like doing something I’ve said I wanted to do. I felt the fear and moved forward anyway.
I have also specifically felt the power in knowing myself better and in making decisions that are right for me at the moment. The thing is, doing the PCT is a selfish decision. Or rather, a decision to be selfish. When you go alone into some big adventure, every decision is about… you. That forced me to be honest with myself. So, that habit, the one where I stalled at “maybe”… the trail sucker-punched it. There was no room for a maybe in my decisions. Either I did, or I didn’t.
While my life off trail is not lived in a silo where every decision only impacts myself, I still carry this lesson with me. There’s been a change not only in how I process decisions themselves, but also in what comes after a decision has been made. A wrong decision isn’t the end of the world, if I made it with my best intentions in mind.
Being on the PCT encouraged me to pursue the things I want to pursue. The timing will never be perfect, the people to go with may never be around at the right time, the weather will never line up as I want it, some family friend or distant relative will always have something unhelpful to say about how I’m choosing to live my life. I must be bold enough to hear the chorus of questions and doubts, and go anyway.
I remind myself of this: people pass their insecurities onto others. Although this can feel heavy and frustrating, others’ insecurities are not my burden to carry. I am responsible for me, and taking care of my own decisions, I control my own ability to say “yes, now” instead of “maybe later”.
The dots of my life can still feel at times like an undefined blob that I haven’t quite figured out yet. But since leaving the PCT, I know for sure that I must fight for my now, for a life that takes up space, the life I want to live, a life of fulfillment.
It’s scary and exciting and messy and wild, and keeps me up some nights tossing and turning, trying to hold these dreams so carefully in my palms. But it’s worth it. Oh, my friends, a life without “maybe laters” is so worth it.
Photos courtesy of Kathryn Moseley
Kathryn Moseley is a big fan of storytelling and crunchy peanut butter. A writer and graphic designer, she calls the beautifully green Pacific Northwest home. See more of her work on her blog simplykk.com and portfolio site kathrynmoseley.com and find her on Instagram @kk_grace.