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12 things the Pacific Crest Trail taught us

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Post by: Kirby Arloff of the Nashville Nomads.  

“Walking 20-25 miles a day for three months straight was the arduous task we decided to take on this summer. What started out as an exciting journey and post-grad adventure ended up turning into the biggest season of growth and education in our lives.

The PCT saw the best, and might I add, the worst of us. It took its toll on us, yes, but it also brought life out of us. The trail does something to people, and it sure changed something within Brandon and me. For that, we are eternally grateful. So we wanted to share this brief list of the lessons the trail has taught us.

1. Independence.

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Independence is the one thing you better be sure you packed when going on a trip such as the PCT. Every day, you hike alone until the sun is setting. Every day you will be thinking WAY too much. Everyday you change your mind about “the plan”.

Learning to find contentment on your own is crucial. Learning to memorize the sound of your own heartbeat is freeing. We had to be okay with continuing the trail alone before we could hike it together, because at the end of the day no one is going to keep you going besides yourself. Being alone has always had a bad stigma, but it’s actually quite rejuvenating! Thus, when community is around, and you have your crew to camp with, or fellow hiker trash to celebrate with when you make it to the next town, learn to recognize that and be intentional with them, because they are hidden treasure. Don’t miss out on it. This leads to lesson number two…

2. Community.

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Community is beautiful and sacred- and should be graciously acknowledged and appreciated. Trail community is unlike any people I have ever been around. They are filled with a pizzazz for life and want to help you find the zest in yours in any way they can. They share everything from the sacred last piece of chocolate for 70 miles, to hugs that are desperately needed out there. This community had my back 100 percent of the time.

One night as I was laying in my misery of the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush, (for those who think I am making this peculiar plant up, go look it up. It is basically poison ivy but ten times worse.) I received a text from my fellow hiker brother Dallas. He asked where we were camping and how our day was, so I told him our mile marker and began to share with him how I managed to walk straight through a poodle dog bush and now my legs were blowing up. I felt as though there was a combination of the Chicago fire of  1871 and seven million mosquitoes all biting me at the same time. A few hours later (in the middle of the night, mind you) Dallas showed up outside of our tent with Benadryl and cortisone cream to relieve the burning and itching. It brought me to tears knowing that he had hiked six miles in the night just to assist a friend in need. These are the kinds of people to hold close, because they are a genuine gift.

3. Makeup. (more of a lesson for me than Brandon…)

No one cares. No one notices. Beauty comes from personality and joy radiates beauty. Quit smearing that stuff on your faces, ladies.

4. Being scared and vulnerable enough to tell someone you are terrified is absolutely fine and sometimes necessary.

There are plenty of people (even out in the wild) who are there and willing to walk hand in hand with you through these hard-hitting moments. We’re all just figuring this life thing out, you know?

5. It’s not about the big picture (2600 miles). It’s about deciding to wake up in the mornings, tie your laces, and take each step as it comes.

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Some days are harder than others, and it takes everything in you not to quit right there and then. You just have to remind yourself that it’s just walking. Anyone can do it. Just put one foot forward. When I look back now at the hike, it isn’t the trail or mountain ranges that we conquered that makes me smile; it is the little moments of the walking in between.

6. The trail is so very wishy-washy.

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You can’t count on weather. You can’t count on feeling great everyday. You can’t count on other hikers’ plans. You can’t count on bus systems in towns. It was so hard for the planner in me to let go of all plans, but planning is not always helpful and can sometimes cause more stress to you than good. Being okay with changes is a must in life. They are an inevitable nuisance, and sometimes you just have to laugh them off!

7. There is an art in letting go.

People will come, and people will go. Be at ease with that. When we arrived home, we lost touch with a lot of people, partially because when using trail names all the time, you don’t know anyone’s real names! At first, it was really difficult feeling like we were losing these phenomenal relationships and new friends. But there is magnificence in knowing that those people have become a part of your story forevermore and make the incredible experience on the PCT such a beautiful memory. So don’t dramatize goodbyes. It’s a “see you when I see you” kind of world after all!

8. Hard days come and hard days go; don’t quit on a bad one.

And if you are even thinking about quitting, wait a week. It was the rocky moments that showed us just how bright the sun could shine. So let those bad days roll off your shoulder.

9. Sometimes prayer is all you can do to keep from crumbling.

Take some comfort in that outlet. There were many moments Brandon and I felt as though our lives were in serious danger. For me, it was a bear at the foot of my tent at 3 o’clock in the morning. For Brandon it was being completely lost in a gruesome lightning storm. We knew that there was nothing we could have done except cry in those terrifying moments, so we went to the only person who could and prayed. We prayed harder than we ever have in our lives on this trail.

10. Trail magic is just forms of blessings, and trail angels are just the hands and feet of Jesus in humanity. Call it what you will.

11. It’s the little things in life that matter.

Like receiving cards (and delicious goodies!) from loved ones located all around the globe or someone offering you a shower token. It could be a simple meal that is handed to you when you have nothing but gratitude and thanksgiving to hand back.

12. Simplicity.

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Having to live with your home and belongings tied to your back will teach you quickly that less is more. In a world that focuses so much on possessions, it was so nice to get out and have to be forced to live on so little. It really opened our eyes to the issues of poverty in our very own country, and for that we were humbled. Joy does not come from having a lot but from the people and experiences shared around you.  

The Pacific Crest Trail was an experience that shaped how we will pursue our future, and hope this will show you all a small glimpse of that. We couldn’t have done it without our friends family and incredible sponsors! Thank you all!”

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