Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Long Wait - Confessions of a PCT Dreamer

I must confess, I am little obsessed with counting down the days until I am able to begin my thru-hike, and mark the beginning of a radical change to my lifestyle.  I do obsessive things to psychologically distract myself from thinking about the last few months of this long wait, to manage the motivational drought I have, so that I can mentally cope with having more than three months still remaining until I am standing at the trail-head ready to take my first steps.

I began keeping a journal around the same time I made the choice to hike the PCT, and that first entry was made on July 9th, 2011 while sitting in a Barnes & Noble bookstore with a latte and a new black vinyl journal.  With a little bitterness, I wrote:  "I can only see the tunnel narrowing in front of me as my choices in life slowly dwindle until there is only a straight path leading to my uneventful retirement and subsequent enrollment into an assisted living facility.  Here I will spend my last days watching National Geographic specials on the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks while sipping a bottle of Ensure through a straw and wondering 'what if?'"  That was a turning point - almost exactly 7 months ago today.  A few days later I had already made several rough gear lists, PCT preparation lists and had gone to the library and borrowed and read through a good portion of several travel and hiking books.  On July 14th I exclaimed, "Only 37 weeks until showtime!" (I was short by a couple of weeks)

So what have I done with myself over the last 6 months with this dream still so far off?  Let me give you some examples of my neurosis.
  • I keep a minutely detailed budget and often update it as a source of motivation when I start to mentally fade away from my work.  As part of my plan be jobless for an extended period of time, I have been tracking every dollar for the past six months, each transaction updated on my spreadsheet and then tracked against my original weekly savings goal.  This provides a sense of progress toward my goal - each week my bank account grows and all the little sacrifices seem worth it.
  • I count days until "T-Day".  There are actually two calendars I am tracking closely; T-Day (Trail Day) and Q-Day (Quit Day).  Q-Day comes a couple of weeks before T-Day and psychologically it carries more weight.  I used to count weeks but once I dipped under 100 days I decided that the countdown has officially begun, and counting down from 100 just feels better!  I look at my calendar every day and re-count the days even though I just counted them yesterday and the math tells me to just subtract one day to get my new day count...but this just ruins the fun of recounting!.  I have a strong urge to "X" out my calendar but too many questions would be raised by my co-workers.
  • I make copious lists of things to be done to prepare for my hike and for my extended departure from my well-oiled daily routine.  I make multiple lists...and then cross the items off of the previous weeks lists and re-enter them in the new weeks lists, just so I can have a consolidated list - and because it's a nice and distracting way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  I take my time doing this while drinking a coffee at Starbucks (black coffee only...the rest is too expensive for my budget!)
  • I check my blog stats daily even when I haven't posted anything recently.  I also check Facebook and my personal email far too often.  You-tube has been a frequent source of inspiration - I'll find a hiker who has video blogged his or her entire thru-hike and set these videos up in a list so that they play sequentially, and then just watch and daydream.
  • I obsessively train, work-out and run.  This is one of the best ways I have learned to deal with stress and anxiety.  I am able to temporarily distract myself from whatever is on my mind and I can't help but focus on my own breathing and physical exertion in the moment.  I am also getting strong and fast - there is really no down-side to this.
  • I read the PCT-L email list every day at 11 when the daily digest is published.  In addition to being a great source of information and advice about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I am also entertained by the frequent petty arguments, complaints and colorful discussions between members.  It's a great way to break up the work day and learn something new at the same time.
  • UPDATED:  I am adding to this list a month and a half later because I have found a great new way to bide my time and distract myself until April.  I joined the PCT Class of 2012 Facebook page several weeks ago.  There are currently 280 names and I expect that this is the majority of the 2012 thru-hiker hopefuls, plus some section hikers, some past thru-hikers, future thru-hikers, and some trail angels.  What a great community to share ideas and anticipation with as we all work toward the same goal.  I am looking forward more than ever to meeting as many people as possible on the trail and developing some friendships.
With only 95 days remaining until Q-Day, I'm feeling quite confident that the worst of the neurosis is over and T-Day is inevitable.  My journal is running out of space, I am running out of pre-hike topics to blog about, my savings plan is on cruise control, my gear list is almost complete and my to-do lists are getting smaller and smaller.  The only thing left to do is wait...(and blog and facebook and make lists and count days and train!)

This is going to be a long three months.  Thanks for reading!

PCT Class of 2012


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PCT Northern Terminus

PCT Northern Terminus
On September 30, 2012 I reached the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks to everybody who supported and followed my journey. It was a life-changing experience!