Some of you may have met me on trail. You would have know me as Sleepy Andy. Throughout the trail I kept a journal so I could go back and look up whatever it was I was doing on any given day. Not only would this help me piece together my journey in the future, I also used the pages for some writing of a more creative style with the intention of expanding on it after I was done.
There are a few reasons that I haven’t written about the Pacific Crest Trail since completing the trek last fall. I have tried to write out my thoughts, but was left with many half finished ideas. While I still plan on publishing some of these in the future, I wanted to get some things off of my chest first, mainly some of the reasons that I haven’t published anything until now.
Post Trail Depression
Depression sucks. I am not talking about feeling sad or being unhappy with your life. I am talking about weeks, months, years spent feeling like complete shit. Not having the energy to get out of bed. Not eating right, not taking care of yourself, accomplishing little. Life just doesn’t seem to be worth living. It is a disability that hundreds of millions of people struggle with throughout their lives, something that I struggle with.
I was depressed before starting the trail, but there is certainly a different type of hopelessness that I have encountered after the trail. When I got done with the trail I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life anymore. I never had a strong idea beforehand, always moving from one career path to another. Upon completing the trail I was as confused as ever. There was no grand realization. No revelations of the meaning of life. No path discovered. I completed the trail and went out into the world aimless. A tired and atrophied shell of a human, set to bob in the waves, adrift at sea.
When I got back to hometown Wisconsin, my mind overcame me, and I fell in to a deep dark depression. I attribute much of this to my daily exercise going from 11 to 0. There are many studies that tout the positive benefits that exercise has on mental health. A sudden change in the amount of physical activity can lead to depressive withdrawal effects. I should have kept myself active, but as I grew into seclusion I lost any and all energy I had to move forward. Instead of doing all of the things that I had dreamed of doing post-trail, I did nothing much of anything.
I began to recover as winter turned into spring and I became more active. My mood elevating and becoming more productive. I am still working on developing more positive habits to keep my mood more stable, as well as exercising more often. I understand that depression is something that I will be dealing with for the rest of my life. However, if there is anything I learned on the trail it is to keep going. No matter how hard the path ahead of you looks or how much pain you are in. There is only one thing you can do, keep on walking.
If any future thru-hikers are reading this, all I can say is post trail depression is a real phenomenon. Something that I would like to study on a more in-depth level in the future. Myself and many others I have talked to experienced it. So upon completion of your journey try and head it off by staying active and staying positive.
Nature is Sacred
Being out in the wild for months gave me a profound appreciation for Nature. I saw like never before how ecologies mixed throughout the various regions of the West coast. It is these complex interactions that create the whole world around us. The planet has been developing for billions of years to get where it is at now. While the nature around us existed before humans, and will continue to exist after we are gone, we should not take this to mean everything in existence here is robust. As scientific research continues to show us, the ecosystems around us are very delicate, and can be permanently and irreversibly damaged by human interaction.
Every time a human enters the wild places along the PCT, and throughout the world, those locations are changed. For better or for worse. I don’t want to drive more people to hike the PCT.
Year after year, the amount of thru-hikers has increased. Over 5000 permits were issued in the 2016 season alone, not to mention the countless unpermitted backpackers and day use folks. The strain that this has caused on the environment is evident. The pristine wilderness that is supposed to embody the PCT is slowly being degraded by piles of shit and toilet paper behind every bush not even 5 feet from the trail, food packaging trash fluttering in the wind, as well as many newly trampled campsites and freshly made fire pits.
The question we need to answer is how do we simultaneously conserve nature, and enjoy it? There certainly is a case for tough restrictions of entry into wilderness areas, but I believe that preventing the common man from experiencing Nature is the wrong direction. Surely education in Leave No Trace principals and environmental stewardship is paramount. But as any LNT proponent knows, any human interaction in the environment leaves an impact. So it is really down to minimizing that impact to ways which can be easily mitigated.
The small trail communities and numerous trail angles also appear to be struggling with the increase in hikers. Once a stopping point for a few wanderers at a time, they now have a huge number of hikers moving through them, something that their previous infrastructure is unable to support. Trail angles once offering a low key stay in their homes are turning into larger scale, commercial like operations. How these communities will ultimately deal with the influx is yet to be seen, but something will have to be done.
After completing the trail I faced a dilemma. Should I get up on my soap box preaching the awesomeness of the trail, or should I stay quiet to safeguard the sensitivity of Nature? I decided that not talking about Nature to protect it only does it disservice. What is the point of enjoying it if no one can experience it? So I want to use my perspective to educate about Nature enjoyment in a healthy and sustainable manner. Promoting LNT values and responsible environmental interaction.
On a similar note, backpacking is a form of luxury consumption. Pretty much all of the people hiking the PCT do it as a vacation (myself included). We hold enough wealth that we are able to stop working, and provide for ourselves during the months of the trek. While I have met people who have claimed to hike only on hikerbox supplies, most people spend thousands of dollars on this trip. Lots of new gear is purchased before embarking on the journey, some of it only used a short period of time before going to a landfill. This gear is produced as a transformation of the environment we are trying to enjoy.
I didn’t want to become a blogger writing clickbait trying to shill out the trail for interests that care more about selling gear for profits than the environment. I suppose this is an ethical dilemma that anyone in the outdoor industry faces. I am not trying to attack any other bloggers out there, keep doing what you love. I just don’t want to see the trail hopelessly commercialized, and the experience tarnished.
I’ll use these pixels to put in a quick pitch to donate to the PCTA. They are a fantastic organization whose hardworking members have championed the PCT for years. The money goes towards trail maintenance, land purchasing, and environmental advocacy. If you are going to, or have hiked the PCT, and have not donated to the PCTA, please do so. If you can spend thousands of dollars on a vacation, you can throw a few dollars to a group that has made this possible.
Failure to Launch
I fear putting myself out there. I don’t want to put my name on something until I think is perfect. I don’t want something going live on the internet with grammatical mistakes and bad logic. But the reality is, nothing is ever perfect. So I find ways to delay projects into oblivion. They die on my hard drive, unknown to the world, all because I was afraid to share. Nearly done, but abandoned at the final stage as my drive to finish decreases. I have been trying to finish more projects and get things published. This is something that I have been getting better at, and will continue to work on. I know that nothing is ever perfect, I just need to keep telling myself that. Just do it. Launch it.
I also have a specific aversion to writing. I am not a great writer. Throughout my primary education, writing was the bane of my existence. Years of soulless five paragraph essays algorithmically spit out at the bequest of an instructor. This process created little interest and passion for me to write (Trying not to get started on my hatred for the public school system). But years of reading well crafted articles and blog posts led me to see a different side to writing. It is how we as a society communicate. We are at where we are because of a chain of writers throughout the ages disseminating information through the written word. It was with this realization that I decided I wanted to write more.
I am not a fantastic writer, but the only way to get better is to do it. So I am now throwing my hat in the ring, and putting my writing out there to be judged by others so that I can improve as a writer and a person.
I originally published this piece earlier this year in my other blog. A lot has happened in my life since then.
I decided I wanted to split my PCT writings off of my main website, and create a new, travel centered site. Focused on my PCT experiences and any future adventures I may have. The sharing of knowledge, ideas, feelings & emotion is paramount to human development in this society, and I want to contribute to that.
I will be posting new content every Monday from here on out. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated on my travels and be the first to hear about new content.
-  World Health Organization Factsheet
-  I was pretty skinny before starting the trail, so loosing ~15lbs throughout the trek left me looking like a skeleton.
-  Scully D. et al. provides a good review.
-  Berlin, Ali et al
-  While there are plenty of studies that demonstrate the negative impacts that Humans have on our environment, Tylianakis et al. produced a good meta analysis of various findings.
-  PCTA usage statistics
-  To be fair, I can’t say I have never dug a poorly placed cathole. Sometimes we just have to go, and there are no other options at that time. However given the prevalence of this problem, I suspect much of it is due to poor education and general laziness.
-  The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has the goal of educating people in these regards.