The Pacific Crest Trail is definitely starting to take a mental toll on us thru-hikers. We’re so close to the end, but I’ve heard reports of people quitting in both White Pass, where I last resupplied, and here in Snoqualmie Pass. I think it has a lot to do with the the “bubble effect. Up until this point, we’ve been pretty much constantly surrounded by other hikers, but lately, it’s been a strange seesaw between glut and dearth when it comes to human interaction. You see a lot of people in town, but not so many when you’re actually hiking and need the emotional support.
Part of the reason, I think, is that we’re all intensely trail-conditioned now. Nearly 2,400 miles in, we all go approximately the same speed, usually between 2.5 and 3 miles an hour. This pretty much means that unless someone got a late start or is having a bad day, you could be less than a mile from someone else at any given point, but never actually see them. You’re having these amazing, formative experiences, like I did in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, and you want to share your exhilaration with someone. And at the end of a hard day, you just want to be heard, and to hear other people talk about their experiences.
So, as important as that connection is to me, I often find myself camping alone, yearning for the company of others. I don’t want to slow down, because the cold is coming, but I’m also doing all the miles I can, and I can’t keep up with some others. I’m stuck in this strange in-between, only broken up by the resupply stops where hikers congregate.
It’s probably only going to get harder as the end approaches. I’m feeling the finish line weighing on me: barring accident, injury, or freak winter weather interrupting this 60-degree run we’re having, Canada actually feels like it’s within my reach. Even though I’ve hiked more than 2,600 miles, that thought makes me feel a strange emptiness. I’ve got a whole life waiting for me back home, but the excitement to return to it is definitely tainted by a wistfulness, a wish that, in some ways, this would never end.
When I pulled into Snoqualmie Pass late this afternoon and started talking with other hikers, it seems most people are feeling the same, to varying degrees. A lot of people seem to be done with this whole walking thing—so, so tired. That’s not to say that people are looking forward to going back to their lives, though. Thru-hiking is such a special experience, and it’s going to be hard to leave this life behind.