Bragging rights exist for those who can complete the entire hike in one trip. I’m happy to hike a portion, at an enjoyable pace, over the next three and a half months. We’ve backpacked many shorter trips, many challenging hikes, but the PCT is a different kind of experience. There’s the time commitment; through hikers often commit four to six months to the endeavor. There’s the cost of food and permits and gear and the work of planning and assembling re-supply packages. There’s the wear and tear on the body and the sometimes-monotonous task of putting one foot in front of the other. The varied terrain and climates mean being prepared for anything.
There is also the culture of the PCT. There’s the culture that begins before-hand through films, documentaries, YouTube channels, blogs, books, magazine articles, and other media spaces. On the trail there’s the trail names and shared understandings. There’s the well-known spots to camp or eat, the towns that are friendly to hikers and often have a tourist industry devoted to hikers. There are the Trail Angels who leave water or food caches for hikers. There’s the continuation of the social media spaces that help prepare hikers for the experience, reporting on hiking progress and trail conditions.
No doubt there are many aspects of this culture that can only be discovered through the experience of hiking. This portion of my sabbatical takes me into different cultural realms. Being a scholar of American studies and women’s studies with an interest in culture, enhances my experience of the PCT and, I hope, brings another perspective to our understanding of this cultural experience of the American West, the American wilderness, and the many cultures that surround and intersect the PCT.