If I (or any hiker) have ever had, what people usually call, a dream, I know for sure that thru- hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is one of them.
Walking 4,270 km (2,653 mi) from Mexico to Canada (North Bound – NOBO) or the other way around (South Bound – SOBO), exploring the stunning and magical states of California, Oregon and Washington.
The PCT is one of the 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States being the 3º longest one.
There are not enough words to describe the beauty of the landscapes so I invite you to take a look at the official web! HERE you can find all the information about the PCT.
Although this seems only like a distant dream for now, I would like to introduce you to one person who has experienced the PCT and some other big trails in the world too.
Matt hails from a rural area near Champaign-Urbana, IL, U.S.A., about 225km South of Chicago. He currently lives in Urbana, IL. Age: 40. He has made a living doing home repairs and renovations, living frugally in order to maximize his free time.
Matt’s first long distance hike was the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011. Since then, he has walked approximately 29,000km on long distance trails, primarily throughout the United States but also in Spain, France, and New Zealand.
He had dreamed of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail since first hearing of it in his late teenage years and was hooked on the lifestyle since. His training is mostly by trail running, yoga, and day hiking with a weighted backpack.
Matt is an advocate for Leave No Trace principles. A couple unusual tips: If the trail is wet, he recommends intentionally getting your shoes wet at the first puddle, not to be tempted to skirt the wet and muddy areas. He would also encourage readers to try using natural materials instead of toilet paper, his favorites: smooth stones, sticks, and snowballs.
Climate change has had observable impacts on the natural areas Matt has visited. Snowpack levels in the mountain regions of the Western United States have been both near record highs or record lows depending on the stronger than usual El Niño/ La Niña weather patterns. Large wildfires events have been very widespread and prevalent. Also massive areas of pine forests have been completely killed by pine beetle infestations.
“Over weeks and months during a long distance hike, a deep relationship to the natural world and it’s rhythms develops. At first, the day/night cycle uninterrupted by artificial light with the early morning and late evening hours his favorite times. Then, the progression of days was kept track of by the changing phase of the moon. Finally, the gradual changes of the seasons during a multi month hike. One’s senses sharpen dramatically to the subtleties of the natural world, so much so that artificial smells like perfume and the noise and speed of town life can be overwhelming after several weeks spent in the wilderness.”
During a thru hike, he prefers to sleep in the open as much as the weather permits, avoid ear buds and cell phones, and limit his time in towns for resupplying in order to deepen and strengthen this connection to the natural environment. He also likes the use of a map and compass over a GPS in order to deepen the mental connection to the terrain where he has walked from and where he’s headed towards.
For him, the freedom found on a long distance hike is rewarding and the commonly spoken phrase ‘hike your own hike’ holds true.
“Physical challenges certainly exist on a long trail. Whether it’s relentless sun, weeks hiking on lingering spring snow, strong weather, deep stream crossings during spring snow melt, or early Fall snow storms, developing and expanding a skill set combined with learning the limits of one’s backpacking equipment provide rewards to those physical challenges. Ultimately, the challenges are typically mental, it really boils down to persistence.”
His scariest moment was when he slipped and fell on an icy snow slope descending a Mountain in Wyoming, going into an uncontrolled slide and dislocating his shoulder in the process. He was finally able to get himself stopped by digging in his heels and his hands, avoiding further injury. He admits he was unprepared for the conditions, being without an ice axe and crampons but climbing the mountain was just too tempting. A lesson he was relieved to walk away from.
Many people would say one of the best parts of being on trail is the community and bonds that form among hikers and Matt would agree. He has been fortunate to have shared some of his thru hikes with his brother, sister, and mother, plus the many hikers he’s met on trail and become friends with. Some trails, like the Appalachian Trail or the Camino de Santiago are very social. Others, such as the Florida Trail lend themselves to a more solitary experience, if wanted. Both are enjoyable for Matt and he tends to not fight against the basic nature of any given hike. “It’s usually better to embrace it as it is”, he says.
His top five tips for thru hiking are:
Matt’s current project is working on an old house he recently bought and connecting more with his community and developing a garden. He is planning a hiking trip with his mom and sister on the Caminho Português for the Fall of 2020, which is likely put on hold due to COVID-19.
While thru-hiking his PCT, Matt came across with this two guys who were working in this amazing project:
Do More With Less is a conversation between over 100 hikers traveling from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Throughout the 2,660 miles and endless challenges the community talks about hiking, abandoning the grid, and how to live an adventurous lifestyle. This film is not-for-profit and was made to give back to the PCT community.
Listen to our friend Matt, along with more incredible stories, and breath-taking landscapes. You can find all the info and the 1h 30m film for FREE here!
I hope you learnt and enjoyed this article/interview as much as I did! Huge thanks to Matt for taking his time to help me with it and for sharing his story with us. What a true inspiration he is! Wishing all the best for his future adventures 🙂