(Check out other FAQ about the PCT here.)
I know, I know. It’s been another long silence. Every time I think about posting to my blog, I always feel like there needs to be an eloquent lead-in, some sort of transition. But if I keep waiting for that to happen, it never will.
So, without any more prelude, here are some answers to questions I’ve gotten since I finished posting my memoir.
Q: Did you ever figure out what Zach's persistent stomach issues were all about?
A: We never figured it out for sure, so we’re just chalking it up to a stressed digestive system. And although my stomach held up fine on trail, about three months after we finished, my body had a complete system failure. Zach finally convinced me to go to the doctor, and after a horrible two-month sugar cleanse, I was restored to health. Zach and I did a shorter sugar cleanse recently, and his stomach appears to be doing better. But I still can’t fathom why Zach could eat two cups of mashed potatoes, topped with half a summer sausage and a literal half cup of olive oil, without any stomach issues, but get sick on a soda and half a bag of chips.
Q: What would you do differently?
A: How much time do you have? (I kid, I kid.) There are a ton of small things (there will be a whole entry on this later), but here are some general things:
The number one change I’d make, hands down, no contest: I would’ve spent more money. I have always been adamant that you should never go into debt for a trip, but our lives would’ve been soooo much easier if we had just been willing to spend more cash. We paid off what little debt we had in short order, with very little stress, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
On a similar note, I would’ve relaxed more about our mileage. Near the end of the trail, we told ourselves, “Morale is more important than mileage,” and it’s true. If you’re happy and well-fed, you’ll sail through the miles much more easily.
I would’ve carried more snacks and fewer meals. Meals are great, but they take a long time to prepare, and often require water. Snacks are golden. Especially peanut-butter-chocolate-honey tortilla wraps.
I would’ve asked friends and family for more help. In Washington, we finally wrote a group letter asking if anyone wanted to give us some cash, and the response was overwhelming. People were wanting to help, but we had to give them the chance. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I don’t think I fully realized how eager people were to help us out.
Q: How did the trip change you?
A: It seems odd to say this, but this is a difficult question to answer. You’d think that the hardest and most incredible trip of your life would affect you in some dramatic, singular way. But as far as I can tell, it didn’t.
I wish I could say that I appreciated nature more, or that I embraced minimalism, or that I felt more connected to my husband, or that I had learned not to sweat the small stuff. But if I did, it’s so subtle that it’s escaped my notice.
That’s not to say that the trip didn’t change me. It affected me in a million little ways.
It taught me to trust my husband’s judgement.
I appreciate civilization and convenience and my possessions a lot more.
It gave me a small sense of just how much it would suck to be homeless; I’ve given a lot more money to panhandlers since my return.
It gave me a much more physical sense of the size of the world— I know how far a thousand miles is. I know what it takes to walk that distance. Twice. And whenever we sing a song in church about God being “higher than the mountains that we face,” or with us “in the desert” or with us “every step of the way,” I tear up, because I know, on a visceral, sensory level, what a mountain and a desert and a never-ending journey of steps feels like.
It gave me memories and stories that seem to come up in every conversation, no matter how hard I try to avoid always bringing up, “When we were on trail…”
It gave me new perspective on patiently dealing with something. I used to say, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” Now I say, “Life is a thru-hike, not a marathon.”
It showed me I had more strength than I realized.
In the end, I think I’m still processing how the trip changed me. It was incredible. It was exhausting. It probably had more of an impact on me than I realize. But it was less like a trip and more like a very strange, very short, very intense phase of life, one that may take years to fully understand.