The Math After

Seattle, WA

What I learned

I took this picture at SeaTac Airport on my way down to San Diego at the beginning of my quest. It struck me then as an image that would become compelling while hiking the deserts of Southern California. I never did view it again on trail but its implications were never far from my mind.

The facts of my hike are simple to quantify. In 45 days I walked a total of 844.2 miles and completed California Sections A-G, the first 788.5 miles or just about 30% of the Pacific Crest Trail. My estimated 1.8M steps included almost 250,000 feet of elevation gain. I shed over 22 pounds of body weight or ~12% of myself. (Good thing I stopped!) The insights gained from the experience prove more profound and, I hope, longer lasting.

The trail taught me gratitude. Stripping off the trappings of comfortable life and setting out with only what can reasonably be carried, I quickly came to appreciate what I lacked. I needed reliable connection with my love, family, and friends to keep my spirits high. I needed more clean water and more calories than I could carry. I needed a sense of meaningful forward progress each day. Deprived of such things, I became acutely aware of my need.

The trail taught me simplicity. When you reduce all your belongings to what fits in a backpack, life gets pretty simple. Everything had its place. Back left pocket- maps, front left- sunscreen and lip balm, right front- food and candy, right back- garbage, and so on. I knew everything I carried, where it was, and used everything at least once. Over the entire trip, I lost only a single tent stake. After returning home I was struck by and overwhelmed with the mountainous volume of stuff I possess. Life was much simpler with less.

The trail taught me to be conscious of privilege. This one especially I hope to keep top of mind as I move forward. The trail is just the trail and treats everyone the same. It matters not who you are, where you come from, how much you have or don’t have, what you have accomplished, you still have to climb the same hill as everyone else. When your life experience suggests it should be otherwise, trouble is not far behind. Awareness leads to insight.

The trail taught me humility and acceptance. At the end of what I thought was a particularly brutal day, invariably there would be someone there to surprise me with the seeming ease of their same accomplishment. Confronted with personal limitations, I was forced to realize and accept that there will always be someone stronger, faster, further, or more accomplished. Like life, casting the trail as a competition led to disappointment and dissatisfaction. What is, is.

All of which leads me back to that water bottle filling station at SeaTac. A basic human need is served there, the same for everyone, but in a fantastically sophisticated yet simple, and invisibly convenient way. As I continue my path in the world, I hope to see and appreciate such things with a new perspective taught by my time on the PCT. Gratitude, simplicity, consciousness, acceptance, and humility were lessons hard won but I am better for having learned them.

Please accept my blessings and boundless thanks for all your encouragement and support of my endeavor. You made all the difference.



P.S. Just like most humans, I too like to be right and seek external confirmation for my decisions. I have not second guessed my conclusion to leave the trail and should I ever start leaning that direction, I will bookmark this article from the Associated Press today:


7 Replies to “The Math After”

  1. John – thank you so much for the vicarious PCT experience and your thoughtful insights. I so enjoyed your posts and will miss them accordingly. You made a mature and wise decision to stop when you did!
    Sharing your journey is deeply appreciated.


  2. You definitely made the right decision. Just after you posted that you were leaving the trail, we saw a tv report by search & rescue teams in the Sierra’s telling EVERYONE to stay away from rivers & high-water creeks because of the treacherous conditions. Safety is always the best choice. Glad you’re home safe and sound!!
    Cheryl & Rob


  3. I fully support your decision to do what you needed to take care of yourself! Now hop on a plane and come join me in Burgos to walk the rest of the Camino! Here you will find the things that the PCT held for you as well as some of the things that you discovered you needed. The Camino is about community.

    I love you friend!


  4. I’m so glad I chose your blog to follow, very inspiring and more interesting and mature than most. Loved experiencing the trail with you. It sounds like you learned some amazing things out there!


  5. Thanks for documenting your journey. I’m disappointed that your trip was cut short (both for you and my own voyeuristic tendencies), but am happy that you are safe. I hope that you have another opportunity to complete the trail in the future.


  6. Hey John,

    Nice reading your journal. My daughter and I just finished a week in the North Cascades, hiking from Cascade Pass to Stehekin. We walked a few miles along the PCT and passed a number of thru hikers. In Stehekin ran into a number more. One person told me their scariest time was in California with the snow, so being safe rather than sorry was a wise decision. There is still another season to do it.

    Stay safe, if you go again.
    Chris (Sharingwood)


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