Tomorrow I’m leaving Sacramento and will travel to San Diego and then Campo, CA to begin my PCT hike on March 25th. In the past few days, I’ve been encountering more and more “lasts,” or experiences I won’t be having again until I return from the trail. That means 5 months (barring unforeseen circumstances) and possibly longer, considering most of my closest friends will be away at school by the time I return from my hike.
I’ve been planning this trip for over a year and have had the general idea in my head for much longer than that. In the mean time I’ve been collecting gear, researching constantly, following blogs and articles about lightweight hiking, working to save hiking money, and volunteering with the Pacific Crest Trail Association. When I finally cemented my thru-hike plan by procuring a deferment of my acceptance at UC Berkeley last March, I was elated. That feeling of happiness and pride has never subsided, but now that it’s finally time to leave, I’m struggling with a difficult mixture of anxiety, excitement, and sadness.
It hit me heavily as I sat outside a coffee shop in Sacramento with three of my high school friends. The low-angle sunlight was filtering through the leaves above our benches and the warm breeze reminded me of the summer evenings I’d be missing with these people who have shaped me so profoundly in the past few years.
I felt it again as another friend and I whisked down the American River bike trail, pushing through the wind and sun past miles of spring grass and budding trees.
In years past, this time of year has been laced with stress associated with upcoming exams and the annual crunch at the end of the academic year. It’s been a period of profound longing for freedom and free time. The possibility of smiles and conversations in the summer darkness is imminent and the desire to be outside is overwhelming.
I’m now frantically packing hundreds of thousands of calories into flat rate boxes that my mom and girlfriend will ship ahead of me while I hike north, so March is again stressful. But this time I know I’ll be outside for the next 150 days, and that’s a much more tangible reward than the page of numbers I receive at the end of a test period.
Now I just need to figure out how to overcome these waves of nostalgia and deal with the fact that I’m sacrificing the opportunity to create new memories with old friends in town in order to make new memories with new people on the PCT.