The Realities of Hiking Daily – A Look into the Pacific Crest Trail 

By Maytal Agasi


You’ve heard of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT), but what is it really like to wake up day in and day out in the wilderness? How do our bodies adapt to mile upon mile upon mile of movement? How does our mind cope with a goal like walking 2,650 miles (4,264 km) from Mexico to Canada?

Can I do it? Am I crazy for wanting to do this?

The answer is yes, you are crazy for wanting to do this, and yes, you can do it. But what is crazy? Crazy is leaning into the unfamiliar, stretching your edges and limitations, forging your own path, and entering into the unknown – this is crazy; you are crazy.

A trail like the PCT is far more mental than it is physical (not that it isn’t physical). When you break it down, it’s about pushing yourself to get out of bed every morning and keep going. It’s about walking through the elements: harsh winds and gentle breezes, the sun’s blistering rays and loving kiss, the crunch of crisp snow below your feet, and sinking into slushy snow for miles and miles (which makes me move about 1 mile an hour), refreshing rain and earth’s thunderous howl leaving you wet and raw, cold to the bone. You name it, and you’ll move through it.

It’s about separating yourself from the rubbing of your toes, the chafing on your back, and your aching legs. It’s about connection to the body while simultaneously remembering that your mind is much stronger than the pain or discomfort you are feeling. It’s surrendering to the moment and releasing your body. Connection. It’s about that moment every morning right after you wake up when you decide to deflate your sleeping pad. This is what makes a thru-hiker – resilience, drive, and purpose. 

A Day in the Life on the Trail

So, I convinced myself to deflate my sleeping pad. It’s about 6 a.m. One person in my tramily (trail family) has already packed up, and left camp, another is about to leave, and two others are still sleeping. I start to stretch out my feet, pack up my tent, and get the day started. Within about 45 minutes, I’m all packed up, snacks in my pockets, and ready to go.

Movement begins. The first few steps always hurt, and my feet feel tender, but after a few short minutes, I start to find my groove. Somehow, it’s been an hour, and the sun’s rays begin to touch my face.

I get to a water source, see my friend, and decide it’s time for a snack break. I am feeling lazy, so I scoop water from the creek into my CNOC Water Container, attach my Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter along with my well-loved smartwater bottle, and hang the whole system on a tree. I think to myself, thank goodness for gravity filters. The last thing I want to do right now is have cold, wet hands. I eat a bar, the second of my day, pack my water system up, and keep walking. The sun is heating up quickly, and I’m already drenched in sweat. 

I keep walking, and walking, and walking.

My tramily and I are hoping to hike a minimum of 23 miles today. Sometime between 12 and 1 p.m., I see some of my friends stopped again, looking out over a beautiful vista. A lunch spot with a nice breeze and some good sunshine – the perfect combination. We all sit for about an hour, enjoying the rest while inhaling as much food as we have allotted ourselves: a raw vegan sausage wrapped in a plain tortilla, two cheese sticks, another bar, some Corn Nuts, and strawberry fig newtons drenched in Nutella. The diet of a thru-hiker is both impressive and repulsive. It’s all about calories – the more, the better, as we are in a constant calorie deficit from the day we start the trail to weeks after finishing.  

And just like that, we start walking again. The food gives me a bit of a pep in my step, and I’m moving about 3 miles an hour. I feel good, I feel strong, and somehow, some hikers still pass me. On the trail, our egos are constantly questioned and brought down a peg. When hikers pass me, it is a reminder for me to slow down, to be present, to look at the flowers and insects, and to listen to the chirping of the birds. 

A few more hours pass. At this point, I reach into my hip belt for my last snack of the day before dinner and eat it on the top of a rock overlooking a view that goes on for eternity. I eat and meditate for a few minutes before continuing onward. 

I make it to camp between 5 and 8 p.m., depending on the time of year. At the peak of summer, in the middle of my PCT hike, we can hike from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. in full sun. By the end of the season, it’s a little less glamorous. 

The sun becomes our mother, and we become children, obeying and surrendering to her. When the sun rises, we rise. When the sun sets, we settle into our tents, quickly falling asleep.

When I get to camp, I like to set up my Zpacks Soloplex tent immediately and get my chores done so I can eat dinner as soon as humanly possible. My stomach is growling, and I feel ravenous, but I force myself to organize my things and set up my bed. My moaning and groaning begin as the hanger sets in, but I still force myself to blow up my sleeping pad before making dinner. 

It is my least favorite part of the day, every day – but here we are – this is the monotony of the thru-hike, the not-so-glamorous realities of making your dreams come true. 

I boil water, rehydrate my meal, and gobble it all down in moments – delicious curry that I dehydrated months ahead of time plus spoonfuls of Nutella. I keep closing the jar and reopening it until I fully close my bear canister and cut myself off. 

My tramily and I do highs and lows from inside our tents, yelling from tent to tent as we reflect on the day. 

A day in the life on the trail. Sometimes exciting, sometimes monotonous, typically a complex mixture of both. Good days and bad days just like life off trail, out here it’s just a bit more raw, a bit more extreme.

What Does It Take To Be a Thru-Hiker?

A thru-hiker is someone with grit and perseverance, someone who leans into the unknown and the flow of constantly changing plans.

It’s about rubbing shoulders with discomfort and finding a sense of home within your own filth, within the monotony of the same food every day, within sleeping on a slight slant, within the dichotomy of loneliness and social overstimulation. It’s someone who loves constant change and is open to raw emotion. It’s someone who finds gratitude in the radical simplicity of living in harmony with the earth’s natural cycles. 

Thru-hikers are the world’s modern-day pilgrims – the seekers and searchers—those who surrender to earth and find that within earth’s raw beauty, there is something sacred. When we spend so much time with nature, we become nature. When we traverse different ecosystems and biomes from the desert to the alpine, from the rugged forest to the towering mountains, we find a fluidity within ourselves. 

We, too, change just like the earth. The trail helps you find comfort in that change. 

A thru-hiker can be anyone. It doesn’t matter where you come from, whether Germany or middle America, the big city or rural farmland. It’s about the core of your being, more than what you look like. 

The trail is an equalizer. It brings everyone to the same playing field. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, the gear on your back, the speed of your stride, or how many cycles you’ve taken around the sun. Once you start walking, you are instantly part of the most welcoming, caring family you can find.

Struggles Along the Trail

A long trail, like the PCT, is not for the faint of heart. The journey will push you out of your comfort zone. It will walk all over you. 

You will question if you really want to still be walking. But just as fast as you question why you are traversing the country, you will see a vista so spectacular that the universe makes sense, a flower so symmetrical that all of life’s most significant questions are answered, a sunset so profound that life feels utterly complete. 

But even in the midst of pristine perfection, you will struggle. The path is so much more than stunning views and landscapes. The PCT, especially in a year like 2023 (the highest snow year in recorded history), is just as much about facing adversity as it is about the sunrise summits, jumping in alpine lakes, the community, the glowing sunsets over the deserts rolling hills, etc., etc. 

Mosquitos will swarm you. The buzzing in your ears will feel like a lesson in insanity. A day that ends with only 15 new bug bites will feel like a success in contrast to the days with 60 or more. It’s about waking up and putting your head net on in gratitude rather than letting the buzzing get to you. 

Your feet will ache. At the start of the trail, you’ll get blisters – new ones every day, and each step will hurt. It’s about putting a new piece of Leuko tape on your feet and continuing onward. 

It’s about getting a bigger pair of shoes instead of letting the pain impact your overall experience. It’s about knowing how to care for your blisters and be grateful for your knowledge and this seemingly small amount of self-care. 

You’ll develop injuries. It’s about learning how to adapt to your changed body over getting frustrated with this new pain. It’s learning how to do physical therapy for your plantar fasciitis. It’s putting KT tape on your knees. It’s adding padding to your hip belts on your pack. It’s about getting rid of unnecessary weight if your pack is too heavy.

Sometimes, the trail will feel like a job.

It’s about gifting yourself a double zero (a day without hiking) when your body feels like it’s crumbling instead of forcing yourself to walk in pain. You’ll get snowed on. You’ll get rained on. It will be windy. You will be cold. You will be hot, and fire might even push you off the trail. Adaptation over internalization.

Your stench will disgust you, and you’ll be covered in grime. Sometimes, you’ll go ten days without a shower or laundry. It’s wearing the same sun shirt for months on end. It’s about remembering to wash your underwear in the creeks. It’s coming to peace with your filth and reveling in it.

You’ll miss your family and friends, but your drive and determination will keep you pushing forward. You’ll be emotionally vulnerable and raw. It’s about finding the beauty in your openness rather than leaning into your sadness. 

You’ll be completely and utterly exhausted in ways you’ve never been before. Sometimes, the trail will feel like a job, constantly pushing miles. In your exhaustion, it’s about reframing your experience and finding the glory in going to bed so tired every day. The struggles on the trail are real and numerous. While they are important to talk about, they aren’t everything. Not every moment on trail is an Instagram moment. The trail is a microcosm of life – full of it all.

All of this is to say that I’d do it again. Every day since being off trail, I’ve dreamed of being transported back. Back to the heat and the rolling hills of the desert, back to the unexpected beauty and storms of northern California, back to the numerous swimming holes and protruding mountains of Oregon, back to the berries, mushrooms, and perfection of Washington, and of course to the sacred land of the Sierra. 

Back to the purity, the simplicity, the beauty in the monotony. Back to it all: the aching feet, the ramen and instant mashed potatoes, the early mornings, and the people. The people and the community make thru-hiking what it is. It’s that feeling of kindergarten, meeting someone, and instantly feeling a soul connection. 

So, go on a thru-hike – connect with the land, find yourself in the beauty of nature surrounding you, and find the kindness and generosity in humanity. Prove to yourself that you are capable of anything you set your mind to. Enjoy being crazy; you are crazy.  

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