PCT 2017: The Aftermath

Life moves a lot faster back home than it does on the trail at 3mph.  My days were simple on out there.  Wake up, walk, and go back to bed - that's it.  There was a moment shortly after I returned home that I felt a little overwhelmed with all the goings on in normal everyday life.  So many things to do, people to see, and decisions to be made.  You don’t realize how complicated we’ve made our lives until you find yourself living out of a backpack for five months, wearing the same clothes every day, and having everything you need right there on your back.  The only real concern you have is how far out the next water source happens to be. 

Oh Mr. Bubbles.  Missed you that last 188 miles, but you can always go back!

Oh Mr. Bubbles.  Missed you that last 188 miles, but you can always go back!

I’ve had just over two weeks to mull over the last five months of my life so I thought I’d do a quick post on how it all happened, the total impact to my body, and a few other bits that I’ve come up with.  I think it’s only fair to those of you who have followed along on my journey to know what actually happened out there both physically and mentally.  

Action shot.

Action shot.

In no particular order, here’s how everything turned out.

 

 

Numbers

  • Total miles hiked:  
    • 2000 give or take a few
  • Longest daily mileage: 
    • 31
  • Weight Lost:  
    • 20 lbs  - down from 160 lbs.
  • Honey Buns or cinnamon rolls ingested: 
    • A lot...like over 100
  • Average Daily Mileage
    • 15 miles during months 1-2
    • 20 miles during months 3-4
    • 23-25 miles during months 4-5
  • Average pack weight
    • 30-35lbs
  • Pairs of Shoes destroyed
    • 5
  • Bugs inhaled
    • 1
  • Mosquito bites
    • Thousands
  • Large bee hives avoided (I'm allergic)
    • 4 (to include one on the move)
  • Bears seen
    • 5

 

Fun Facts and Bodily Issues

 

  • I’ve been off the trail for over two weeks and I’ve only gained about 7lbs. back so far.  
  • I can’t walk barefoot on hardwood floors for too long because the pads of my feet are smashed down so badly that it feels like I’m walking on bone.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom is the worst.  I feel like I’m 80 years old.  Joints are stiff and my feet kill me.  I have to  put on slippers so my feet won’t hurt so bad.
  • A bone on the outside portion of my right foot feels like it’s changed shape.  I can feel it protruding downward more than on my left foot and it hurts if I’m standing on it too long.  This is the foot I injured early on and continued to battle throughout the trail.  I’m considering getting it imaged to see if something is going on with it.  It feels really weird.  I secretly hope I find out that I broke it at some point so I can say I hiked on a broken foot...and be a badass.
  • I can’t be on my feet too long in shoes that don’t have much cushion or else my feet just feel like someone is beating them up with a bat.
  • I can still eat an entire pizza to myself and my body still craves sweets.
  • My mind is still in hiking mode.  When I go into gas stations, I’ll find myself looking for food and checking calories of various items.  It’s weird… 
  • On more than one occasion I’ve seen a homeless person with a backpack and actually wondered for a moment if they too were hiking… they weren’t.  But seriously, you never know!
  • I’ve woken up a number of times since being home wondering where I am.  I've found myself lying there in bed looking up with my arms across me, like they would be in my tent, thinking about how much my view has changed.  What used to be stars, is now a bedroom ceiling and what was once a small tent is now a bed with a lady in it.
  • Someone asked me recently if I wished I were still on the trail.  I immediately told them “no.”  I honestly don’t wish I were back on the trail.  Sure, I miss it, but I’m happy being home.  The trail was my friend for 5 months and will always hold a special place in my heart for as long as I live.  We didn't break up, we simply went our separate ways.  I have no doubt we'll see each other again someday.
  • Somewhere in Northern California, I noticed a small bump on my lower back right where the waist belt of my pack would rest.  It caught my attention because it looked like some sort of cyst sprouting up and I immediately freaked out.  Turns out that I’m either growing a tail or the bone that had the most contact with my pack in that area is trying to protect itself by forming fluid around it.  I’m guessing this is a side effect from dropping 20 lbs.
  • This is a weird one.  I noticed towards the end of the trip that when I would lay down on my side to sleep with my knees together, they didn’t feel the same as they always had.  It was like the bones on either of  them were more exposed than usual and it was actually very uncomfortable to have them touching.  Maybe more creepy than uncomfortable.  I’m guessing that this was yet again, a side effect from my weight loss.
  • I’ve never been a cryer or considered the highly “emotional” type.  Let me rephrase, my outlet for emotion was never to start putting on the waterworks.  For some reason though, when I start talking about the trail to someone and describe the hardships both mentally and physically, it often gets me choked up a bit.  It’s super strange and I’m not exactly certain where this new trait has come from.  I think it’s likely from having put so much of my energy toward a dream of mine and then seeing it through.  It’s a huge thing to me and I guess the only way my body knows how to cope with that idea is to show more emotion than usual.  
  • I have a couple of scars on my legs that I hoped could be much much larger than what they are.  Switching from pants to running shorts exposed my legs to bushes and sticks so I have a few marks from having to crawl over things.  The ONE cut I wished would be a badass scar turned out to be really small.  When I cut my leg on a stick, it bled pretty good and I think I looked pretty gnarly walking down the trail.  I admit...I didn't wash it all day so I could wear it with pride.  It looked a lot worse than it was...pretty sure I didn't fool anyone.

 

I still haven’t fully grasped my journey up the PCT this year.  At times I feel like I want to hit the brakes for like 6 months and just sit in this idea of all the life lessons I’ve learned in the past few months.  It’s surprising how much life parallels long distance hiking.  If you like, I’d be happy to write this down in a post for you if that’s valuable at all.  One of the greatest gifts a Thru Hike can give you is the mental space to simply reflect on every aspect of your life.  I met a few hikers on the trail that just wanted to party along the way, and all I could think about was how much they were missing out on.  It’s hard to say that last part because everyone has to hike their own hike and make the trail their own.  I should never ever compare my trail to others, but at times it’s hard not to because of how much my journey meant to me in the end.  

 

This grand idea of hiking from Mexico to Canada was there and gone in a matter of minutes when I met Jess at the trailhead in Canada.  One minute I was on the PCT and the next, I was in a car headed home.  Just like that.  There were no marching bands, speeches, or hill billy chain saw carved statues made in my honor.  Not a single beer garden or BBQ was up and running when I arrived at my final destination and honestly, it felt both great and weird all at the same time.  Like every other hiker who has entered into Canada at the end of the PCT, I had just finished a milestone accomplishment in my life and quietly returned to normal life as if nothing had happened.  It was quite humbling.

Taken prior to my first shower since getting off the trial.  My feet were feeling pretty beat up.

Taken prior to my first shower since getting off the trial.  My feet were feeling pretty beat up.

 

I’ll walk by people on the street and wonder if they’re wondering what my story is because I wonder what theirs is too.  They have no idea where I was just a month ago and I think if they did know they’d be a little shocked.  I’ll never forget the looks on peoples faces when I would tell them I was hiking the PCT.  They’d ask “oh, which part.”  I’d reply “oh, the whole thing.”  And they’d just look at me like I had a horn growing out of my head.  I always enjoyed that moment because their face expressed the fears and anxieties that I was staring down each and every day.  It was a daunting task, but it’s totally doable.  You just have to do it.

 

By Land,

 

Emory Ronald

 

P.S.  I’m happy to announce that I made my first joke regarding walking from Mexico to Canada.  I was with some good friends and it came up somehow that we’d have to walk a few blocks to a bar.  Some wanted to walk, others didn’t….and the moment was ripe for me to inject my first joke…  I quietly said “I walked from Mexico to Canada one time.” ….Mic drop!