Reflections on turning 24, finishing the PCT, and my first year of retirement
Did you read my first post about how I’m not going to be backlogging any journal entries from all of my previous adventures? That was a lie. I am backlogging at least one. I wrote this on August 14, 2018, three days after my 24th birthday and five days after I finished my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was in Vancouver, by myself, and feeling uncertain about a lot of things in my life. But that’s not what I wrote about. I wrote about the only thing that I have come to know as a certainty to this point…
First off, I can’t express how thankful I am to everyone in my life. So many people wishing me a happy birthday and congratulating me on the hike over the last few days. The cool, zen, lonely traveler thing to say is that I go on thru hikes and bike tours only for me, and couldn’t care less what other people think. That’s only partially true. I do adventure for myself, but support and acknowledgement from people I care about does matter to me. And it makes it all that much more worth it. All of the calls, texts and Instagram comments do help fulfill me. I don’t feel ashamed of that even though maybe I should.
A birthday is a good opportunity to put life in perspective. Unlike January 1, your birthday is actually the end/beginning of a year for you, a good unit of measure to check your progress. Here’s how I see mine.
On my 22nd birthday I felt wrong. I didn’t know what about, but I knew that something was not right in my life. Two months removed from finishing the AT and only weeks away from starting grad school, I could not shake a feeling that something about me and my life was fundamentally incorrect.
On my 23rd birthday I felt nervous. I had recently dropped out of graduate school. I was happy to no longer be living a life that wasn’t right for me, but was not living one yet that I was. I was six days away from starting my first bike tour, something I knew could certainly end up being a complete disaster. I was impatient to have it all figured out. I needed all of my decisions to be the right ones and I need them to be right immediately.
On my 24th birthday I felt confident. In the year since those nerves I felt in August 2017 I have successfully bicycled across the country, shown up in a new city and made my life work, and only two days before turning 24 finished my biggest goal when I decided to quit grad school: thru hike the PCT.
The funny thing is, I’m still relatively the same man I was at 22. I still have the same bad habits. I still care too much about other people liking me. I still probably have too much of my future happiness invested in a hypothetical partner that certainly may not exist. I still have no long term, sustainable plan to make money and build a comfortable life for myself, something that I very much want one day. I still try too hard. I’m still a fairly selfish asshole who is pretty good at putting out a presentation of a good person.
But I just don’t care about all that anymore. It’s there and it’s fine. The biggest gift hiking the PCT gave me was getting to know myself. Not as a human being, or as a man, or something spiritual like that, but as a hiker. The 16 weeks I spent walking along the crest affirmed one thing more than anything else: this is what I was born to do. When I hike, I feel so right. I am the person I want to be, all the aforementioned flaws still there, but I feel confident in who I am despite them. I feel ready. I feel fucking good. And I just stop caring about making the right decisions, or being the man I’m supposed to be. When I hike, I already am.
I’m only a few days into a necessary and difficult transition. Einstein has to go away and Michael has to come back. At least at this point in my life I certainly like one of those men a lot more than the other. But this time, I go through this change and adjustment with a bit more of a smile. In May 2016 after finishing the AT I can recall writing in my journal about how I hoped one day Einstein could come back, not really knowing if/when he ever would. I sat on the plane from Bangor to DC, writing those words, and it made me cry. I think the tears came from frustration of not understanding why the prospect of never being Einstein again bothered me so much. That’s not true this time. I have the pleasure of knowing exactly when he’ll return, and that it’s pretty soon. That makes coming back to off-trail life and all the insecurities I face with it a lot easier.
I am definitely one to be inspired by quotes, often poignant and beautifully written. But in the past few days there’s a quote I keep resonating on. It’s not famous, beautiful, or easily applicable to people in all sorts of situations. But it’s the right one for me in my life right now. I had the absolute privilege of meeting the man who said this, a personal hero of mine, only four days before finishing the PCT. I choose to believe that meeting him was the Trail Gods giving me one last on-trail reminder that what I’m doing is exactly right.
“I don’t own a home. I’m self-employed. I drive derelict vehicles. I have to work on every weekend, but it’s been well worth it. The sacrifices I’ve had to make to get out on the trail every summer have been well worth it.”