By Emory Wanger, UAS Operator, Mission Systems & Payloads
Emory is an Insitu team member who recently returned from a six-month journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with a Veteran organization called Warrior Expeditions, which supports Veterans as they transition back into civilian life. Emory shares his experience below:
On April 10, 2017 I took the first steps of a journey spanning 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). What began as a dream to hike every mile of the PCT turned out to be far more than I could ever have anticipated. By the time I reached Canada on September 2, I had experienced the physical and emotional trials involved in attempting a Thru Hike of the PCT in a single season.
If there’s one thing the PCT taught me over 2,000-plus miles, it’s that the best things in life truly don’t come easy. If you remain faithful to your dreams and find any sliver of reasoning at all to continue pushing day after day even when your body and mind tell you not to, you’ll find that at the end of it all you can look back with a full heart and a lifetime worth of memories.
When I approached my family and friends with the idea of hiking from Mexico to Canada, they agreed to be there for me every step of the way. That’s what we’d expect from those who love us though, right? But, when you say those same words to the company you work for and they offer their full support without a moment of hesitation, you begin to understand how special of an opportunity you really have to pursue a dream while not worrying about whether or not you have a job to return to.
Hiking from Mexico to Canada isn’t easy. A lot can happen in six months of hiking, most of which is out of your control. You can’t control the rain, the wind, the cold, the heat, the fires or the snow. All you can do is put your best foot forward and take everything in stride and keep pushing on; that is Thru Hiking at it’s finest.
As a habitual planner, not knowing what was around the next bend or in the next town was difficult for me. I was uncomfortable not knowing how I was going to resupply when I arrived or whether or not those hills between me and my destination would burn me out and send me home. Eventually, those feelings of anxiety began to dissipate to the point that by the time I reached Canada, I could stare down the barrel of the next 125 miles of trail and actually look forward to the unknowns.
Learning not to stress over what I did or didn’t know was only the beginning. I learned countless lessons on the trail that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. One specifically stands out that I’ll share with you and it won’t require you to hike for six months to understand it.
“Hike today, not tomorrow.”
Accept that there may be challenges waiting for you tomorrow, but don’t focus on them too much. Instead, focus on today and be in the moment. Stop hiking hills before you’re on them because it won’t do you any good. If you’re in a rough spot in life, be present and grind it out. Enjoy the moment because if you keep living tomorrow and not today, you’ll miss out on all the best stuff life has to offer.
By the time I reached Canada, I had logged over 2,000 miles. I experienced the heartache of having to sacrifice sections of trail in order complete others and felt the euphoria of finally being present for the first time in my life. I witnessed random acts of kindness from complete strangers and shared in the pain of saying good-bye to my wife at random trailheads along the way. I pushed through times when I searched for any reason at all to quit my journey and found joy in watching my body go from struggling to make 15 miles per day to hiking more than 25 miles without giving it a second thought.
The PCT is more than a trail. I’ll likely spend a number of years trying to understand what exactly that means, but it forced me to be honest with myself and stripped me down to the bare essentials only to build me back up again. What more could a person ask for?
Do yourself a favor and stop worrying. Hike today, not tomorrow.