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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

PCT: Post-hike reflections

Five months have passed since I got off trail.  How has my life changed?  Here are some random highlights in no particular order...

One of the many majestic views along the Pacific Crest Trail

  • When I left for the PCT, I was unhappily married.  After some clarity brought to me by being on the PCT, I'm now divorced and happily so.  
  • When I first got off the PCT, I returned to a house that didn't feel like my home.  I went into a very very dark depression during the time I was reluctantly staying there while I searched for a home to live in post-divorce.  I was so depressed, lonely, and I missed my trail family dearly.  I missed the simplicity of life on the trail.  I missed the positive energy of the trail.  I was actively considering suicide daily.  Eventually the curtain started to fall on my old life.  I bought a house, moved, visited my doctor for a medication tweak for my bipolar disorder, and light began returning to my life.  I started getting outside again.  I started playing music again.  I started reaching out to friends again and I even began dating.  I was determined to focus on the positive things in life again.  I had overcome the post-trail depression which was probably made worse by my huge life changes upon coming home, bipolar disorder, etc.  I finally escaped the darkness, but just barely.
  • When I got off the PCT, I could barely walk because my ankle hurt so bad.  In October 2018, I received a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection in my ankle from my orthopedic surgeon.  It has worked wonders.  I hike and/or ride my mountain bike on an average of four days a week.  I have little or no pain now.  I am even considering a return to the PCT in 2020, or maybe I'll bike the Colorado Trail in 2019.
  • I gained back all the weight I had lost on the PCT in a matter of weeks, thanks to an Oreo cookie addiction.  That being said, I am still much stronger.  I can go for a day hike for 14 miles and not even really feel like I've had a sufficient workout. 
  • In my post-PCT depression, I burned some bridges I wish I hadn't.  My PCT friend Ranger called me one day when I was laying on my dining room floor in my new place crying uncontrollably wishing I could just end the pain.  I didn't answer the phone.  I didn't know what to say.  I haven't called him back since because I feel like I'd have to explain the long period of me being a jerk and not returning his call.  I miss talking to him.  I also burned a bridge with my trail friend Sleeping Beauty.  She and I were good friends and mountaineering partners in Colorado before I hiked the PCT.  On the PCT we had a few tough moments but we parted ways on a mostly positive note.  We had a text message/email exchange during my deep depression and I pushed her away too, just like I had with Ranger.  I've apologized to her via email since, but sometimes burned bridges can't be reconstructed.  It's a painful lesson to learn, but a valuable one that I am determined not to repeat in the future.
  • Since the PCT, and over the last five months, I have grown into a better person.  Honestly, I think a much better person.  I have way more patience than I ever did prior to this hike.  I am a more spiritual person in touch with my soul's purpose on this planet.  I try to find the positive side in everything now.  The PCT taught me that the stagnant water covered with bees, with a dead rodent floating in it, and a wild turkey simultaneously drinking and shitting in it is NOT a bad water source.  It is instead a beautiful source of life, once treated and filtered of course.  It's all perspective.

Here are the top five things I took away from the PCT and the aftermath.  These points will forever be my mantra for life. 
  1. Live in the moment every day.  It sounds like a cliche, but it's so important.  If you can't stop to enjoy what is happening right now, you will never have lived.  You will have just existed and squandered opportunities to live while you planned, worried, second guessed yourself, etc.  I urge you to focus on what's around you.  Not your phone, not the TV... the real things; expressing yourself, conversation, the beauty of nature, your precious relationships, and educating yourself.
  2. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.  - My dad has said this to me and my siblings my entire life.  But now, at age 44, I finally completely embrace this as a fundamental puzzle piece in my soul's purpose in life.  With every interaction with others, I now I ask myself if I am interacting with the intent of love, fairness, and integrity.  Or more easily put, I ask myself if I am treating others the way I want to be treated.  If I can't definitively answer "YES" to that question, I stop and rethink what I am doing, maybe adjust my attitude, consider my response or the tone of what I am saying and ask myself that question again.
  3. Let go of the anchors holding you down - You can't grow inside if there's resentment, fear, shame, anger, or other negative emotions occupying the space in your heart needed to grow.  As a very close friend said to me recently "..just let it out".  Let it all out and allow yourself to heal, grow, and become a person you are happy with when you look at yourself.  Now for a personal sidebar.  I very recently talked about a traumatic incident from my childhood that I have never mentioned to anyone.  As I talked, I cried and I cried hard.  Each tear and each word freed me a little and left free space in my heart.  I had no idea this incident even had that profound of an effect on my overall self until after I shared it.  The emotions I bottled up had been subtly controlling me for the majority of my life.  I can't encourage you enough to engage in this real talk with someone you care about and trust.  And I mean this, if you are reading this, and you have no one, send me an email and I will make time to listen to your story.  YOUR story is just as important as mine.  
  4. Happiness is only real when shared. - Yes I stole this from the movie "Into the wild" because it's true.  People are not meant to live isolated lives.  While some solitude allows us time to focus internally at times, it's a fine line between solitude and loneliness.  Loneliness is simply a feeling your soul is giving you telling you that you need to make changes.  On the PCT, I discovered when I would get to a stunning vista, a beautiful alpine lake, or witness a glorious sunset, that I enjoyed these things so much more if I was with someone I cared about.
    A magical sunrise on the Crestones in Colorado.  Years later, I still wish someone was there to share this view with me.
  5. Love is all that matters.  If you remember anything from this post, remember this.  Love is all that matters.  Everything else is a chasing of the wind.  Whether that love is shared with a family, a trail family, a friend, a significant other, a child, a dog, or a pet chupacabra.  It is all that matters.  If you are ever looking for a "meaning" in your life, it probably starts with love and ends with love.  Whether that meaning is giving your love to someone or something, learning how to accept being loved, teaching others how to live lovingly, creating art or music for others to love, etc.  Or maybe, just maybe your purpose is to just love the person that you are.  There are countless ways to bring love into your life.  Start by smiling at the next person you see.  You can change the world this way.  Once you share your smile, someone else may share theirs.  If everyone just smiled genuinely at each person they encountered each day, that love would change the planet.  Go change the planet, you have the power to do that, as do I

My daughter and I on Huron Peak several years ago.  I love her so much.


  1. Onedreamonepathfourfeet.comDecember 15, 2018 at 11:17 PM

    Hi Circus - you probably don’t remember me but my wife and I crossed paths with you several times on the PCT in SoCal - after we left the trail, I enjoyed following your blog and keeping up with you and your reports on other hikers that we had met - I was sorry when you had to leave the trail but am glad to hear that you are doing well. Life is sometimes challenging but it’s always an opportunity to learn and grow. The five things that you learned from the PCT are spot on. I agree with you that love is all that matters and hope that you and you daughter continue to enjoy time together and sometimes in the great outdoors. Hope to see you again on the PCT.

  2. Hey Circus Act, I have kept your blog bookmarked since you left trail hoping to hear more of the story. I checked for new entries often and thought about deleting it when there was none...but something wouldn't let me do it. I am glad you are in a better place now and the story has a happy continuation. Looking forward to hearing about more adventures and maybe someday I can bring you that Mt. Dew in northern Oregon when you are on the PCT again.

  3. Hey Circus/Cool Dad, it's Bagels. We had dinner that one night at Kennedy Meadows North with Scuzi and Townie. I just found the link to your blog in my notes and have spent a good chunk of this morning reading over it.

    Couldn't agree more with what you've said here. Living life a moment at a time is thankfully one of the lasting lessons from the trail.

    Hope all is going well man. Good luck in 2020 :D

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