Many people are inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s story of perseverance on the Pacific Crest Trail. Regardless of the struggles of thru-hiking relayed in Wild, more than one reader has said to themselves, “I wish I could do that!” However the realities of time, finances, family, personal commitments and fitness often preclude one’s ability to make the sacrifices required to make a thru-hike happen.
For those who are inspired by the story of Wild, and want to get involved with the thru-hiker community, we have compiled some ideas. While Hollywood encourages us to live the PCT hiker experience vicariously, here is a list of things to consider to help contribute to this rapidly growing community of long distance hikers.
- Donate to the PCTA. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is the primary advocacy group for the PCT. Their mission is to protect, preserve and promote the trail and its associated wild lands. Their website has loads of tips and resources and can be found at pcta.org
- Volunteer for trail maintenance work parties. The PCT is not a fixed, static entity. Once a section of trail is constructed, it requires regular maintenance to maintain the tread, clear overgrown brush, repair washouts and remove downed trees. The trail route is also constantly changing due to fires, preservation of sensitive lands and the quest to improve resources for hikers. A major project in need of support is the planned reroute of the trail away from the Mojave Desert aqueduct through the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California.
- Support hikers in your area. A growing phenomenon along the PCT is the number of ‘trail angels’ who live or camp near the trail, dispensing ‘trail magic’ in the form of ice cream and banana bread to hungry thru–hikers. Short of this, if you live in a community along the trail, be on the lookout for hikers at your local stores, laundromats and restaurants. Hikers are always happy to be greeted by friendly locals and will likely eagerly accept any hospitality provided. The trail is often located miles away from town services, so be aware of places where the PCT crosses a road and if you see a hiker hitchhiking to or from the store, they might be grateful for a ride!
- Consider other hiking trails. The Pacific Crest Trail is certainly not the only long-distance hiking trail in the country. The Appalachian Trail is the well-established grandfather of hiking trails. The Continental Divide Trail spans the mighty Rockies and rounds out the ‘Triple Crown’ of long-distance hiking. The number of hikers on the PCT is increasing every year, so spreading out usage to other trails helps to preserve the wilderness experience. Other long trails include the Colorado Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail, the Florida Trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail and even the Buckeye Trail!
- Most importantly, go take a hike yourself. If thru-hikers receive any salvation from their trek, it is primarily from the physical fitness that comes from hiking 30 miles a day. Most people have neither the time nor ability to tackle a 5+ month thru-hike. However the opportunities for hiking in your own neighborhood are probably limitless. Doctors are increasingly suggesting that a modest walk of even 20 minutes a few times a week can do wonders for personal health and fitness. Walking is the simplest form of exercise and requires little more than a good pair of shoes. So get off the couch and go for a walk! (And it’s OK to bring a good book along with you.)