Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Town stops vs wilderness experience on the PCT

Many people think that when hikers show an appreciation for towns along the PCT it is because they are not interested in a wilderness experience.

I probably talked about town as much as anybody else, including the venerable Billy Goat who I talked about what we were going to do in town plus what we did in the previous towns for half an hour. We talked about the beauty of the trail for five minutes. And what was our activity in town? Eating.

I and the people I talked to were hungry. It wasn't that we didn't bring enough food, it's that the food we brought wasn't refrigerated, fresh, ample or abundantly available. It didn't have bubbles or ice or 5% butterfat. Walk 20 or more miles a day and these things may become important to you, too.

We also talked about town because of the people we met along the way. Town became where I caught up with people I met and met new people to remember. Town becomes a part of the trail in that respect, part of the trail community.

I only spent perhaps 5 days of the entire 6 months I spent hiking the PCT hiking deliberately (as opposed to leap-frogging) with another person. I hiked the trail in two sections, 2008 and 2009, with a little additional section in the Sierra this year. I forged my own route from Santa Barbara to Hiker Town via trails in the very lonely and very remote mountains behind Ventura/Ojai/Filmore. I saw no footprints on that portion of my journey except for those of bears. I had a very solitary, wilderness experience throughout my entire journey.

I feel that I lived outside of civilization for 6 months. I came to dislike walls and ceilings, dislike pillows and padding, dislike paying to sleep, dislike cars and noise and the way civilized people shout when they talk. I still looked forward to town for the chance to rest, the shower, the laundry and mostly the food. It was indeed a necessary evil. We are not rugged individualists living off the land. We are just backpackers and we're dependent on modern technology to accomplish this incredible journey. Not a single person on the trail could have done it without the help of the internal combustion engine and cheap oil at the very least.

Town also marked my progress in a concrete way.

You can take zero days on the trail, but you still have all these tasks to complete when you get to town. It becomes more efficient of your time to take zero days in town so you can complete your tasks and return to the trail. No need to stop at every town. No need to party with frat boys if you aren't interested. No need to visit some of the famous trail angels if you don't like crowds. It's not a total either/or thing.

You can enjoy town, look forward to it and talk about it and it doesn't take away from having a wilderness experience.

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