‘Why?’ is far and away the most common question I get after telling people that I’m hiking the PCT. It’s certainly a reasonable thing to ask, given where I was in life at the time of my decision. This post is an attempt to explain my rationale for making such a big move. A lot of people expect to hear that there was a single driving force that pushed me into hiking the PCT, but the reality is that it is a combination of many factors, both internal and external.
When people ask me why, they most often specifically ask “Why are you hiking the PCT?”. Much to my surprise , they never ask “Why did you quit your job?”. I assume that they think I quit my job solely to hike the PCT. The reality is that I quit my job because I needed to take time off. The driving force behind that is pretty simple; I was burned out and needed to do something else with my life. I spent three years working a demanding job for Apple on the team that was responsible for their personal computer lineup. The role often took me to China, which accounted for roughly 20% of my time. Spending so much time overseas in combination with the horrible jet lag it caused was enough to significantly affect the way I could live my life. It took me some time to realize it, but I ultimately figured out that traveling was really taking its toll on me. I needed a break. After discussing this with management, it was determined that I wouldn’t be able to be a part of the team without traveling, as it is a big part of the job. At roughly the same time, I heard about a great opportunity within the company, and I became very excited about it. I began discussions with this team; one thing led to another and I successfully moved over to the new group. The job was very similar, but thankfully would not involve traveling to China for a year.
To say that this new position was my ‘dream job’ is actually a bit of an understatement. I was working with a young, hungry, and extremely talented group of individuals on technologies that we were all ferociously passionate about. Every person on the team believed at their core that what we were working on was going to have a noticeable impact on how people lived their lives. On top of this, we were basically granted every resource that we needed to do our jobs — a dream scenario for a design engineer. I knew that this was the environment that I was entering when I moved teams, and my hope was that this new environment would help rid me of my burnout. As good as it was, it did not reinvigorating me in the ways I had hoped. I spent almost a year with the new team and, unfortunately, the feelings of burnout never really left.
Around nine months into my time on the new team, they sent me back to China — my 14th trip in three years. Feeling the sting of travel again, I knew that the job change alone was not enough, and that I needed to take time off. After requesting and the subsequent denial of a year long sabbatical, I put in my two week’s notice.
But the burnout is only part of the story. Deciding to hike the PCT is an entirely different endeavor than taking a year off. I could just have easily traveled to various places, backpacked around Europe, or done so many other ‘low effort’ things. So why the PCT specifically?
I chose to do the PCT for a number of reasons, the first of which is that I wanted to challenge myself in a way that I had never been challenged before. Working at a major tech company for four years makes you very comfortable in a number of different ways. They make it a point to enable you to work as much as possible. This means being compensated well financially, of course, but they do a number of other things that make you very dependent. They offer incredibly inexpensive food, gym memberships, easy-access healthcare, and other ’support systems’ that are so good it would be foolish not to take advantage of them. Buying into the system they set up makes you reliant on them, and breeds a sense of comfort. Knowing that there are significant support systems in place that you can fall back on can make you lackadaisical. In general, I actually think companies offering these incentives is a good thing, but I found myself feeling I could not really take care of myself, because so much of it was done for me. Comparatively, doing a long thru hike would certainly push me complete opposite end of the spectrum and force me to be extremely self-reliant.
In addition to pushing my limits, I wanted to experience the outdoors in a way that was totally novel. I have done a number of backpacking trips, but only short stints out in the wilderness. The PCT will last somewhere on the order of 5 months, meaning I will be totally encapsulated by nature for an incredible length of time. When I moved out to California, I drove across the country and was lucky enough to see the intense beauty and range of landscapes that the United States possesses, and I truly enjoyed that experience. Similarly, the PCT covers quite a few different climates and environments, from the deserts of Southern California, to the snow-capped peaks of the High Sierras, to the lush forests in Washington. Hiking the PCT means I’m going to experience a huge chunk of what the US has to offer, and I am looking forward to taking it all in.
There were also a number of smaller factors as well that helped bolster my decision. I’m single, I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage, I have my health, and I am lucky enough to have the means to do something like this. It’s overwhelmingly likely that these things are transient, meaning I won’t have the same opportunity in the future. If there ever was a time I can do something of this magnitude, the time is now. In passing, I have spoken to quite a few people who are older than me. Many of them had said that either: 1) doing a big adventure like this was the best decision they ever made, or 2) not doing it when they had the chance was one of their biggest regrets. I recognized the incredible opportunity I had and decided to go for it.