Hello all - today I'm sharing a post written by Kristin "Glowworm" Clements and I cannot wait for you to read it! I've followed Kristin's inspiring journey on the PCT via Instagram and her message really strikes a cord with me. I hope you connect with her story as much as I do! Here's Kristin:
It took me a long time to work up the courage to pursue my dreams. I had spent most of my life dreaming of breaking out of the mold that society had laid out for me. Dreaming of courageously making my own path in life, of doing the unexpected. But it was easier to just go with the flow and follow the traditional path. Graduate high school, go to university, maybe grad school, settle down and start your career. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this path. But there is also absolutely nothing wrong with not following this path, and that’s what it took me so long to realize. It’s not for everyone, and it’s okay to have different dreams.
It took me until the beginning of my master’s degree to finally make the jump I had always wanted. It also took a discovery that lit a fire in my soul that was too bright to be ignored: the Pacific Crest Trail. One day, probably while aimlessly browsing the internet, I discovered that there was hiking trail that stretched from Mexico to Canada, winding through the deserts and mountains and forests of the west coast. And there were people who actually walked the entire thing, end-to-end. A dream was immediately born, and this time I knew I had to make it a reality.
So, I started planning, and preparing, and training. I had lots of experience with outdoor activities and the wilderness. I had been hiking and camping and going on backcountry canoe trips since early childhood, but I had never been on a true backpacking trip. I spent a few months gradually collecting gear (making heavy use of Christmas and birthday gifts) and spent the summer of 2016 training my body and mind to hit the trail. I went on my first ever overnight backpacking trips. Alone. It was terrifying and exhilarating and empowering. People I met on the trails were consistently surprised to see a young woman alone in the backcountry. The knowledge that I could survive in the wilderness, on my own, with nothing but the gear on my back felt incredible.
The beginning of 2017 rolled around and my classmates were all busy acquiring big kid jobs as I prepared to be voluntarily homeless for half of the upcoming year. I certainly questioned if I was doing the right thing sometimes, but my mind was made up. I was doing this. When I explained my plans to friends and family, reactions ranged from shock, to awe, to utter horror. My parents were supportive, but I’m fairly certain they never thought I was actually going to follow through with my plan. This only further encouraged me. I was going to defy everyone’s expectations. I was going to walk from Mexico to Canada, I was going to live in the wilderness for half a year, I was going to thru-hike the PCT.
On April 11, 2017, I took my first steps as a solo female thru-hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail, dead set on walking every mile from Mexico to Canada. It was terrifying and exhilarating and empowering. But things changed for me fairly quickly. That very first day, I met and started hiking with a boy. We ended up camping together that first night, and then proceeded to hike the entire trail together, falling deeply in love along the way. My status as a solo female hiker didn’t last long, but seeing as I had finally found my soulmate, I was okay with that. A change that was harder to swallow was the eventual loss of the idea of a true thru-hike.
In 2017, the Sierra Nevada mountain range saw a snowpack that was close to being the largest ever on record. This meant that when thru-hikers were leaving the desert and entering the mountains, the range was still totally encased in snow. It also meant that the many small, seasonal streams hikers had to ford had grown to raging torrents, and the few big rivers had become wide, deep, white water crossings. I entered the Sierras with high hopes of making it through, but things changed quickly. For one thing, my hiking partner and now husband came down with a case of severe altitude sickness and had to be airlifted, leaving myself and the rest of our trail family in the mountains. For another thing, the conditions were absolutely miserable. Slogging over the snow was mentally and physically exhausting. We would struggle to complete more than 10 miles in a full day of hiking. The river crossings and steep, icy slopes were terrifying. Navigation became a draining task and we often found ourselves far off trail, making our way cross-country in the general direction the trail was headed. It wasn’t enjoyable, and to me, it just wasn’t worth the risk. And so, after exiting the trail via Kearsarge Pass and making our way to the town of Bishop, we decided to skip the rest of the Sierras.
It was a difficult decision, but I know it was right for me. Many people did make it through the Sierras, and we likely could have as well. But people also died. And I found that my desires and dreams had shifted since the day I started my hike. The people I had come to love were now more of a priority than walking a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada. Our safety was more important than my ego. It still stung, but it was right.
Flexibility was one of the most important lessons I learned on the trail. I have always struggled with accepting changes in my plans, and the trail tested that to the limit. After skipping the Sierras, we ended up having to skip many more miles of trail due to fire closures. But I slowly learned to go with the flow and enjoy wherever the trail ended up taking me. Through this, trust was another big lesson the trail gave to me. Trust in myself and my capabilities, in the goodness of the people around me, and in the fact that everything would eventually work out. Because everything did eventually work out. Not in the way I originally expected or wanted, but in ways that allowed me to have so many incredible experiences, learn so many valuable lessons, and always landed me right where I needed to be.
In the end, after a little over 5 months, I made it to Canada. I did not walk every step of the way, and that is okay. I had one heck of an adventure, learned so much about myself, and made relationships that will last a lifetime. I learned that I am stronger than anyone (including myself) thought. I can hike over 2000 miles. I can live in the wilderness for 5 months. I can trek through the desert and ford rivers and summit snowy mountains. I also learned that I can take a dream and make it into a reality. The end of my thru-hike was my jumping off point to living the life I’d always dreamed of. I learned that breaking the mold, taking that risk, chasing down the dream that sets your soul on fire is absolutely, totally, and completely worth it. My life has been profoundly changed in ways I could never imagine, and I owe it all to that one crazy, terrifying, exhilarating, empowering decision.
Ladies of the backcountry, if you have a dream, get out there and make it happen. Because, contrary to popular belief, you absolutely can do it. Climb that mountain. Hike that trail. Go on that trip. Run that race. Follow the path that calls your soul. Use the doubt you will encounter to fuel you. Be bold, be wild, and be fearlessly you. We’re all rooting for you.
Kristin (trail name: Glowworm) posts photos of her adventures on her instagram account (@krispyklementz) and writes about them on her blog (www.thecaffeinatedhiker.