Epiphanies From The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT): 3 Simple Life Lessons From Mile 179 of 2,663

05/11/2016 10:41 pm ET Updated May 24, 2017
Idyllwild, CA | San Jacinto Mountains
Photo Credit: Linda Pharathikoune - January 2016
Idyllwild, CA | San Jacinto Mountains

IDYLLWILD, CA – May 11, 2016 – Elevation: 5,349 ft.

In the middle of my procrastination, having been sitting in the coffee shop, aptly named Higher Grounds, for the last hour trying to will myself to write, I look up and see a couple of PCT hikers happily chatting.

They make small talk about their beverages, but there’s something intangible, yet palpable, that’s happening between them that I immediately recognize.

They share a private bond, in a seemingly out-of-reach world for us ordinary folk, that only those who have trekked the PCT can understand. Every year, hundreds, if not thousands, of people put their “real” lives on pause to conquer this colossal 2,663 mile pilgrimage, to possibly, I highly suspect, gain some perspective on their lives.

Idyllwild is a quaint community nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California, and is roughly 179 miles (per the hikers) from the southern most starting point in Campo, a small town near the Mexican border.

It boggles my mind that these guys have made it 179 miles, on foot with backpacks weighing as much as a 6 month old baby, and still have nearly 2,500 miles to go.

My curiosity spills out of my mouth before my will breaks through my fingers, and before I know it, we’re talking about life on the trail, and lessons learned thus far.

“What’s been the biggest epiphany you’ve had so far?”, I ask, diving right into the heart of what I want to know.

And without much pause, the gentlemen, known affectionately on the trail as Whitney Shoeston, Wiki, and Badass, dive right in and share their biggest epiphanies.

What The Trail Teaches You About Life

Trail Name – WHITNEY SHOESTON: Reason, unknown. (Ooops, I forgot to ask.)

Adam Arico, a 23 year old with a childlike exuberance, who lives in Vail, Colorado, first hiked the PCT in 2013. As a seasonal worker, he spends his winters snowboarding, and spends the rest of his time taking on 2,663 mile hikes to, ahem, you know, “challenge” himself.

At this point, I look back at my own life and I’m too embarrassed to admit that the last thing I did to physically “challenge” myself was a 30-Day Squat Challenge, and I didn’t even have to leave my cabin to accomplish that.

Packed into a slender, lanky, overly enthusiastic body, this kid has got some big cajones, and with one bill to his name, there’s a lot for us regular folk to envy.

His biggest epiphany:

  1. “Everything Is Only Temporary.” (<--CLICK TO TWEET) “On the trail, you come up against things that are totally out of your control; when it rains, you’re miserable; when it’s blistering hot, you’re miserable; when you want real food, you’re miserable. But the misery is temporary, and by the end of it all, all you remember are the good parts, and even that is temporary. The trail forces you to focus on one thing: walking - putting one foot in front of the other. It’s simple, but challenging.”

Trail Name - WIKI: Reason: He’s a wealth of useless information.

Jonathan Payne, 34, from Salt Lake City, Utah was going through, as he called it, a “mid-life crisis.” He owned a marketing company, and “woke up one day hating it”, so he sold his business to sort out his life. “I remember the day I decided to hike the PCT”, he started, “the seat warmers in my car weren’t working and I got really upset about it. That’s when I knew, something had to change.” Jonathan doesn’t look like the typical hiker that strolls through this town. He’s a burly guy; his forearms are the size of my calves, and he towers over me at about 6’3”. Next to my 5’2” frame, he’s a giant Grizzly Bear. (Super Huggable!)

His biggest epiphany:

  1. “Separate The Essentials From The Non-Essentials.”(<--CLICK TO TWEET) “The nonessentials can weigh you down and kill you. When I started the trail, I went in expecting to write about my journey and take a ton of pictures that I could turn into a beautiful calendar, so I packed my iPad Mini and my DSLR. Every ounce counts and after a while, you feel it. My pack was about 30 pounds. It kills your back. We met a trail “elder” and he took us through the “shakedown”, where we get rid of stuff. It totally broke my heart, but I took my iPad and DSLR out and shipped it home. It was 9 pounds! I also ditched the 2oz can of Febreze. I was really looking forward to spritzing myself with it after a long day of hiking but you gotta embrace being dirty. Everyone walks away with an uplevel in their character when you realize what you need and don’t need.”

Trail Name – BADASS: Reason: Slept without a tent or a sleeping bag in the rain. (It was between Dumbass or Badass.)

Brandon Warner, mid-late 20s, from Salt Lake City, Utah was itching for a change. In his younger years, although by the looks of him he doesn’t look a day over 25, was a chronic mover. “I would never stay in a place longer than a year. I’d have different jobs here and there, and was constantly staying busy. Then I grew up, and did the responsible thing, I got a job working for Jonathan, and have been doing the same thing for the last three years. I started getting antsy and one day Jonathan asked me if I wanted to hike the PCT and I said yes.” I could sense the frenetic energy for him to DO something while we were all chatting, but as the other guys spoke, he seemed to settle into himself as if he was enjoying the moment.

His biggest epiphany:

  1. “It’s All About Perspective; Enjoy The ‘In Between’ Moments.”(<--CLICK TO TWEET) “In my life, I was always busy, always on the go, always had to be moving. And when I started, I expected to do 20 miles a day. In the beginning, I’d get frustrated with myself, but hiking with Jonathan, I realized that the goal wasn’t to finish fast, it was to enjoy the process. We’d take breaks along the trail and just enjoy the view and when we’d get to camp, we’d ask the other guys if they saw this or that particular thing and the answer was generally 'no'. It took a while, because I’m stubborn, but I had to change my mindset about the whole thing. So now, I just enjoy things as they come and as we go.”

This morning, I went to the coffee shop with the intention of writing (for a client) but was drawn into this vortex of gusto and stories between new friends with a common goal. It was a privilege to bear witness to such camaraderie and wisdom between these three gentlemen, and I’m grateful that we shared this delicious, albeit temporary, encounter with each other.

This is only the beginning of their journey, but I have a feeling the impact of this trip will neither be temporary, nonessential, or without perspective when they return to their “real” lives.

As for what this encounter has taught me for my own journey in this town: keep on following the impulse to be curious.

Currently though, I’m kicking myself in the butt for driving less than two blocks to this coffee shop. #FirstWorldProblems

What would you give up to gain this kind of perspective on your life?

Follow their journey:

Adam "Whitney Shoeston" Arico - www.whitneyshoeston.wordpress.com

Jonathan "Wiki" Payne - www.hikingwithbigfoot.com

Brandon "Badass" Warner - Instagram

Linda Pharathikoune is the Founder/CEO of The Writing Room, LLC. She's a freelance writer and author of The Audacious Heart: Lessons On Letting God & Letting Go. Follow her: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter |

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