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  • Jonathan Thomas

Pacific Crest Trail- 2019 NOBO (2,653 miles)


My journey to the Northern Terminus of the PCT started long before my arrival at the Southern Terminus on the Mexican border. I remember when another hiker asked me in the first several hundred miles how long I had trained for the trail. I replied that I felt I had been training for it my entire life. As a former competitive runner I had been moving in different ways than most people for many years. It wasn't until an overuse injury took me out of competitive running and led to knee surgery several years ago that I became interested in hiking. That was for sure one of the hardest moments I dealt with in life. What I didn't realize at that moment was how it would open up so many different doors outside of running. Hiking was the release of bottled energy that I didn't know what to do with after my injury.

I really got into hiking when an old running friend who had hiked half the A.T. invited me to Oregon for a series of day-hikes and overnights around the state. This would lead to my first encounter with the PCT, actual through-hikers, and what it means to be hikertrash. I felt very fortunate to have the guidance of my friend and his time on the A.T. which led me to become proper hikertrash. All of this raised my awareness and knowledge of the trail, but I never imagined I would actually attempt a through-hike myself. For me the trail was something else. It was too many miles, too many logistics, and seemingly impossible. For someone who loves a challenge, this was the first one I had met and happily said was too hard to ever attempt and I put it out of my mind completely.

Fast-forward to last year, I was hanging out at my friend's hostel in Austin, TX where I met one of his employees who had hiked the trail. This was my first off-trail encounter with a PCT through-hiker. I was very interested and probably asked him too many questions about the trail...the views, water carries, re-supplying, when to hike, and his overall experience. I could tell that this was something major and that he finished with a feeling of tremendous satisfaction. This was the moment I became hooked and I knew that one day I would hike this. What initially scared the shit out of me would one day become a reality. I quietly told myself that the next time events in my own life aligned with the time of year typical to leave on this adventure that I would do it. I never imagined that would happen much sooner than later and when it did I didn't hesitate to take the plunge.

In May of this year I had a lease ending in my home city of New Orleans and a work project that took me to Los Angeles. I told myself this was my time to go. I packed one bag for work and one bag for the trail and flew to Los Angeles. I was still waiting for permit approval to start hiking the first week of June. I finished my project in L.A. a little early and called the PCTA to inquire on my permit status. They allowed me to move my start date to May 23rd and approved it the next day. After a series of trains and buses, I made way way through San Diego, down to Campo.

Most people had no idea I had ever thought about doing something like this, much less that I was actually doing it now. In a lot of ways I liked that. Social contracts can be hard and I thought about that when I heard other hikers describe the years of preparation they had put into their hike. I wasn't the same. I was hiking the trail on a whim. But my draw was heavy and I knew this was going to happen for me. Running had made me mentally tough... or my mental toughness made me the competitive runner that I was... either way I knew I had the mentality to get me through this, regardless of the mistakes I was unknowingly making as a green hiker.

The beginning of the trail was a lot of physical adjustments for me. I had not been running, or really even exercising, before the trail. I hung out at bars, shows and parties a lot. I knew I had thousands of miles buried in my legs and eventually my body would turn it around, no matter how hard or painful it was at the start (and it was). On the trail I suffered every running injury I ever had, often times simultaneously. I quickly realized this was the hardest thing I had ever attempted... even more than racing a marathon. Now that I am home, I can fully reflect (with the help of photographs) on who I was at the start of the trail versus the end. I learned so much from myself and from other hikers. Being home is hard, especially when it comes to conversations with people about the trail and what it's like. The truth is, I can tell someone what it was like from my experience and they can do their best to understand, but they can't really understand this. After hiking the trail completely from south to north I know that I wouldn't understand what I went through if someone else described it, no matter how great the storyteller. But there is something in this experience like nothing else I have had in my life. For that I am eternally grateful and I suppose that feeling in my heart now is what makes me a through-hiker. I hope these stories help in some ways for people to share this experience that myself and other hikers have had. More importantly though, I hope they will inspire you to choose your own adventure.... to live vicariously through yourself and not through others. Whether it's a long trail or whatever it is that scares the living shit out of you, go to the edge of your cliff of fear and jump off. That's what I did and I was left feeling more alive than ever before.

I must say that the love and support from friends and family carried me through some of the hardest times on the trail. I can't say thank you enough for those people to be a part of my life. The trail helped me realize that and to never take any of it for granted. We are all very lucky in some way. It is up to us to always recognize that, even when its hard to.


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Jonathan Thomas

New Orleans based photographer and filmmaker,available for events, commercial work, editorials and portfolio work. Will travel. Please contact for rates and availability.

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