Midlife Crisis? Possibly

After giving a lot of thought to hiking the PCT, I’d had plenty of time to consider the practicalities. I would be quitting my job, obviously. Selling my house would allow me to avoid mortgage payments while I was on trail. I would move back into an apartment temporarily, rent a private mailbox, then put all my stuff in storage. After a little research, I had the names of my mailbox and storage companies. I would ask a friend to look after my car. Then I started looking into resupplies and new backpacking gear.

In other words, I did a lot of my homework before I told anyone of my intention to hike the PCT. This was useful because it meant I had some immediate answers to the inevitable list of questions from my friends and family. I hadn’t delayed telling them merely so that I could make a more detailed plan. Mostly, I’d hesitated because once I told them, there would be no going back. Also, I was a little concerned that they might question my state of mind. And in that, I wasn’t entirely wrong.

First, I told my parents. If they had concerns, they didn’t mention any. They had questions, of course, but my answers seemed to satisfy them that this wasn’t just some ill-advised, spur-of-the-moment idea. A long time ago, when I decided to move from the UK to Arizona, I asked my parents if they had any advice. They simply replied that I should do whatever makes me happy. When I told my older sister about the PCT, she gave me a similar response. In addition to her questions about the practical aspects of hiking such a long distance, she wanted to know about my motivations and concerns. I explained as best I could, and she seemed to understand.

So far, so good. Then I told my younger sister. I Skype with her every few weeks and I don’t typically have many interesting updates from either my professional or personal life. I’m an engineer, after all. In the past, whenever I’ve used my vacation time to go hiking, the trip has usually provided me with something interesting to tell her. There was the time I had a close encounter with a cougar in the Seven Devils Mountains. And the time I lost my footing while crossing the Toklat River. I also told her about my hasty departure from the summit of Borah Peak as the clouds rolled in and the air fizzed and hissed menacingly.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that she didn’t take my news well. I tried to assure her that I wouldn’t be alone. After all, there would be hundreds of hikers heading north at roughly the same time. I didn’t mention the icy slopes or river crossings—no point in making things worse. Instead, I tried to convey my reasons for wanting to spend several months in the wilderness. I told her about my anticipation of the view at the top of each climb. I mentioned the rare occasions of complete silence, when the only sound is a slight ringing in my ears. I even tried to describe the smell of the desert as a rainstorm approaches. Then I realized that my descriptions were sounding less like a hiker and more like a puppy straining at its leash. I’d said all I could.

Finally, I told my friends what I was planning, and they took the news in their stride. After I answered a few questions, the conversation moved on. Fast forward a few months to the day I put my house on the market. I had just passed the point of no return, and it was an unsettling realization. Some of my friends noticed my unease, and they realized I was still serious about hiking the PCT. What followed was a frank discussion that included the phrase “midlife crisis” several times. My view is that a midlife crisis is an attempt at recapturing youth. I explained that rather than looking to the past, what I was doing was planning for the future. I did have to concede that this wasn’t the first time I’d made such a big decision, but I argued that I’d actually given previous big decisions less consideration.

Ultimately…

I wasn’t able to convince everyone that I still have the ability to make rational decisions. Proving that I haven’t lost my mind was more difficult than I thought. I did my best to help them understand though, and I can live with that.

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