This is a guest post from my good friend Cheesebeard, whilst hiking the CDT together last year he completed his Triple Crown so I’m very happy to have him write the first guest post here on pieonthetrail.com.
Pie asked me the other day if I wanted to write something for his blog “Pie on the Trail” and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to practice writing. But what to write about? I asked Pie to give me a few prompts and I decided on writing about how my mindset has changed through doing my Triple Crown.
Before the AT, I had finished college, gone out to the “real world” and realized I had no direction in life. I had no idea where to go or what to do. The only thing I knew for sure was that I did not want to dive into a career and into the professional workforce. I felt completely lost in this world. I have always loved the outdoors and had worked the previous few summers at a camp for kids taking them backpacking, climbing, caving and doing white water sports. I found I was pretty happy just being in the outdoors. I felt like maybe I could escape into the backcountry and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. The AT seemed like a perfect fit for this and although I had always talked a big game about how I wanted to do crazy outdoor adventures, this was the first time I truly just ran with it. I was TERRIFIED. I bought the gear and told as many people that would listen that I was going to do a thru hike, but deep down I doubted myself.
The month before the trail I couldn’t talk about it anymore. It made me sick to my stomach to even think about it. My friend who said he would do it with me ditched out in pursuit of a relationship and living in Colorado. I didn’t blame him and almost wished I could run away from doing this myself. I found another friend who said he would do the first 100 miles to settle me in. I am eternally grateful to my friend Brad for doing this for me. My mom drove us from Charlotte NC to Springer Mountain and I could barely talk in fear I would throw up.
I got myself on the trail and tried to take each day at a time. I really hit my stride once I found my trail family in southern Virginia. We became Blade and the Cuts (Blade, Pie, Click, and myself). I was surrounded by amazing people that made me feel not only good about myself but made me want to be better at me. Over the rest of the trail I felt like I was starting to discover who I really was. But then, all of a sudden, it was over…. As soon as it started it just seemed to end, despite taking a ridiculous 6 months 1 week to finish.
By the time I finished I had decided:
- I wanted to learn and pursue photography with all my ability (thanks to Click)
- I wanted to travel the world and see as much as I can before I die (thanks to Pie)
- I wanted to be honest with myself and be a Truer person (thanks to Blade).
I returned home determined and driven, with goals of traveling and doing another long distance trail the following year to ultimately achieve the Triple Crown of hiking. I got a job working at a popular bar and for the first time in a long time I wasn’t cripplingly anxious all the time (still some of the time).
Either way this leads us to the PCT. This time I felt I was going out for a totally different reason. I had a much more tangible goal with this trail. I wasn’t going out for some existential reason, I wanted to go out and learn to shoot photography and to experience trail life again. I didn’t have much doubt of whether I could complete the trail this time. As I had already done the A.T, I knew I could bare through some pretty brutal conditions. I had a much better idea of how to do a long distance trail and my gear was WAY better.
Despite this increase in confidence, the 2 weeks leading up to the trail, the same thing happened as before the AT. I no longer could talk about it, I was terrified. The day we drove out to the southern terminus I bought myself a cold brew coffee and couldn’t drink it. I was sick to my stomach with nerves. BUT, literally 6 miles in and I felt like I was home. I had so much fun on the PCT, it was a totally different experience to the AT. That trail is by far my favorite, it was the perfect place to learn photography, being constantly steeped in its beauty. I say on the PCT I built up who I am as a person and reaffirmed how I want to live my life.
So the most recent trail…..the CDT.
The months leading up to the trail I was confident and excited. However, I had been talking to a girl I’d met in Finland and then later traveled Central America with. I had started to develop serious feelings for her. All of a sudden I realized that I didn’t really want to go out and do this trail. I wanted to go to Finland and figure out what we had going on between us. But, I knew that I would never have a better opportunity to do this trail. I had SO many friends doing it with me and I don’t like thru hiking alone.
The CDT is such a desolate trail, with very few hikers on and I knew 2017 would be the best year to do it. I also wanted to continue developing my photography and actually do something with my photos this year. I was also a part of a documentary that I saw and see as a great way to help push forward in a career of photography and adventure. I decided to continue on with the trail, but it made me feel incredibly torn and the week leading up I got the usual stomach issues and anxiety of starting these trails.
I have to say that this feeling of wanting to be somewhere other than the trail was really hard to deal with. I thought about quitting several times. My heart wasn’t in it, it was in Finland. That, partnered with how difficult the CDT is (by far the hardest of the 3) made it difficult to continue. We kept in touch as best as we could. Since the trail is so remote I kept in contact via writing letters (they took a staggering 2 and a half weeks to reach her) while I was in the backcountry and talking through facebook messenger in towns. Eventually I settled into trail life and could focus on the trail. I feel like the CDT was a test of who I was as a person. It took everything in me to finish that trail. There was never a moment of ease, it was constant brutality and pushed me harder than anything in my life both physically and mentally. Being past it now, I have found I am the calmest I have ever been in my life.
So to recap:
The AT: I found who I was
The PCT: Built up who I am
The CDT: Tested who I am
For those wondering I am currently in Helsinki, Finland with my now girlfriend working on my photos and writing, and getting ready to put together my first creative work: a zine about our group’s hike of the CDT. If you’re curious to see more of my photography, please check out my instagram @cheesebeard_hikes
** If you want to see what Cheesebeard carried on his hike of the CDT, click here to watch a video we made together.