The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,600 mile hiking trail that closely follows the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges through California, Oregon, and Washington. More than 9,000 people have hiked the entire trail between Mexico and Canada, which takes approximately five months.
PCT culture is fascinating. For one thing, what these hikers eat is sometimes laughable. They’ll fill their backpacks with not only instant oatmeal, dried fruit, and anything you can wrap up in a tortilla, but also piles of chocolate bars and other high-fat treats. When you’re burning 3,000-4,000 calories in a day, piling on the energy provided in a chocolate bar (or three) is necessary.
Each PCT hiker also has a trail name. Here are actual examples: Chief, Blind Rooster, Lizard King, Shortcake, Cinnamon, Torch, Cowabunga, Bubbles, Iron Duchess, U-Turn, and Tortuga. The way they get these names is as varied as the names themselves, and it gives them a unique identifier to put in milestone logbooks along the way. When they cross paths with another hiker, they often recognize one another’s trail names.
As you can imagine, finding clean, drinkable water at regular intervals along the trail is essential, so in some cases, where natural sources are not readily available, “trail angels” regularly deliver cases of bottled water to specific spots. As hikers discover these things, sometimes they will mark the trail with pebbles or pinecones to let other hikers know where to find them.
Along the PCT are stopping points where most hikers spend a day or two recovering by sleeping in an actual bed, showering, and eating food they can’t get on the trail (burgers, ice cream, potatoes, etc.). In some cases these are also places where the hikers can receive mail, or where friends and family ship boxes of supplies for the next leg of their trip.
Reading or watching accounts of hikers meeting each other at these stopping points is incredibly endearing. Most of them have never before met, but as soon as they sit down at a table together they talk like old friends. They laugh while sharing stories. They groan together over particularly grueling sections of the trail or stupid mistakes that cost them a meal or a shoe or a dry sleeping bag. They open their packages together and cheer at the contents.
PCT hikers connect on a level most of the world will never understand because of one thing: a shared experience. When they meet, they know instantly that the other person understands where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, how hard it’s been, and also how glorious. Without words, there’s a camaraderie that binds them together and fills them with the energy, determination, and courage they need to pick up that pack and hit the trail again the next day. Because they’ve been reminded that they’re not alone on their journey.
The same is true of our personal faith journeys. Whether it’s with a spiritual study partner, a small group, or an entire congregation of churchgoers, we all need that regular reconnection with others sharing the journey with us. And we all recognize a fellow traveler. There’s a camaraderie that binds us together and gives us the energy, determination, and courage we need to pick ourselves up and begin again, because we’ve been reminded that we’re not alone on our journey.