I Stopped Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail Because of Toxic Masculinity and I Finally Wrote An Essay About It

I’ve left this blog dormant for so many months and I have so many things I’d like to write and publish here, eventually, but today I’m updating for a very specific and singular reason, and that is to talk about toxic masculinity in the long distance hiking community!

When I got off the trail last year I was both vague and transparent about what was happening. Every day since leaving the PCT I’ve thought about writing a version of this essay, but honestly I felt way too nervous to speak this truth.

Eight months later, I’m still nervous. But it’s time.

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Here’s an excerpt from the full piece, Why I Got Off the Pacific Crest Trail After 454 Miles Instead of Walking All the Way to Canada:

This is how it goes: I’m huffing and puffing my way up a steep incline. We’re gaining almost 3,000 feet of elevation in just 4 miles, the next water source is (probably, hopefully) one mile away, and my pack weighs 30 pounds, heavy with food I’ve packed out of town. I’ve hiked a couple of miles so far and plan to hike ten more before I set up camp to go to sleep. Other hikers keep passing me; some have smaller packs, some have larger packs. I stop to take a sip from my water bottle and a tall man approaches me, bounding up the trail effortlessly. He pauses to take a break too. “What day did you start hiking?” he asks me. Everyone always asks this question. What it really means: how fast or how slow are you traveling? Did I start before you and now we’re in the same place? Am I better than you are? Maybe he’ll ask some other questions, seemingly innocuous but designed to make one feel less than. “How many miles are you doing today?” “What time did you wake up?” “Are you walking all the way to Canada or are you just a section hiker?” These questions are baked into long distance hiking culture. No one questions why they’re asked or what they mean. Folks just wanna know, so they can put themselves on a roster and decide where they belong when it comes to being a “successful” hiker.

You can read my full essay on Autostraddle.

I have immense gratitude to my editors, for letting me tell this story, to my partner Alley, for holding me up as I experienced this culture in real time and for being my biggest champion always, to the badass adventure women who took part in the Endless Summer Winter Coastal Writer’s Retreat last month for helping me stay brave and for creating a space that allowed me to finally fucking write this essay, and to every single hiker who has messaged me over the past eight months to say me too, I also experienced this, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, thank you for speaking out, I also want things to change.

I think together maybe we can make things change.

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Spoiler alert: I am no longer on the PCT

The title of this post gives the subject matter away before I even begin. I suppose that’s okay. Best to not bury the lede. Good morning, dear blog readers. I am no longer on the PCT. I left the trail on May 29. I’m glad I did, but it’s also complicated. Sigh.

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I’ve been putting off writing this post for a variety of reasons. First of all, I’m a perfectionist and I wanted my blog to follow the correct narrative order as opposed to being interrupted with this announcement; I wanted the story to unfold on its own, and for the posts from the additional 20 days I spent on trail that I haven’t yet written about to slowly tease out the reasons why I had to get off trail and go home. But it’s been taking me forever to get my additional 20 blog posts (days 20-40) ready to publish, so instead of telling a meaningful story I just stalled out. (I do intend to publish my trail journal from the PCT days 20-40. I do. I’m just not sure when.) Second of all, I figured a lot of people who read this blog already knew I was no longer on trail because we’re either friends in real life or they follow my Instagram, and third of all, to be real, I was sad and embarrassed to not complete my hike.

But now it’s July 31 and I’m about to embark on a new adventure that I want to tell you all about, so it’s time to be a big kid and just write this damn post. Okay, let’s do this!

Hi. It’s been a minute, huh? Thanks for being patient with me. How’s your summer going? Don’t be shy, I really want to know. Tell me in the comments, if you want to.

How’s my summer going, you ask? Well yes, it’s true, I got off the Pacific Crest Trail. As in, I have not been hiking it for the past two months. I can’t believe it’s been two months. Here’s the post I wrote on Instagram a few days after getting off trail:

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hi guys. some small ultimately insignificant news that feels large to me: i hopped off the pacific crest trail on monday, visited the ocean in LA, and now i’m back in portland. i hiked 454 miles which is a lot of miles but also not nearly as many miles as i intended to hike when i started this journey. i spent some time feeling embarrassed and turning the word “failure” over in my brain and my heart but i don’t feel bad anymore – i feel proud of myself for making the right decision for me. i have a lot more to say about all this (you’re all shocked, i’m sure) but i’ll tackle it in my blog. at first i just wanted to lay low but it honestly felt very weird for people to keep sending me sweet encouraging texts etc while i napped in a comfy bed (i’ve slept so many hours since getting off the trail). thank you to everyone who followed along with my journey and was so supportive and kind – it meant so much to me and helped me keep going and i hope i haven’t let you down (or if i have i hope you don’t tell me that because i don’t think my fragile ego could handle it!). i will continue publishing my blog posts about the 40 days i spent on the trail and i am making some exciting Plan B hiking and traveling plans for the summer which i’ll also write about when the time is right. and if you live in portland maybe i’ll see you at the queer dance party tmrw night (or maybe i’ll keep being a hermit idk)! xoxo

I probably should have just posted that spiel to my blog immediately, because over the past few months I’ve gotten quite a few people inquiring where I went or if I was okay, and I felt guilty each time that there were humans who were wondering about me and I’d left y’all hanging. I’m sorry about that. I’m especially sorry to the sweet people who have messaged me via email or Instagram or text message who I simply haven’t gotten back to – I read every single message and tucked them all into a special pocket of my heart where my sadness and embarrassment about the PCT live, and they make some of the pain and shame feel a lot better. They are an excellent balm. I haven’t not responded because I’m not grateful for the support or because I don’t care – I care so much! All I can say is that blogging is really emotional work, and even simply communicating with other humans is really emotional work, especially if you’re me, which is to say, supremely emotional! I have been overwhelmed and I remain overwhelmed. I still don’t really know how to say all the things I want to say, but I will eventually. Again – thank you for being patient. And thank you for supporting me.

The super cool news is that I did indeed cook up a pretty fucking fantastic Plan B, just as I said I would in that Instagram caption, and I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. It will involve more adventures, more blogging, and more time spent with my delightful pink sleeping bag and, inevitably, all my feelings. It will also involve my sweet girlfriend, a large airplane, and tons of cheese and wine. I posted about this, too, on Instagram, and here’s what I wrote the night we bought our plane tickets!

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i took this photo on April 20, on my first day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. i wanted to hike the whole thing – all 2,650 miles. i only made it 454 miles before a combination of things – physical injuries, mental exhaustion, loneliness, snow, logistics – sent me home. i’ve been pretty sad since getting off the trail, and i keep telling myself to write about it because i know it will help me sort things out in my brain – writing always does that for me – but so far i haven’t. i will. but right now i just wanted to share some exciting news: i have another hike planned this year! last night @alleyhector and i bought tickets to Europe, and on September 1 we will begin walking the Camino de Santiago, a 550 mile route in Spain. it’s very very different from the PCT, and i think that’s a good thing for me right now. anyway this all feels so bizarre because i put so much time and energy into researching every single aspect of the PCT and getting ready for the Camino is going to be a whirlwind in comparison, but i am really excited and i think this is the right choice, in as much as anything ever is the “right” choice! my goals for the next couple of months include publishing my blog posts for days 20-40 of my PCT blog, getting my gear together for the Camino, and getting my butt back onto some local trails because i have been straight up avoiding hiking since getting home. i plan to blog daily on the Camino, so if you enjoyed my PCT posts perhaps you will be excited to follow along on this upcoming journey. thanks as always for all the support and kindness y’all sent my way while i was on the PCT – i am so, so grateful for all of it – and exxxtra thanks for humoring me when i write these ultra long instagram captions! love you happy monday xoxo!

Alley and I have been working on a really cute two part joint blog post to share with our readers re: this new plan, and we’ll publish it tomorrow. Stay tuned for that!

So I hope that gives some context to why my blog posts abruptly stopped and why my Instagram photos stopped reflecting the PCT. I have an essay coming up for Autostraddle that delves deeper into why I left the trail – it’s a follow up to my original essay about the PCT that I wrote for Autostraddle, This Queer Fat Femme Is Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and You Can Follow Along. If you haven’t read that yet, you should – it’s kind of adorable to see how young and naive I was just a few short months ago!

I also published an essay about my experience on the PCT in SHAPE magazine: What It’s Like Being the Fat Girl On the Hiking Trail. I was super anxious about publishing this because it’s very vulnerable, even for me, and I worried about how it would be received, but I was pleasantly surprised because people have been nothing but kind and empathetic, and I got so much positive feedback from women who have felt the exact same way. So that’s really neat and makes me very happy. (I mean, it makes me eternally bummed out that so many women feel the same because what the fuck why are we all being made to feel “less than” on the goddamn trails, Jesus fucking Christ, but it makes me happy that we can all connect about it and that no one told me I was being silly or overreacting and instead totally validated my experiences in sharing their own, you know?) Also, not to obsess over this until the day I die but Cheryl Strayed read the essay and liked it and told me so! For those who don’t know, Cheryl Strayed is one of my top five favorite authors and her book, Tiny Beautiful Things, is basically the reason I left New York and ended up living in Oregon, and I respect her writing tremendously and think she is just so fucking rad, so being noticed in a positive way by her is one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. I’m often hyperbolic but in this case I mean that very sincerely. I’ll probably never stop talking about it, sorry not sorry!

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Oh, and one more housekeeping order of business! My fundraiser is still open, and I would still love to raise the total $2,650 for Big City Mountaineers this hiking season. Just because I’m not hiking every one of those miles doesn’t mean that we should stop raising money for such an important organization, right?! So! If you’ve enjoyed my words this summer, if my journey has inspired you, if you’ve wanted to send me a care package or do something to say “thanks for baring your soul all the time on the internet” – please consider donating to my fundraiser! For those of you who are waiting on postcards because you donated more than $36 to my fundraiser (THANK YOU!!), I will send you a postcard from Europe instead of from the PCT. If receiving a postcard from me from Europe sounds fantastic and you really want that to happen for you, you should totally donate $36 or more to my fundraiser! And if you don’t have the means to donate, please consider sharing it on your social networks. Check it out! Thank you! I love you!

Whew. Are we all caught up? I’m sorry again for disappearing. Blogging is weird but ultimately I love it, and I really genuinely enjoy being in conversation with all of you. I hope you’ll still be interested in following along with my adventures, even though they are no longer on the PCT. Thanks, as always, for reading and cheering me on. This would all be so much less fun without you.

My Gear List for the PCT

Long distance hikers love to talk about their gear. I am an exception to this rule because I actually hate talking about gear! It stresses me out, I don’t find it that interesting, and I hate how competitive the conversations become – I don’t really care which quilt is lighter or which tent is larger and I definitely don’t want to have an argument about stuff sacks vs. no stuff sacks or trail runners vs. hiking boots! Ugh, I’m stressed just thinking about it. All I want from my gear is for it to do its job, be somewhat lightweight, not cost a million dollars, and if it comes in pink? Well, that’s a bonus that I’ll gladly take, duh!

That said, almost everyone I’ve mentioned my hike to has been very interested in what gear I’m taking, so I have put together the stereotypical “PCT Gear Post” for y’all to peruse.

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What I’m Wearing On The PCT

I’m so weird about clothes. My style is somewhere on the spectrum of girly-lazy-sparkly-pink-sporty-cute-toddler-grandma. Make of that what you will. I’ve definitely gone through shifts in style, as everyone does, and those shifts have been influenced by my body size and shape, where I’m living at the time, trends and fads, what job I’m working, who I’m surrounded by, and how I happen to feel in my heart on any given day. I identify as femme, which is complicated and not what I feel like writing about right now, but I also majorly identify as lazy when it comes to what I wear. I’ve been known to put together an outfit I like and wear it for 10+ days in a row because I just couldn’t be bothered to change it up. It’s not minimalist and it’s not even a middle finger to consumerist culture or anything like that – there’s no great meaning behind it, I’m literally just lazy. (And white, and cis, and a person who has a certain amount of privilege in that she can walk around town in the same black spandex leggings and loose cotton grey t-shirt with no bra for literally more than a week and not be judged, harmed, or treated any differently than I would be if I put on a new outfit every day – maybe people judge me in their heads, but on a scale of what can happen to you for wearing the “wrong thing” in this fucked up world, that is not a big deal.)

Based on the above information, you’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to find an outfit to wear on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am not perturbed by wearing the same clothes over and over in my day to day life – why would I mind doing so on the trail? Answer: I totally don’t mind! But alas, a combination of being fatter than most outdoor apparel companies believe their consumers to be, being a little bit vain in that I’d like to look cute in the photos I take over the next five months, and having no idea how I will actually feel when it comes to heat/cold/anything on the trail has made this task a tiny bit…challenging.

Here’s the outfit I’ve come up with for the first portion of the trail. A challenge on the PCT is that the landscape and ecosystems change so drastically from one portion of the trail to the next that something that is essential for the first 700 miles may be totally useless once you hit the final 700 miles. As such, I’m open to changing my outfit as I go, and I know for a fact that I will need slightly different gear in the Sierra and Washington. This is just the first draft of what I think will work for me.

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photo by Binky, who told me I looked “soft butch” when she snapped this gem

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10 Things I’m Going To Miss While I Hike The PCT

I leave for the Pacific Crest Trail in two and a half weeks, and I’m excited and nervous and ready and unprepared and anxious and thrilled! You know, all the regular feelings you feel before you embark on your very first thru-hike. I’ve been focusing a lot of my blog entries on my PCT Prep, which is obviously super important, but I’ve also been focusing a lot of my mental energy on things that I will miss while I’m gone, and I felt like it might be interesting for folks reading along to get a glimpse of what that looks like, too.

I haven’t seen a lot of PCT bloggers write about this, maybe because it’s implied or maybe because they don’t think it will be that interesting or maybe because it’s a more vulnerable thing to share than a gear list or a resupply plan. There’s also a lot of focus in the hiking community on being mentally prepared for the hike itself, and taking into account that there will be times when you want to quit so you better have a plan to talk yourself into staying when you hit those blocks. And I think that’s valuable advice and very real and important, but I also think it’s bizarre to pretend that I won’t miss a whole bunch of stuff about life off the trail, and it’s not going to help me through hard times on the trail to pretend I won’t miss this stuff or that it doesn’t exist.

I’m very lucky to love my life, and that isn’t going to abruptly change when I set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail – it’s just going to be the background to a very long walk for a few months, rather than the foreground of my day to day existence. With all of that said, today’s post is a break from a look into my PCT Prep, and instead is a look into my brain/heart/soul about what I’m going to miss while I’m on the PCT.

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Fundraising For Big City Mountaineers: Help Me Raise $2,650 By The Time I Get To Canada

Hi hello it’s so nice to see you! I’m really glad you’re here because I’ve got some very exciting news to share today! I know, I know – I already told you that I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year and that I leave in just three short weeks. But guess what, I have even more exciting news! In honor of my PCT hike, I am raising funds for Big City Mountaineers (BCM), an organization that instills critical life skills in under-resourced urban youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions. Put simply, BCM helps kids who would never otherwise have the opportunity to explore the Great Outdoors get outside, learn about nature and themselves, and take an often much-needed break from day to day city life. It’s an incredible organization, and I’m honored to be able to use my PCT hike to raise awareness and funds for their work.

If you’re ready to donate to my fundraiser for Big City Mountaineers now, you can go ahead and click this link! Once you’re on my fundraising page click the orange DONATE button on the right side of the page and follow the instructions. Thank you for supporting this cause with me!

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PCT Prep: Vanessa and the Productive, Warm, Delicious, Very Good Tuesday

I had a very productive day yesterday with regards to prepping for my 2017 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, so even though I am actually currently gripped with intense anxiety about everything from handling the snow in the Sierra to which rain jacket I should buy to how I will handle being so far away from Alley for five whole months, I thought now might be a good time to check in with another handy dandy bullet point list re: my preparation. Here’s what’s up, aside from that pesky Anxiety Brain I’m experiencing.

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