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Back in 2020, I was at REI casually scanning the book section, waiting patiently for a cover to catch my eye. 

Since it happens to be my name, the word Journey along with a trail map of the Pacific Crest Trail etched on the cover of a book latched my attention; little did I know that this concept would be enough to captivate every ounce of me for the next three years. 

Camping in the High Sierra.

The idea of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was so foreign, unknown, and unique - yet endlessly appealing. Simply walking, eating, daily views of the sunrise and sunset, midnight panoramic sights of shooting stars, camping, talking, laughing, all the peace felt in the stillness of the wilderness, not knowing what view was around the next bend, meeting people of all backgrounds, pushing physical boundaries, all simultaneously caused my heart to beat faster with anticipation and a yearning for this lifestyle and adventure. Life on trail; so simple, peaceful, and different from life in the “frontcountry”. 

Had I ever been backpacking for more than one night before the PCT? Absolutely not. Was I fresh out of school at age nineteen taking a gap year to make this long-shot dream become a reality? Correct. Would it change my life, mindset, and be the adventure of a lifetime? You know it. 

My tramily trekking through the Sierra.

I embarked on this adventure March 21st 2023 and finished the trek August 10th. One hundred and forty two days of being immersed in this thru-hike of the PCT. One hundred and forty two days of learning about my ever changing environment, myself on a deeply spiritual level, and about this world with all its complexities, contradictions, struggles, unique individuals, and stunning landscapes. 

All the planning and preparation in the whole world could never have prepared me for the year that 2023 would present to me on trail. With the Sierras shaking out to have the largest snowfall in history, the early prospects of this hike were seeming quite grim. 

The fear mongering, uncertainty, conditions, and anticipation were enough to make me physically sick. 

Despite all that, I began the trail March 21st during a brief break in an “atmospheric river” that swept over the entirety of Southern California. I apprehensively took my first steps away from the Southern Terminus completely unaware of how I would grow and learn, what I would experience and accomplish, and that I would actually finish the trail months later. 

Endlessly excited at the Southern Terminus on March 21st, 2023 - Clean, fresh, and wildly unprepared for what I was about to do.

In a year of uncertainty and unprecedented conditions, “finishing” the trail looked different for many people. 

Skipping, flipping, readjusting plans, and improvising were all too common; flexibility was the name of the game this year. 

My personal preferences of structure, and control did NOT enjoy this, but beautifully enough, flexibility happened to be the biggest lesson I learned while out on trail. The peace that I felt when I relinquished that control was so freeing. 

A hiker trash moment- 35 miles hiked, completely alone in the middle of the forest, and my only priority was dinner.

Naturally, as with all new experiences, there was a learning curve to life on trail. Filtering water out of my reliable Sawyer Squeeze, setting up my tent, and snacking while walking slowly came to be second nature when they once seemed daunting. These lessons of bravery, independence, and endurance can be achieved whether you adventure on a thru-hike, day hike, or walk out your backdoor. 

I encountered snow at mile 40 of the trail, which was quite obviously unusual. With the Sierras the way they were (absolutely covered in snow with no footpath to be seen), I entered in with a 45 pound pack complete with warm layers, an ice axe, and crampons, and ended up completing about 100 miles in that brutal terrain. 

It was a 1 am rise and shine every day to catch optimal snow conditions, 1 mph progress because of the harshness of snow travel on the body, and ultimately becoming nocturnal for a couple weeks. 

In Northern California, I found myself nearly alone for a 50 mile stretch completely under snow with no boot track, and barely any other hikers around. These moments tested my mental and physical strength, and allowed me to tap into a bravery and faith that I had previously not experienced to this degree- I grew more than I could have ever imagined out on those slopes, ridges, traverses, valleys, and summits. 

The descent off Forester Pass leading us deeper into the Sierra.

I will be the first to say that I was not a “purist” this year while on trail- I skipped, flipped, took some trail alternates, and did not keep a continuous footpath. Regardless, I still hiked 2,100 miles of the 2,655 mile PCT, and had the life-changing experience I was looking for. Purists may criticize my hike or claim that I failed to reach my goal, however I still consider what I did this year a full thru-hike experience. I may not have made every single mile, but I saw both the Southern and Northern Terminus with my own two eyes and hiked myself to both of those locations; that is enough for me. 

In other circumstances, outside of a record snow year or a deadline of August to start college, my hike may have looked quite different- but given the overall circumstances, I remain proud and satisfied with what I accomplished, and I believe that the confidence I gained in my unique path is my true definition of empowerment in the outdoors. 

The summit of Forester Pass, 13,153 feet above sea level

I want my experience on the Pacific Crest Trail to be an encouragement and an empowering story for anyone looking for a life of simplicity, adventure, and challenge. By slowing down and taking things one step at a time (literally), I transformed from a complete novice backpacker to an experienced individual with over 2000 miles of backpacking under her Hoka Speedgoats. 

You can do hard things with little experience because you will grow during the process monumentally. Empowerment in the Outdoors can look a number of different ways, and it all begins with a single step in the direction you dream to go.


September 27, 2023

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Journey Fleishman

Hey there- I’m Journey Fleishman! I recently completed a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail from March until August 2023 (with the same Sawyer the whole time). I attend college at Western Colorado University and study Outdoor Recreation and Education. I am a part of the Mountain Rescue Team and work at my favorite coffee shop in town. I adore adventures in creation with those I love, Thai food and burritos, watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, trail running, peak bagging 14ers, drawing camp; journaling, jammin’ to my favorite band Caamp, hammock naps, and drinking all the tea and coffee.

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