How a 9-5 Job Led Me to a Thru-Hike of the PCT

As I’m preparing for my thru-hike of the PCT this summer I’m getting all the usual questions. Are you going alone? How long does that take? What about your job? Aren’t you scared? But what about going to the bathroom? What do you eat?

These questions are easy because they’re practical. I’ve either extensively researched or inherently know most of the answers. The harder question (always from people who are deeply invested) inevitably follows. Why?

The Answers

There’s not one easy answer. It’s a combination of factors that have been building throughout my entire life and have come to a culmination over the last year. Basically up until I got my first full-time job I’d been in the process of working toward some elaborate, long-term goal. From graduating high school to actually landing that first full-time job, I’d never really been in a period of time when it was unclear what I was working toward. I kept myself satisfied for a little while—working toward a promotion, fitness-related goals, or even starting my own writing—but I still felt unsatisfied. When I woke up to make my commute, go to my office, and do the same thing I did yesterday all over again, I found myself repeatedly asking: Is this really all there is? Is this what I’ve been working toward my entire life? I looked at my boss and my boss’s boss and asked myself: Is this what I’m working for? Is this really want I want to spend my next 20 years becoming?

I got really discouraged and entered a pretty deep depressive episode (thanks a lot, inconsistent brain chemicals). It was a depressive episode unlike any other I’d experienced before, which made it hard to recognize. I wasn’t extremely sad or sensitive—I was overwhelmingly numb. Nothing sounded fun, nothing seemed worth doing. I couldn’t put any time or energy into anything and it made me feel helpless, and worse, worthless. I remember talking to a close friend expressing how I was feeling and he asked if I’d be interested in a spontaneous backpacking trip through Europe (a lifelong dream of mine) and I just remember thinking about how absolutely exhausting it sounded.

Somewhere in the middle of it all I realized that I desperately needed to take back control of my life. It was well overdue time to try to turn off autopilot. Everything still sounded pretty unexciting and useless, but I’d felt excited before, and I knew I could get there again. I needed a goal. I needed something to prove to myself that I was still capable of conquering my dreams, no matter how damn tired I was. That’s when the idea of the PCT, something planted in my brain by a lifelong best friend many years ago, crept back in. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop. I went to the doctor and started on SSRIs. I started planning. I started realizing that this crazy, once in a lifetime adventure—this abnormal lifestyle free of a 9-5—was startlingly possible for me.

I let go of a lot of things as I began to realize the PCT was something I really wanted. Leaving my job was a terrifying thought. What if I get back and I can’t find another one? What if this is the best job I’ll ever have and I’m giving up a rewarding, lifelong career? But I knew those thoughts were invasive and really just excuses because of how seriously scared I was (and still am). But even just planning for this hike has infused me with new life. I get excited every time I research and purchase new gear. I force myself outside to train and I’m happy about it. Heck, I find myself (on basis more regular than I’m willing to admit) crying at former thru-hikers’ Instagram posts (shout-out to Heaps).

Yes, making the decision to leave your normal life, a comfortable and secure 9-5 salaried job, is fucking terrifying. But I sure as hell know it’ll be worth it.

Originally posted on The Trek.

Small Tricks to Help You Save For the PCT

In a word—resourcefulness. Being resourceful will be your friend when saving for your thru-hike, and will likely teach you some great lessons for the actual trail as well. The following list offers some suggestions (emphasis on suggestion—I’m no financial expert) on ways to save for a thru-hike and some examples of things that have worked for me (and also given me tiny bits of satisfaction for being frugal AF). It’s little day-to-day victories that will add up over several months of preparation to make a real difference for your eventual endeavor.

Practice Minimalism

I will write a full blog post on this in the future, but in the meantime consider checking out Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix. The creators, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, also have a podcast. They’re all about helping people live meaningful lives with less stuff. Obviously, the less stuff you have/buy, the more money you’ll save. Plus, the lifestyle itself sort of embodies exactly how people live on trail. Only keep things that you need or are of huge importance to you; everything else can go (and is a useless addition to your base weight).

Get Those Giveaways

Take advantage of free sh*t! It’s everywhere. There are countless Instagram giveaways, sponsorships, etc. Apply for/enter them all. The more you enter, the better the odds. If it’s something you don’t need, sell it or regift and save when birthdays/holidays come around.

Be Your Own Personal Chef

Buying groceries and cooking them is almost always cheaper than eating out (unless your diet consists exclusively of ice cubes and water with the occasional lemon slice). You don’t have to tip yourself, and you can consider the additional culinary skills you’ll inevitably learn a nice bonus.

Take Advantage of Credit Card Rewards

When considering your credit card choices, think about what would be most useful to you for thru-hike savings. I’ve earned enough through Discover Cashback Match to use almost only rewards to pay for trail clothes from Amazon and REI. There are also several travel-focused credit cards that might help you pay for your transportation to and from trail.

Establish Passive Income

Find a way to make some passive income while on trail. Amazon affiliate links, Patreon (not totally passive but you would ideally be posting trail specific content), and creating e-books are all great options. Find something that fits your style and take a whack at it. If you have a talent for investing (or know more about it than me), consider making your money work for you. If not, look into diversified portfolios (apps like Acorns and Robinhood make it very easy) or a CD (if you plan far enough ahead).

Earn Part-time Income

Turn your hobbies into side hustles or find something you can dedicate a few hours a week to and make some extra cash. I started charging for Bird and threw myself into a ton of freelance writing gigs. Start driving Uber one night a week, or if you prefer a solitary side hustle—Uber eats. If you are spending a ton of money on fitness memberships (yoga will be the death of my budget), see if they have a work trade program or instructor training. That way you can train for free or even make money for working out.

Slash Your Car Insurance

If you have a fairly old car, consider reducing your coverage. If you have enough emergency funds, increase your deductible. Only do what you’re comfortable with but definitely examine your options. Also, cancel that sh*t while you’re on trail. We’re walking now folk;, no driving for six months (except for the occasional hitch).

Acquire/Use Alternative Transportation

If you live close enough to work (or wherever you need to be), consider dropping a car altogether. Start biking. You’ll save money on gas, insurance, car payments, and get that cardio training in for trail.

Slum It Early (Sacrifice Living Location)

Alternatively, if you’re planning far enough in advance consider living somewhere where the cost of living is low. Save money on virtually everything before embarking on the journey of a lifetime.

Use Your Resources (Work, Etc.)

Do you work at an office that is constantly catering in lunches then putting out free leftovers? Are there free tampons in the bathrooms? Do you have benefits you aren’t taking advantage of? Use every little thing to your advantage. Pick up that free food, take it home, and you’ve got a free meal. See what you can save with your health insurance or an FSA account.

Sell What You Don’t Need

This goes along with practicing minimalism. Take a long, hard look at all the stuff in your life. Have you touched it or even thought about it within the last three months? The last year? If not, there’s a good chance you really don’t need it. Consider listing it on ebay (I sold a bunch of old college textbooks and surprisingly it’s super easy). Go through your clothes and take them to Plato’s or another resale place—get cash for what they want and take the rest to Goodwill.

Ask for Help

If you’re the type of person who wants to thru-hike you might have the type of people in your life who think that’s super dope. Swallow your pride and consider asking for small donations to your journey, maybe offering a small service in return. For example, if you can draw (or even if you can’t), offer small commissions in exchange for what they can give.

Discounts (Student, Military, Etc.)

Use those discounts. Check Groupon religiously for things you need, take advantage of sales, and most importantly, any discount you’re automatically qualified for. Honey is a great Chrome extension that will search discount codes for you when shopping online (the other day it took $11 off my laundry detergent, what???). I haven’t been in school for two years but I still whip out my student ID when it’s going to save me money.

Cord Cut/Streamline Subscriptions

In the day of streaming services, consider reducing your monthly utilities by getting rid of cable. On top of that, see if there are people in your life also trying to save money and share streaming accounts with them. I’ve been on a family Spotify account with five friends for two years now ($2.50/month instead of $10/ month over two years= $180 saved).

Be the Cheap Friend

Obviously, don’t short your friends money. But if you are worried about sacrificing a social life for the trail because socializing tends to be expensive, fear no more. Here are a few hacks to prevent you from becoming a total hermit:

1) If your friends like to go out drinking, consider bringing a flask with you to the bar (still order a drink and tip the bartender because that’s the decent thing to do—but avoid buying three to four drinks and it will make a big difference)

2) Order water when you eat out. $2 on every meal adds up, people.

3) Eat at home before you eat out with friends, and then order something small like an appetizer (or share it) when you get there.

4) Stop buying coffee. In the age of caffeine addiction it’s easy to let $20+ dollars a week go to the sweet bean juice, but instead try making your coffee at home.

5) Be transparent with your homies. Not that you have to justify your lifestyle to anyone, but if they know why you’re being frugal (and they’re good friends) they’re more likely to understand why you want to have cheaper outings rather than VIP nights at the club.

Obviously, what works for me won’t work for everyone but I hope some of these tips lead to a few extra saved dollars. If you have enough determination and grit to even consider a thru-hike, I have faith that you will also be able to save for it. Be strong and remember the best things in life (PCT thru-hiking permits) are free.

Hello

Hi, I’m Elise. I’m a writer currently based in Atlanta, Georgia but my roots are in St.Louis, Missouri. By some people’s definition I have gone certifiably insane and am currently planning a northbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail for 2019. This blog is how I’ll be sharing my wilderness ramblings and writings with loved ones at home, and anyone else who wants to follow along. So welcome, and I hope you’ll see me get all the way from Mexico to Canada on my own two feet—or hands and knees, if it comes to that.