I meticulously planned my first hike. On My Second, I’m Just Vibing.

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote”} }”>

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education center with in-depth fitness, nutrition and adventure lessons and over 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ >”,”name”:”in -content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Join Outside+ today.

Editor’s Note: Patricia “Blackpacker” Cameron is the founder of Blackpackers, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving access to the outdoors, and correspondent for Backpacker’s 2022 Pacific Crest Trail.

If I had to choose a theme for my hike through the Pacific Crest Trail, it would be “Vibes”.

I planned my last long trail down to the mile, mapping the daily mileage and pre-arranging accommodations so I couldn’t adjust the day’s walk even if I wanted to. Although I loved hiking the Colorado Trail, the stress of not being able to improvise any aspect of the trip wore me down. So this time, I decided to do the opposite. Whenever someone asks me where I’m going next, if I’m going to Canada, or how I’m going to solve one of the many problems that come up while hiking, I’ve answered “I’m just buzzing”.

Part of it is I raise my hand to the gods of the trail and let whatever happens happen. I had to embrace a tremendous amount of uncertainty here: in the short time I was on the track, I saw the very few tenuous shots I had made completely evaporate, forcing me to lean even more towards spontaneity. I also have personal reasons for letting go: my son was born when I was 23 and now I’m back on the playground without him, with more free time than I’ve had in almost 16 years.

City stop in the Sierra (Photo: Courtesy of Patricia Cameron)

After trying both ways, I think I’ve decided this is how hiking should be. I should stop when I feel like it, spend time talking to a groundhog if I feel like it, camp where I want, and walk at whatever speed feels most comfortable to me.

Embracing the vibes has helped me in other ways as well. Before leaving Colorado Springs, I took a course of IV ketamine infusion therapy. Ketamine is an anesthetic that can also be used to treat mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. There are a lot of places your mind can go when you’re walking all day, some of them dark, and I wanted to make sure I was ready for them. Ketamine is essentially brain fertilizer, helping neurons to reconnect, and it can have mild hallucinogenic effects: when I received my treatments, I was lying on a recliner in a dark room, feeling my brain go through a disconnected consciousness. I felt like I was turning on lights in long dark corridors of my mind. In the same way, I want to accept the experience of the trail, whatever journey it chooses to take me.

I don’t even know if I’ll make it to Canada with all the wanderings I’ve done so far. Went to see a movie at a small town theater that doesn’t sell tickets online. I cut myself enough to need stitches (and got to the hospital too late to get them). I’ve seen donkeys and pack mules drinking from the same river as me, dancing to Taylor Swift on a descent, and listening to entire audiobooks on an uphill hike. I’ve already cried, thought about giving up, then picked myself up and carried on. I want to experience the PCT as deeply as possible – not just the trail, but the towns, people and culture, all so different from my native mountains. Every experience so far has felt new to me – and I vibrate with it.

Leave a Comment