I figured maybe some of you might be wondering why I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? Is it because I've grown up camping and hiking my whole life? Is it because I don't want to get a real job? Is it because of Reese/Cheryl? Or is it because I'm looking for a way to escape real life? Don't mind me if we get a little personal here.
First of all, let me give you a background on my little life. I was born in Massachusetts, November of 1986. I never grew up doing "outdoor" activities (like camping, hiking, climbing etc). I mean, we played outside, rode bikes and went places, but that was it. Both of my parents are from Taiwan and immigrated to the states before they had my sister and I. I've been to Taiwan a few times when I was little, but I can barely remember a thing. I'd love to revisit though.
I have to say, I do feel like most of my childhood was a blur. We didn't grow up in a normal family household, but who's actually normal these days? There was a lot of conflict between my mom and my dad's side of the family (they all lived in MA), so we technically lived life as both of my parents were "separated." I think divorce is looked down upon in the Asian world, and my mother desperately wanted out. My dad's side of the family lived in Burlington, and my mom was in Lexington. We would go back and forth between homes as if they were divorced; I don't think I really understood what the deal was as a child. I felt like we were kept in the dark with all the family drama, and honestly, I still don't really know the deets to this day. All I can say though is that my mom has always worked her bum off to support my sister and I. I finally got to hear some of her story this past Thanksgiving--she is a warrior.
In 1995, when I was 8 year old, my father passed away. He had been sick for awhile, but I never really knew from what. I recently found out that he was diagnosed with Hepatitis B (I guess back in the day, they didn't have the vaccines for it). He had gone through a liver transplant, but his body ended up rejecting the liver and that ultimately caused his death. I was so young and barely understood what happened--I think I was numb to the whole situation. I don't remember feeling any emotion as his funeral. After that, my mom pretty much took us girls and left the great colonial state of MA, there was nothing left there for her anymore.
That brought us to Texas. My mom's older sister was living in Houston, and it was a good place for her to escape since she had family there. From there, I feel like that's where I gained most of my independence. My mother was now a widowed single mom. She had to work nights, so she could make more money to support us. My mom was not really around during my childhood, so my sister and I basically raised ourselves. Even though my mom was not present, she kept a roof over our head, put "food" on the table, and cared for us so much. I think the Asian love language is through financial support, and that's how she showed it. I felt like when we moved to Texas, we were finally free. Free from the abuse, free from the "prison-like" home in MA, and free from family obligations. But we never had any sort of rules as kids. She never told us to do our homework, study, apply for college, etc., and we had no curfew. My sister and I were pretty much free to do whatever we wanted, but I think I can say that we turned out just fine. Sometimes the "hands off" approach in parenting isn't so bad after all.
From Junior High to High School, life was pretty mediocre. I never participated in sports, clubs or fun things. I basically had no hobbies, but I wasn't a loner or anything. I had friends from all different "groups" at school, I felt like I got along with all of them for some reason. But I mean, I also had no clue what real "friends" were either. My friends were always disposable to me, if they had wronged me in any way, I would drop them like flies. In my sophomore year of high school, I got really into the punk rock/pop-punk/screamo scene and going to shows. Music was my idol, but it was probably some of the best times of my life as a kid. I would go to shows on school nights, mosh a bit, scream my lungs out to the words of my favorite band's songs, take photos and meet some amazing people. Sometimes I would want to see a band multiple times that I would drive to Austin or San Antonio (around a 3 hour drive from Houston) after school, see that show, rock out, drive back home that same night, sleep for like 3 hours and wake up for school the next morning. But remember, we had no curfew/rules, so my mom had no clue we were doing this. Not that we were hiding anything, it's just what we did (whatever the hell we wanted). Also, shooting live shows was where my photography began. I would just use disposable cameras or my 35mm SLR, and I had a ton of fun. I spent SO much money on film/printing back in the day, but it was my new hobby.
After graduating high school, I moved to San Marcos, TX where I attended Texas State University. I declared my major in Business Administration in Accounting because well, what else do you choose as an 18 year old right out of high school? All the other Asians were doing it, so I thought it was the most logical thing to do--choose a major with numbers (though accounting is technically more rules and ethics) because I might be good at it. Like most average kids, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life at that age. I wasn't the computer or nurse kid, so I was clueless on what major to choose. In college is where I learned to study for the first time. I discovered in order to get good grades on exams, you had to actually read the textbooks (I promise I'm Asian, okay?). I excelled all four years in college, made Dean's List every semester except one (got my first and only C and was so bummed haha) and graduated Cum Laude. This was a big deal to me, because in high school, I just didn't care about studying/making good grades even though math came naturally to me. I was just the average kid trying to get by. I also picked up photojournalism during this time. I was a photographer for our newspaper for a few years and became Photo Editor my senior year. I feel like that's when I really grew my passion for real photographs of real people. None of dat posey fake over edited shit.
So where does Seattle come in? Well, I planned a little trip to visit Seattle my last year of college (mainly because I was working at Seattle's Best Coffee in our college town), and I loved looking at all of the pictures of the city we had up in the shop haha. It was literally that famous coffee cup photo with the public market sign that drew me in. So I was like, "I have to go to this place that's covering all of our walls," and then BAM. I made the decision that I should move there after I graduate, whether I had a job or not. I sold all of my things, packed Ellie (my trusty little Honda Element) to the rim and drove her across the country to the northwest from the lone star state. All 2,181 miles, and we knocked it out in 3 days. It's not super easy to get a job in a new city with no one you know, especially if you have a super basic degree like a BBA in Marketing (btw I changed majors my junior year). Also, the recession was still going on in 2009, so like most other recent grads, I ended up working as a barista at Starbucks. Did I really spend 4 years of my life working my bum off in college just to come back to the same job I had when I was in high school? Yep. I didn't know a single person in the city, so I had to find a place to live off of craigslist, but that ended up going down the crapper. That's a whole other story that I won't get into.
Enter Jesus, the One Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega. I spent most of my life growing up in the Bible Belt where everyone is a "Christian," but all of those "churchy" kids were just a bunch of hypocrites to me--I had no interest. I had no clue who Jesus was, what the bible was about; I didn't care. I never rejected it or anything, it was just never on my radar--there were other more important things in life than some dude and church songs that I didn't understand the words to. I feel like a bunch of different things happened in my senior year of college, and meeting Jesus was one of them, the best one. I ended up finding a church (no names here....) in Seattle where I got plugged in right away. Everyone I met in my small group was so loving, welcoming and generous towards me. If you knew me my first year in Seattle, you are very dear to my heart. My faith grew immensely that summer and in the fall of 2009, I was baptized and officially gave my life to Christ and no longer wanted to live life for myself, but for Him. I literally felt as if I had been living my life with a blindfold on before I met Jesus...it's so weird to explain. He died for me, for my sins, and so that I can live this very day. The Lord completely softened my heart in parts of my life where I was so stubborn and unforgiving. I mean, hello, I used to make fun of all the churchy kids and Jesus back in the day! Who did I become?! But I feel like the biggest thing that God has taught me is how to love others the way that He loves us. I seriously think I had no clue before. I no longer viewed my friends as "disposable" and wanted to pursue the people that had been put into my life and really value them.
"Test everything. Hold on to the good." - 1 Thessalonians 5:21
This verse has stuck with me ever since I became a Christian. I like to apply it to my relationships with people. God wants us to "test" everything, does this "thing" reflect the truth of God? Are we discerning what is put in front of us, and how are we going to honor Him once we figure out it is "good?" We shouldn't be quick to judge or disregard anybody or anything that is placed into our lives. But you know, I've done that numerous time that I can't even remember. He's taught me to put aside my preconceptions and seek what is true according to His word. Once you know that truth is "good," hold on to it, because you just might be missing out on a really good thing.
If you're still with me here, thanks for reading so far. I plan on getting to the hiking part, I promise. All my life, I've never really been "athletic" or into sports. I never was lazy, I just didn't see it as a priority. I've always been infatuated with mountains though. I used to look up photos of some of the most majestic peaks and save them to my desktop. It's weird to think now that I've actually been to some of the places I used to dream about. I was technically always a chubby kid growing up. In 2012, I was laid off from my desk job and was forced to rely on photography (mainly weddings) as my main source of income. Because I worked from home, I finally had time to put my health as a priority. I think it was something I've wanted to do but never fully did it because I was working so much. But I look back now and think it was probably all excuses. In that first year or so, I dropped around 45 lbs by cooking at home and joining the gym. It was a super weird/embarrassing time in my life when I had to tell the public about it, but it completely changed my life in its entirety. I realized that my health is far more important than any work deadline. Our body is a temple, and God tells us to be good stewards of it. Why had I always been putting my health on the back burner? Laziness. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. That switch in your head has got to click in order for you to change your lifestyle. But from there, I got super into cycling and did my first STP bicycle ride. I rode 204 miles from Seattle to Portland in 2013, and it was one of the best things I had ever done. I realized I had a mental shift in long term goal setting and learned how to be consistent with my goals and actually achieving them. Then I told myself I was going to learn how to run, and so I signed up for my first 5k on Father's day in honor of my dad. I learned how to run correctly without injuries and then registered for my first half marathon the next year. Remember, prior to all of this, I never did any type of exercise for fun haha. Who did I become?
Then finally comes in the hiking. I've always enjoyed hiking but never really pursued it. I'd probably go here and there but was never something I got really "into" like all the other things I did. I was taken on my first backpacking trip to the Enchantments in the fall of 2013 and absolutely fell in love. We thru-hiked 18 miles in two days, and I snow camped for the very first time. I think it's safe to say for a first overnighter, it was pretty gnarly. I've never felt so much pain and joy to be surrounded by God's beautiful creation, right here in Washington state. When I got home from that trip, I said that I would teach myself how to backpack. I didn't want to rely on others to take me out--I wanted to learn things for myself and do it right/well. I'm not about half-assing things. I want to do all the research and prepare for things before I step my foot out. It's just how I am.
The following summer, I set out on my very first solo (kind of) overnighter. I was absolutely terrified of all the things: getting lost, seeing a bear, breaking a leg, falling off a cliff, dying. But I can't tell you enough--if you never face your fears, those fears will always be the things that will hold you back from doing the things you really want to do. There's this weird sense of confidence whenever you get back from a solo trip. It's like "I planned my trip, brought the things I needed, could've changed a few things, but hey, I made it out alive and survived all on my own!" It is literally just that simple and from there, I grew more confident in my place in the outdoors and went out almost every weekend I could for several months. I truly found my passion. A friend had asked me that summer, "Wang, out of all these things you do (cycling, running, backpacking), what do you think you love the most?" That really got me thinking. I had come to the conclusion that I finally settled on backpacking because 1. The mountains are always calling and I quite literally, must go 2. I love walking somewhere that a road cannot lead you to 3. Everything you basically need is all on your back 4. You have to work really hard to get to a really beautiful spot 5. I get to take photos
I can't forget to mention that in August 2013, Jenny, Dorothy and I took a night photography workshop in Banff, AB taught by the master himself, Paul Zizka. I am pretty sure that trip completely changed my life with photography and pursuing the outdoors. Paul loves teaching others his craft, and it's apparent how much passion he has for what he does. He and his family are truly an inspiration to me. I got pretty obsessed with night photos on every overnighter I took. There was just something SO exciting about coming home after a night out shooting and loading them onto my computer. It's like when you're out there in the cold shooting in the dark, you don't really know what you're getting until you're at the screen, and it's always a surprise. Sometimes the photos will suck, and sometimes there'll be that one shot. The excitement made me want to keep getting out, and every trip was a learning experience to figure out how I can improve the next time. I loved working hard to get to a remote location where there were no cars and stay up all night shooting the stars. I loved it, I loved it all.
I had first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail when I accidentally stumbled upon it during a snowy hike in 2012. It blew my mind to know that there was a trail that took you all the way to Canada; I couldn't quite believe it at first. It didn't strike a chord until a few years later. Yes, I did see Wild, I tried to read the book but never finished. I think Cheryl told her story well, and things were a lot different back in 1995. I feel bad for all the criticism she received, but oh well, that's what happens when you share your story to the public. I pondered about what it'd be like as a female hiker walking from Mexico to Canada on foot, and the thought of carrying only what you need on your back for 5-6 months. I loved it. But I was also terrified. Do you really have to start alone? Well yeah, no one else is going to quit their job and commit half a year to walk across the country with you, and there's no way you'd stay with them the whole time since everyone has different hiking styles (you'll be lucky if you're still bffs with them in the end). The only thing that was setting me back was starting alone, then I found out most folks have to start solo because of those same reasons. I discovered a huge community of thru-hikers on the interwebs, and from there, I was committed to researching on how a person becomes a thru-hiker.
The summer of 2015 is when I attempted to see what long distance hiking actually felt like. I wanted to see if my body could even do it before I attempted something like that. I spent every weekend out till I reached 20 miles/day. The first time I did a 20...man did my feet HURT. Your body isn't exactly tired, but you have this excruciating pain throbbing in your feet. You can barely walk and your toes are red and swollen. But...I did a 20! And I was still alive and felt like I could do another 20 the next day, that's all that really mattered. I went on quite a handful of solo trips that year, really testing my fears: the bugs, the animals, the weather, the navigation. I survived. I got to see SO much of Washington, the coast, the North Cascades, and I even went back to Banff and frolicked around BC. My body was finally getting used to hiking in the teens every weekend, and I just couldn't get enough of it. One thing that I started to realize near the end of the summer was how vulnerable I was when I went out on my own. Sometimes my brain just NEEDS to get out on a solo trip. Most people think I'm this super extroverted social person, which I can be, but I really love doing things on my own. It's probably because I'm selfish and want to be in control. Fortunately, I really enjoy meeting people on the trail. It's so easy to relate because they're already doing the same thing as you, and they are always friendly because hikers are just happy. I feel like everyone is much more comfortable around each other since we are all vulnerable in the wilderness together and can talk about anything and everything. A lot of times when I'm out many miles away from the trailhead, I use that time to pray. I pray for my friends, my family, my fears, my blessings, my desires--the Lord's desires. I love walking and talking out loud to God. People probably think I'm a crazy person talking to myself, but oh well. The voice helps scare off unwanted bears (I hope). The wilderness had become my church every weekend. Sometimes I reflect on what my life is like in the moment, how I get to live in such a beautiful place in the great northwest, and I don't deserve any of it. I could be stuck in hot, brown, flat, ugly Texas right now, but I'm not. I was brought to WA for a reason. Whenever I get back from a long solo trip, my mind is completely refreshed, and I remind myself on how I want to image Christ in my real life. It's exactly what I need when I get sick of the city life/people. The outdoors has been my little retreat.
One of the biggest parts of my summer was getting involved with Washington Trails Association. I learned about trail maintenance and worked on trails with some of the most genuine and inspiring people I have ever met. I think to work with your own two hands on what really goes into building a trail was so eye opening; it's definitely NOT a walk in the park. The craziest thing is that most of the volunteers who do this kind of work are all retirees. To think, I'm this young, healthy person who is selfish with my time, but use the trails to get my outdoors fix. And then there's these 65 year olds who don't work anymore but are spending their leisure time working a full day (often a whole week) with physical intense labor, building trails--for free. Mind blown. I feel like the young people need to have that switch click in their heads to realize that we are literally the generation that will be taking care of our precious trails when all the older people are dead. These trails have been around for SO many years, and they weren't made by the magical trail fairies. People had to physically cut logs, collect rocks, build some steps, dig out roots, widen a path, and cut some branches with their own bare hands. It's hard work ya'll, and I can't emphasize it enough that people should join a work party to see what really goes into building just even a small part of a trail. And remember, some trails go on for DAYS, how long do you think it took the trail people to build these back in the day? FOREVER. Let's take care of our trails, ya'll.
If you've read up until this point, then wow, you must be one of my best friends, or are just really curious, so thank you. I think I may have overshared and written a short story about my whole life/autobiography, but I wanted to share everything that has led up to this moment, and this is my story. So what's the main reason I'm hiking the PCT? Probably because I love walking so much, being outside, surrounding myself with mountains, meeting trail people, and it's the perfect time for me while I'm still young and healthy. I mean, I plan on doing this until I'm old, but it's a great opportunity for me to do it right before I turn 30! I feel like I'm so obsessed with all this stuff now as an adult only because I didn't grow up privileged doing this as a kid, so I'm just trying to catch up on all those years I missed out on. ;) It's kind of weird to think that I would ever be doing something like this or who I've become. Everything in my life has shaped who I am today, and I would never change a thing. By no means is this going to be an easy trip. I don't even know if I'll finish, but I'm pretty motivated when it comes to long term goals. Unless I get injured or if there's bad weather, I don't really see myself quitting. I want to keep one of my favorite verses in my head whenever I'm faced with a really tough day, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance," - James 1:2-3. My desire is to share my faith and story with the hiking community; Christ is the reason I am doing the things that I am today. I hope and pray that God will lead me well in this next season because Lord knows I can't do this alone. In the end, it's all mental, and it's not going to be myself that gets me through it.
"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:13