What I Learned About Perceptions By Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail

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What I Learned About Perceptions By Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail

Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail Was The Biggest Adventure Of My Life

hiking the Pacific Crest Trail-mountains and stream

This summer I dropped everything and took the biggest adventure of my life.
I put my job on hold and spent the last 6 months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile hiking trail from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada, passing through some of the most beautiful wilderness in California, Oregon, and Washington.

I lived like a nomad, sleeping in the wilderness and living a lifestyle of freedom and adventure. On top of that, I became the small percentage of people to have completed the Sierra High Route, a 195-mile cross country route in the remote Sierra Nevada at 12,000 feet, the most difficult thru-hike in America.

It was a long journey to get to where I am today so here I want to share my story of adventures with you.

hiking the pacific crest trail

My First Taste Of Adventure Was Moving From China To Canada

I still remember the first time I came to Canada from China when I was 10. Driving out of the airport, I saw a soccer field with real grass and it blew my mind. There is so much space, so much green, and the air tasted clean. The young me right then fell in love with this place.

My dad was a visiting scholar and we stayed in Canada for 9 months. When we had to leave, I remember crying because we had to go back to China. Thanks to my parents’ sacrifice of their job and their familiar environment, we ended up back in Canada permanently. I think all of it was so I could have a better environment to grow up in.

Things were difficult since we had to adjust to a whole new language, a new culture, and not having much money. So the first couple of years was pretty quiet for me, focused on doing well in school and thought about what to do when I grow up. Then I met these friends from the local church youth group and they invited me out hiking one day.

Maybe it’s due to the lack of exposure or maybe it was the translation, but I totally thought hiking meant we were gonna go walk in the woods in a city park somewhere.
I showed up in jeans and runners and then we drove out to the Rocky Mountains. Turns out we are about to climb a mountain.

The Feeling Of Discovering The Outdoors

I remembered breathing so hard trying to climb up the steep rock trail, so amazed at the wilderness around and the fresh air. At the top of a scary climb up a cliff band, I stood on top of a ridge with mountains and valleys as far as my eyes can see. I felt the sense of adventure, freedom and saw real beauty. The untouched and wild nature was something I have never experienced before and I had no idea that all this was out there. It was like a whole world was opened to me. I was addicted.

hiking the pacific crest trail

That was the start to my passion for adventure. I could never be more grateful for what my parents sacrificed for me and the impact my friends made in my life. Because of these incredible people in my life, my life took a different direction.

The next years I summited many more mountains, slept in a tent for the first time, stepped on skis and carved down steep slopes, learned to climb vertical rock and experienced the thrill of hanging off the side of a cliff. That passion drove me to travel and explore beautiful places and then pushed me to put my regular life on hold for six months to go hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

hiking the pacific crest trail

Being Asian And Giving Up Your Job For A Solo Adventure

There was a lot of uncertainty and questions from friends and family when I first talked about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

You want to leave regular life behind to go walk in the wilderness for six months? By yourself? That’s crazy!

What about all the dangers in the wilderness, what if you meet bad people along the way?

What about your job? How is this gonna affect your career? Shouldn’t you work for a few more years and stabilize your career first?

I think a lot of us minorities are intimidated by traveling solo. We were raised to be cautious, raised to put stability first and take fewer risks, raised to fear the unknown world.

The Perceptions Of Asian Hikers Was Not What I Thought

I know when I first started traveling solo, I was intimidated by how people would perceive me and felt the need to worry about everything. I felt that I had to overcome a lot of negative stereotypes and perceptions from locals and other travelers. All the news of the terrible things that Chinese travelers have done while traveling, I often held over my head.

I tried to counteract the negative perceptions of tourists such as how some would graffiti or damage historical buildings and natural formations, selfishly disobey rules that ruin everyone’s day, like opening the emergency door of an airplane right before take off, or being rude to service staff and other people.

I know that’s not how I would behave but because of these stereotypes, I changed the way I looked at myself; always more uptight around others and self-conscious about how I act. I always tried harder to approach and engage people to prove that I am not like the others. I tried harder to avoid any hint of those stereotypes reflected in my actions.

But it was a terrible way to think of the world because as I hiked more, I realized most people didn’t judge me for my race and no one automatically associated me to the negative things of my race.

People were interested in knowing me as an individual, they saw me as a passionate person who wants to see the world and meet like-minded people. I soon understood that your actions along define yourself to the world, no one else.

pacific crest trail-food

Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail Solo

So I cleared out my apartment and left with a backpack to begin my solo hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail adventure without any of those fears and doubts. I was excited to be traveling solo on a 2,600-mile adventure because I knew this is where I belonged.

Sure enough, I met so many friends along the way. People liked me for me and nothing else mattered. On the journey, I opened up to people many times, hitchhiked, and got picked up by generous strangers and stayed in local’s homes. So many times, I have had people stop me to ask me if I need a ride out of town tomorrow or invited me to stay at their place. Not once was I looked down upon or discriminated against, despite being an obvious minority and regardless of which small Caucasian community I was passing through.

pacific crest trail-sunset

Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail And The Sierra High Route Was The Most Wonderful Experience I Have Ever Had.

Every day was a new adventure. I woke up every day not knowing what will happen and how today would shape you. Some days were so bad that I wanted to give up, the freezing cold and rain, the blistering heat and the long stretch of waterless terrain.

So many times, those days made me want to pack up and go home. But then… then came the good days.

The good days were so unbelievably good. Waking up to see the Milky Way above, meeting up with some locals to go to a secret hot tub, eating 20 wings and a pint of ice cream, hiking through endless breathtaking vistas while singing to country songs without a care in the world. Those are the reasons I found myself pushing through the bad just for another chance to experience the good.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail made me a stronger person, made me understand myself and those around me.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail made me lose all self-consciousness and worry. Most importantly, I realized that adventure is an opportunity for everybody, no matter where you come from.

hiking the pacific coast trail

Our Perceptions Are Our Worst Enemy

All my experiences made me think a lot about expectation versus reality. A lot of times, we worry and imagine the world as a scary place and imagine an activity as something you could never do. Never did I imagine at 10 years old that I would be walking from Mexico to Canada, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

But this makes us hold onto our security and comfort tightly. So much so that we forget to even step out to see for ourselves. We define our actions by how stereotypes define us and others instead of taking a chance to experience it yourself.

Growing up in China, I was told there was only one way to live. You study hard, get a good job, get married and have kids. There were so many things you had to do, like own a house as soon as possible, become a manager as soon as possible, and have kids as soon as possible. There is no other way.

Traveling While Asian; Hiking While Asian

“Asians are not meant to travel. Asians are not meant to be roughing it”

Traveling is something you do as a break from work after you have made it in life and have a lot of money to spend.

You can’t go traveling before you become successful in life and get your school and work in order.’

That is what they say.

You can either let what society you belong to define you or you can define your life for yourself.

Times are changing and epic adventures are not only reserved for the select few. The traditional way to live doesn’t apply to everyone anymore. I believe there are a lot of us who have that passion for adventure inside but have never taken the action. Maybe we are afraid of not belonging, of failure, of how the world perceives us. As a result, we have already defined what our experience will be like.

Stereotypes and expectations are what’s holding us back from doing something that’s outside of our comfort zone, and it only took experiencing it for myself to realize that those fears and anxiety were not real and there was a whole world of experiences to gain.

Asians Are Meant To Adventure

I want to inspire others through my adventures, especially minorities who need to see other minorities strive outside of the norm and do something incredible. I will never stop adventuring and never stop sharing those adventures with others. Life will never be the same.

I am constantly thinking about new adventures like: hiking through the remote areas of Patagonia, traversing the Himalayan ranges, mapping out a new thru-hike in the BC Rockies. Who knows what the future will hold! Goals are achievable as long as you keep working at them. Let your passion drive you.

For those who always thought about adventuring, but decided that it’s too hard to achieve, or that the circumstances are against you, or that it’s not meant for you, it really only takes one small step. Join the local hiking group or find a friend who is into something you always wanted to try. All it takes is taking a step to break your expectations and realize how easy it is to follow your passion.

hiking the pacific crest trail-man camping

Traveling While Asian; Hiking While Asian

About The Author

David is an adventurer, photographer, and outdoor enthusiast. He is passionate about inspiring others to embrace the freedom of the outdoors through his works in photography and blogging at Trailing Adventures. You can find a collection of his best photos available for print at The Adventure Landscape Gallery. To follow his adventures, click on the social media button below!

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