Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saying Goodbye

I just spent the last 2 and a half hours ripping and hacking out my dreads with a pair of scissors, a nail file and my own fingers. They (figuratively) held the sweat, dirt, blood, tears, and emotion of thousands of miles.

My dreads began a little over a year ago as I struggled through the desert. They whipped into tighter locks in the winds of the High Sierra and I would separate them with vicious tugs as I walked across the endless miles of Oregon. They grew thicker as I grew stronger. As the miles behind me piled up I could reach up and tangibly feel the passage of time and distance. I was changing.

Every day for a year I have looked into the mirror and seen the PCT. Every day I have carried it with me in a visible, defining way. I have spoken thousands of times about my hike to interviewers, to crowds, to friends, family, strangers on the street, and to partners. It not only was all I lived and breathed for two months last year, but once I drove away it continued to haunt me every single day. I was called the Ghost, but the real specter was the trail itself.

I can no longer let this one thing define me. No matter what any magazine author may say, my other hikes, my races, my life before the summer of 2013 was notable. It mattered. Maybe not to the world, but to me. Achieving the Triple Crown by the age of 25 was significant. The fact that my first multi-night backpacking trip was the AT is notable. The fact I did it in 4 months, despite weighing 200lbs just a year before I began was amazing. Placing 4th in my first 100 mile race was notable. Completing five 100 mile races in a year when I was so injured I never actually ran between them is incredible. These things matter to me.

Setting the unsupported speed record on the PCT was something I had dreamed about for years. The thought of someday attempting it gave me hope when my marriage dissolved, when I lost other relationships, when I quit my job and wandered aimlessly for 8 months. Always, always, there was something I wanted to do. Something that I was terrified of and yet convinced that I had to try. Stepping away from the Southern Terminus was the most terrifying moment of my life. Reaching the Northern Terminus was the most visceral.


Despite how I have felt, it is not the only thing that matters about Heather Anderson. I will not let it become the only important thing I achieve. I have felt that my life ended when I reached Canada last year; that my purpose was complete. I have been depressed and I have struggled to find meaning beyond it. Being forced into the spotlight again and again has not helped. Neither has seeing the locks formed alongside struggle and perseverance. I am not invincible. I am not perfect. I am human. I have dreams beyond what anyone else cares about. Things that no one will report or mention on their Twitter feeds.

I am moving on. I have reached the terminus again, only this time I am walking away without looking back.

I left one dread—a small one—in the back where I cannot see it, but I know it's there.

Just like what I did on the PCT last summer.

Goodbye PCT. I will always cherish every moment we spent together. The beauty, the suffering, the triumphs. In quiet moments I will think of you fondly as I flip through the pictures.

imperfect just like me


  1. is so important not to attach to our story..because while that is a part of is not who we are...i honor you...your struggles..your trials and your are that is beautiful

  2. Henry David Thoreau once said, "I am a part of all I have met." I choose to interpret that many ways, one being to not let one single thing define me. So good for you for moving on! As the good Dr. says, "Oh, the places you'll go!"

  3. The truth is the movie always continues after the movie is over.

  4. Hi Heather, Although I am about three times as old as you (73), you have said what I often feel, or think about, and what is hitting me right now. I have hiked the PCT (sections) and cheered you on while you were on the trail.
    Now I am dealing with leg problems that may or may not go away. I can't go uphill without a lot of pain--and so the thing that has been such an integral part of my --walks with friends, backpacking here and abroad, and writing about it all--is now in limbo. It is hard, but as you said, we are more than our hiking stories. I hope your next chapter is wonderful!

  5. Good luck to you in anything you do you seem like a wonderful person.

  6. Just wanted to say this last week one of our young men that grew up in Fresno went hiking alone and apparently he didn't give anyone too much info and while he did reach his goal on some peak in Sequoia King Canyon Parks he slipped and fell and broke his leg. after 4 o4r 5 days his family reported him missing and about 150 sheriffs and 4 helicopters and 4 days later they found him. He was good except for his leg and he has a 20 % chance of losing it. He was pretty lucky. That is how special you are.

  7. There's the Anish I know. Welcome back

  8. awesome :) keep moving on, but recognize that the trail experience will always be with and part of you. you close your eyes and you're back on a mountain peak. also I was someone who thought you "can't" go back... but you can always return to the trail and receive the peace that just being out there brings.... walk (or run) on sister!

  9. You are gifted in many ways beyond those trail miles and achievements. Your words and thoughts are remarkable. Continue to share and dream. It's your journey!