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I quit my stifling desk job to hike from Mexico to Canada. Here's why — and how I saved up to afford it.

Richard Whitehurst   

I quit my stifling desk job to hike from Mexico to Canada. Here's why — and how I saved up to afford it.
  • I just quit my day job. It allowed me to pay bills, stay comfortable, and save a good amount of money.
  • But the routine of sitting at a desk all day was getting to me, even when I hiked on weekends.

I just quit my job with no plan to return to work for the next six months. Instead, I'm going hiking.

Like many Americans, I had a corporate job that allowed me to live without too much difficulty. It occasionally caused me stress, and I frequently had to stay late to wrap up projects. But I could pay my monthly bills, afford a relatively comfortable lifestyle, and save a reasonable amount of money.

The price of this comfort was that I had to spend most of my time indoors, seated at a desk, for almost all my waking hours. I chose to stop living that way because I had an itch that I couldn't scratch while sitting in a cubicle all day.

I wanted to live in a state of discomfort — not the modern discomfort of missing work deadlines or going to 90-day performance reviews, but the visceral, natural discomfort of having a few drops of water left in the middle of a desert, staving off hypothermia on a frigid mountaintop, or shivering alone in a sleeping bag, imagining bears and mountain lions with each crackling twig or rustling leaf in the dark.

For the next half year, I will be living in this state on the Pacific Crest Trail. In that time, I'll make no money, but I'll still be able to afford all my living expenses and the payments for my student loans.

Before I discovered the PCT, I was an analyst at a bank. I had nothing to complain about at first glance, but I soon realized that I'd fallen into a pattern of behavior that was detrimental to my body and mind.

Despite hiking many miles on the weekends, my legs became weaker from a lack of constant use, a slight slouch began to develop in my back and shoulders from hunching over in my cubicle all day, and I noticed my eyesight deteriorate after a year of staring at a screen for eight hours a day.

Worst of all, the easy, comfortable routine of life as a 9-to-5 banker caused me to feel a sort of general apathy that only went away on the weekends. It felt like I was beginning my midlife crisis a year out of college. The feeling only abated during the weekends, which I largely spent in the woods doing physically and mentally strenuous activities.

Then I picked up long distance backpacking as a hobby, and I soon found myself spending most of my allotted vacation time in the mountains of East Tennessee or California. I backpacked in the High Sierra for a few days, and the trail I was trekking at the time happened to pass near the PCT.

I'd never heard of the PCT before, but the second I saw a map of the trail that stretched 2,650 miles from the southern border town of Campo, California, to the northern edge of the United States, I knew I had to attempt it.

Having decided that I wanted to undertake the monumental task of walking from Mexico to Canada, I had to figure out how to pay for it. It's hard enough for a person with normal financial obligations to spend five to six months unemployed, but I have the additional burden of having student debt, which will begin accruing interest about a month after I start hiking.

That's not to mention the cost of the trail for the average thru-hiker, which is about $5,000 after factoring in the cost of gear, food and hotels while on the trail, and the bills paid while hiking. I've been able to bring my expenses significantly below that amount by canceling almost all my monthly recurring expenses — Netflix, Amazon Prime, even my car insurance.

By the time I begin hiking, I will have reduced my cost of living to the bare minimum for the duration of my time on the trail — my student-loan payments and my phone bill will be the only expenses I have that are not essential for survival in the wilderness.

Finally, I turned in my two weeks for my job on February 10 and ended the lease for my apartment shortly thereafter. From March 1 to April 5, I prepared for the PCT by continuing to do training hikes and ending my lease before I began in early April.

Now that I'm beginning my hike, I have almost no worldly possessions besides those on my back, a flush checking account with all the money I'll need to spend while on trail, and a small emergency fund in a savings account in the event of catastrophic injury.

All that's left to do is the hard part — walking to Canada.


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