“You have to just, you know, send it, or you will never be able to do things you did not know you could.”

That’s what San Diego native Tyler McDonough said to himself when he swapped a summer full of ocean and sand for one on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,659-mile trail going from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through California, Oregon and Washington.

The journey began when his father decided to take a break from reality and venture out on this five-month adventure and called biomedical engineering junior McDonough to see if he wanted to join.

“He [my dad] said I have to stay in school for spring quarter, even though I wanted to leave spring quarter and do the whole trail,” McDonough said. “The trail starts in April, so I met him the day after I got out of spring quarter and flew up to Tahoe and went from Tahoe to Canada with him.”

With no time to waste, McDonough and his father averaged hiking approximately 10 hours each day. Withdrawn from technology, running water and other people — with the exception of his father and other hikers along the way — McDonough found a new appreciation for stillness.

“The coolest part would be hiking for 10 hours and we [my father and I] would rarely speak, which was really nice because when you’re out there the world is so quiet and so slow,” McDonough said. “Just the aura of the trail was my favorite part. Sometimes we’d discuss our thoughts; I’d like to see what was on my dad’s mind.”

However, this adjustment to long-term silence started as one of the biggest obstacles, despite the physical demands that hiking every day required.

“The weird part about struggles is that it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. I thought it was going to be physical, like my legs are hurting too much to make it tomorrow, but it was only like that the first few days. It was mainly a mental, internal struggle,” McDonough said. “It started off as ‘Can my body do this?’ and it turned into ‘Am I going to mentally be able to make it through this, every day sleeping by myself in the middle of nowhere?”

For McDonough, these moments were offset by his surroundings. Whether it was hiking underneath a waterfall, adding fresh berries to their food supply or drinking from the “best tasting water,” these experiences in nature became part of McDonough’s most treasured memories.

A backpacking trip this extensive requires a lot of planning and coordination. McDonough and his father created a system where his mother sent a prepackaged box of food and other necessities to each small town they would stop in.

“We stopped in town every seven to 10 days and my dad had assembled these boxes with everything we would need, like bars and tortillas and necessities for the next week and my mom would then mail the box up to that location,” McDonough said.

In fact, for McDonough, coping with the stark lifestyle change coming back from life on the trail was the hardest part of the trip.

“There is this thing in the hiker community called ‘post-trail depression,’” he said. “You go on this insane trip to assimilate back into humankind where the people are so different and there is running water and social issues and the world; going from just this euphoria, utopian world back to the real world.”

Every once in awhile, McDonough revisits this utopia through the blog he created while backpacking. Although his blog of the Pacific Crest Trail started as a way to let his family and friends know he was safe and alive, it grew to mean a lot more to him.

“It became something really cool to focus on. Now I look back and read about my adventures when I need a pick-me-up or am having a bad day and need some positivity,” he said.

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