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peeps of the PCT: Milk Jug

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation. 

Pearl Buck
"Milk Jug" was the youngest solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 2019.
“Milk Jug” was the youngest solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 2019.

As I headed into the Blisstudio this morning to do my eLearning workout homework, I thought of a wonderful quote I read a while back about youth. I have to admit, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself starting all over in something new at age 55, needing to adopt a “beginner’s mind” while taking lessons from someone younger and more successful than me.

These are humbling times for all of us and I think it’s worth contemplating these words right now. They’re attributed to Luella F. Phelan, of whom I sadly can find absolutely nothing about on Dr. Google. If you have followed my blog at all, you’ll notice nearly every quote I refer to is from a woman. And if you know anything about women, our histories are often lost to time.

But at least we still have this amazing statement.

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. People grow old only by deserting their ideals and by outgrowing the consciousness of youth. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…. You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair. The way to keep young is to keep your faith young. Keep your self-confidence young. Keep your hope young.

Luella F. Phelan

Isn’t that wonderful stuff? One of the pearls of wisdom that keeps us middle aged folks looking up and out and thinking less about regrets and more about our dreams.

I met the youngest solo hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California. “Milk Jug” was sitting alone at a huge, round table at the Seiad Store in the process of losing the pancake challenge. His elbow held his arm aloft and a fork full of food was suspended near his mouth, the smile on his pale, bearded face barely concealing the fact that he’d crossed his limit and was beginning to feel ill.

The trail is a great equalizer. I’m old enough to be 17-year old Milk Jug’s grand-mother, and yet he talked casually with me, shared a bit of the leftover pancake pile (after he paid up since he wasn’t planning on cleaning his plate) and swapped stories about the hike so far in a conspiratorial tone that made me feel I was privy to information he wouldn’t dare share with his own parents.

The Saiad Valley is the first town in Northern California a hiker hits heading south. The trail is on road and passes a popular cafe and store.
Seiad Valley, home to the famous “hiker pancake challenge.”

We laughed, even if it hurt his overflowing stomach to laugh, and compared stats on our speed and health and favorite moments and narrow escapes. We were colleagues in that moment, comfortable with ourselves and each other.

And it reminded me that the image I have of myself as someone maybe a little too old for taking on the challenge of a thru-hike, – too slow, too wrinkled, too ridiculous – was all in my head, and frankly, needs to be expunged.

Lots of hikers gathered at the Seiad Store and Cafe to resupply, eat a high fat and calorie-rich meal and sit in a chair after so much squatting on logs and rocks. But no one else jumped in to take on the challenge of having their meal paid for if they were able to eat all five pounds of pancakes in an hour.

Thru-hikers taking a load off at the Seiad Store. I hopscotched with them all the way from the start.
Thru-hikers taking a load off at the Seiad Store. I hopscotched with them all the way from the start.

In this particular case, it wasn’t me who looked like the fool. It was Milk Jug. And he didn’t care. Chalk it up to youth, or maybe just a great attitude. If anyone was prepared to laugh at themselves and take an active part in the game that is life, it was him.

Milk Jug dove straight in just to see what would happen. And he failed publicly. And yet, that spark of enjoying the experimental side of things, without knowing the outcome, made him a memorable character in my journey.

And, to be honest, he’s someone I think about whenever I’m wound too tight thinking I have to be perfect or the expert in everything. So, thanks Milk Jug for sharing that afternoon with me and keep flashing that fantastic grin the rest of your life.

Coming soon!

The Blissful Hiker hits the airwaves…well, the internet, anyway…a new podcast!

The Pee Rag ❤︎ Unfiltered Tales of the Blissful Hiker.
Long distance backpacker and essayist Alison Young reveals the truth behind the unglamorous – but fulfilling – life of a full-time-pedestrian.

Cover art for The Pee Rag, the Blissful Hiker podcast.
A podcast about solo thru-hiking just had to have a bad ass name!

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