Photo by Emily Schrick
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My Trail Story featuring Squishy

Emily Schrick, a.k.a. Squishy, talks about her experience thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and how she stayed motivated to finish.

Natalie McMillan      My Trail Story       02/28/2019
Natalie McMillan
My Trail Story

What is your trail name?


What trail did you hike?

Pacific Crest Trail, April 6 – September 25, 2018

How old are you?

25 years

What was your favorite food on the trail?

I cold-soaked for the majority of the trail, which most people think is incredibly disgusting, but I thought it was great! One of my favorite dinners was cold-soaked Knorr Taco Rice Sides with Crumbled Honey BBQ Fritos (or any chips, really). My favorite snack was Welch’s Island Fruits Snacks, and my favorite lunch was bagels smothered in Skippy’s Honey Peanut Butter and squeezable Smucker’s Strawberry Jam. My favorite dessert? Sour gummy worms. When I had my stove in Washington, Annie’s White Cheddar Mac & Cheese was my favorite food. Essentially, I ate everything a 5-year-old would dream about.

A woman stands next to a Kennedy Meadows sign with her hiking backpack and trekking poles.
Photo by Emily Schrick

Would you do another thru-hike? If yes, which trail is next?

Absolutely! It depends on permits, but either the Wonderland Trail or Colorado Trail this summer. I also have my sights set on the rest of the Triple Crown at some point.

What do you wish you had done differently?

I wish I stressed less in the Sierra. There was so much beauty around me, but I found myself worrying about the next pass, or the next sketchy snow patch or river crossing a lot. And even though I loved my Guthook’s app, I wish I checked it a little less and let there be a little more mystery in the day.

What do you miss the most?

I miss the feeling of working towards a tangible goal every single day. There’s always the next water source to get to, the next campsite, the next town… and finally, Canada. I don’t really have that anymore in my “regular” life, and especially with the trail to look back on, I feel lost a lot of the time now because I don’t really have anything I’m working towards, except my next hike. I also miss waking up early and walking in the silence, and then hearing the birds start chirping and watching the sun rise. Those were some of my favorite moments of the day, and I just don’t get that in regular life.

Two women standing next to a flag pole on a mountain holding a sign.
Photo by Emily Schrick

What advice would you give to someone who has never done a thru-hike before?

The saying is getting a little old, but Hike Your Own Hike (as long as you are still following Leave No Trace principles). The internet is full of opinions, and full of people who may mean well, but have never thru-hiked a trail. Take everything you read beforehand with a grain of salt, and do what works well for you. You can always change things later on if you realize something doesn’t suit you. Also, never quit on a bad day. And if you’re having a bad section between towns, go into town, take a zero or two, and go back out to the trail, and wait until the next town to make a decision about quitting.

And, bring a hobby along with you, something that makes your thru-hike personal and enjoyable. Like reading books? Bring a kindle or a paperback. Love photography? Take the weight penalty and bring your DSLR camera. Bring your ukulele if it makes you happy and inspires you. You won’t regret bringing a small piece of your hobby along with you on the trail, even if it means adding a pound to your pack. If you end up never using it, you can always send it home.

What does thru-hiking mean to you?

This is such a hard question for me to answer, since it means so many different things. At its essence though, it’s about walking over a long distance. I still can’t believe I’ve done a thru-hike. That I’ve walked from Mexico to Canada. It’s still so crazy to me, that my body was able to do this and take me across deserts, over mountains, and through forests. To experience that diversity, and over time, just felt so natural and harmonious, especially in comparison to motor travel.

A woman hiker smiling next to a PCT trail sign post.
Photo by Emily Schrick

Thru-hiking also means community. There aren’t that many people who yearn to thru-hike, and there are even less who have completed thru-hikes. Even if I’ve never met the person before, knowing that they have completed a thru-hike, or are thru-hiking, makes me feel more connected to them. We could have had completely different hikes, in different years, and under different circumstances, but we probably suffered through some of the same stuff, cried out of happiness and frustration, and craved an ice cold drink on a blistering hot day. And it can be hard to convey these feelings and experiences to someone who hasn’t thru-hiked. But when you’re with a thru-hiker, you know that they get it. And in a way, that feels like home.

What was your favorite feature in our app?

I have a love/hate relationship with the elevation profile feature. I like to have an idea of how big a climb is going to be, but I hate when I check mid-way through the climb and I haven’t gone as far as I’d thought! The feature I unequivocally love though is the comments. Not only are they useful, but they can also be really funny, which makes me love my fellow thru-hikers even more!

Why did you decide to go on a thru-hike in the first place?

I really craved the adventure of it, and the personal accomplishment. I was definitely lost after college, even though I had “done everything right”, and I felt really unaccomplished and had no idea what I was going to do next. I thought doing this thru-hike would help clarify some things in my life, and also satisfy my craving for being outside. My hike didn’t really give me any answers about what I want to be when I grow up, and it left me wanting more backpacking and wilderness, so it didn’t exactly help with my initial “problems”. But, hiking the PCT definitely restored my confidence in myself, and I do feel a great sense of accomplishment in completing it.

Did you hike solo or with other people?

I hiked with people I met on the trail for the first half, then did the second half solo!

A girl stands on a mountain with a snow-capped mountain behind her.
Photo by Emily Schrick

What part of the trail was your most/least favorite?

The Sierra was probably my favorite part of the trail, with the Washington section coming in a close second. There’s just something so magical about being able to walk from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows and not have any roads bisect the mountains. I think it’s so special, and it really does feel like you’re “out there”. Also, the Sierra was just so gorgeous in terms of scenery and weather, and it left me wanting more!

I had to think a little bit about my least favorite section, but I think it was NorCal. There was a lot of beauty in NorCal, so I kind of hate saying that, but with how hot the days were, all of the smoke I had to endure, getting Norovirus, and how lonely I felt after losing my trail family, it was definitely a rough patch for me.

How many pairs of shoes did you go through?


Was there a highlight of your hike?

I wouldn’t say there was one specific highlight. There were just these moments where everything felt right and I realized how lucky I was to be able to do this. That I was privileged enough that not working didn’t matter, that my family was 100% supportive of me, that I had my health and a functioning body to be able to hike 20 miles a day, that there are people like me who value wide-open spaces and had the foresight to protect them. Usually these moments happened when I was standing at the top of a climb, looking at a stunning view. The top of Mt. Whitney, walking past South Sister, at the Northern Terminus. I just felt so lucky.

What was the scariest part of your hike?

I fell coming down Mather Pass while off-trail scrambling around the lingering snow patches. That was probably the scariest part, because I got really close to the edge of a drop-off. I had to regain my breath and stop myself from shaking before walking again!

Did you ever reach a point where you wanted to quit? How did you stay motivated to finish?

I had 2 really low points on the trail. The first was at Whitewater Preserve, about 200 miles into the trail. It was so hot, I was homesick, I was coming off of 2 days off in Idyllwild, and everything felt wrong and terrible and I felt like I just couldn’t walk anymore, and that I was holding up new friends who could go faster and put more miles in. Thankfully, one of those friends got me to snap out of it a little and stuck by me during this incredibly bad day. We finished hiking that day and got to camp early, by a water source, and decided we’d just wake up at 3 AM to hike in the cooler air the next day. I don’t know how I kept going that day, but her confidence in me definitely helped, and I knew that deep down I didn’t want to fail.

I also felt like quitting a little bit when I got Norovirus. I was angry I got sick, I was trapped in a motel by myself because I lost my trail family a week prior, which made me sad, and I was just really bummed out by my circumstances. When I got back on trail, I didn’t know anybody in my new bubble, and it was the first time I felt pretty alone on trail. Thankfully, again, I was so determined to finish that after I cried and had my own hissy fit, I was able to envision what it would feel like at the end, and think about how much I wanted to see Oregon and Washington, and I was able to pull through.

A woman hiker standing on the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Photo by Emily Schrick

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Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is an epic journey of three states and over 2600 miles. Its path travels from the US border with Mexico to the northern border with Canada.

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2650 mi (4260 km)       $29.99 full guide
Washington, Pacific Crest Trail
Photo by Justin Helmkamp
Washington, Pacific Crest Trail
Photo by Justin Helmkamp

Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is an epic journey of three states and over 2600 miles. Its path travels from the US border with Mexico to the northern border with Canada.

2650 mi (4260 km)
$29.99 full guide
Learn more
Get our trail guide for this area!
About the Author
A woman wearing a denim jacket and a brown hat stands in a field of wildflowers.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people, places, and nature, which might explain why she has almost 47,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things related to social media and marketing and recently moved to Denver, CO from Flagstaff, AZ. You may find her frolicking around the trails and mountains of Colorado, or exploring the new city she gets to call home.