Photo by Jennifer Mabus
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My Trail Story featuring Starburst

Jennifer Mabus, a.k.a. Starburst, shares why she decided to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail and how it changed her life.

Natalie McMillan      My Trail Story       07/11/2019
Natalie McMillan
My Trail Story
07/11/2019

My trail name is Starburst and I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.  I hiked when I was 28 years old and am currently 29.    

One of the most common questions I got asked while preparing for my PCT thru-hike is “Why?”  Why did I take 6 months off of work to go hiking alone in the woods? Why did I become “homeless” and sell many of my possessions just to live in dirt and sweat soaked clothes for months?  Why would I leave my comfortable life just to make myself so extremely uncomfortable? Why am I giving up Seattle summers with friends and lakes and road trips and constant happy hour? Why wasn’t I more scared?  Rarely was I asked about the logistics of my hike, or greeted with excitement about my upcoming adventure. Most of the questions were rooted with confusion. People just couldn’t wrap their minds around what I planned on doing.  And to be honest, I caught myself at times being confused of my decision as well.

A woman squatting next to 2,000 out of sticks on the ground.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus

See, I almost felt like a poser in a way.  I loved the outdoors and I hiked and backpacked often, but it wasn’t what I chose to do every weekend.  I was an ambassador for a hiking group and met some incredible friends who enjoyed the outdoors like I did, but I also loved to stay indoors and be lazy while watching movies or reading.  I didn’t know a ton about gear or how to expertly help an injured hiker or anything like that. So me choosing to walk from Mexico to Canada wasn’t really because I loved the outdoors so much (which I did and still do, just to be clear), but it was more of the achievement of completing this entire continuous footpath.  The outdoors has always provided emotional healing for me as it does to most people I imagine, and I loved feeling strong and accomplished whenever I made it to the top of a mountain, but I also loved how extreme this decision was.

A woman sits on top of the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus
A woman sitting on top of the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus

I recognize that this isn’t necessarily a prized quality to possess at times, but I am an intense human being and love to be metaphorically hot or cold (but not literally as I realized hiking in the Mojave Desert and then getting hit by a snow storm in Northern Washington).  I’m either in or out! And something like a 2,650 mile hiking path like the Pacific Crest Trail made my mind go wild. But was I being TOO overboard? I asked myself this a lot, if I was in too deep. So it was safe to say that, especially as the time drew near for me to set foot on the PCT, I was confused with my decision if this truly was the right thing for me to be doing.  

And guess what?  It so incredibly and overwhelmingly was.

A woman standing in front of the Bridge of Gods sign.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus

The thing is, is that I turn 30 years old this year and life seems to be moving more quickly the older I get.  But feeling proud of myself hasn’t happened as often as it used to growing up. And as I continue to reflect on my journey from Mexico to Canada, I think about it more and more and how I really wanted to make myself proud in a way I haven’t felt in years.  Thru-hiking was one of the hardest things I have ever done. No kidding, folks. It was down right miserable at times. But what made it hard was that it didn’t really matter to the universe if I quit or not. I was literally only doing this for myself which made the temptation to quit that much easier.  

A woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus
A beautiful trail with green trees and red bushes.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus

Why was I making myself uncomfortable and exposed to so much pain when I could be at home in a warm, dry bed with a movie playing in the background?  I was absolutely terrified at times!! Like about to pee my pants terrified, particularly when I had a mountain lion making nightly visits to my tent in the Desolation Wilderness.  I missed my friends in Seattle and wondered what lake they were swimming in or what cool happy hour they were attending. I felt like I really wasn’t cut out for being “hiker trash” when I saw how experienced others were and how knowledgeable they were with gear.  But then I kept thinking that the best reason to do anything is for yourself! That the reason should mean more than any other reason that could possibly exist on this earth.  

I couldn’t quit or give up just because in the big scheme of things no one really cared about my hike.  It didn’t matter. I wasn’t saving lives. But I was saving mine. Many people thought I was running away from life, from something.  Pain? Regret, maybe? But they were wrong. I was running TOWARD life. I was scared but ready to face the exhilaration and pride I have been missing for years.  I got to fall in love again. Twice to be exact. Once with the trail and all over again with myself.  

A woman hugging a tree.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus

Thru-hiking may not be your forte, but the principal of it can be.  It all sounds cheesy at times, but thru-hikers know what I mean. This experience changes you, whether you were expecting it or not.  It exposes ugly parts of yourself and hidden hurt you didn’t know that was still holed up in your heart. It forces you to face those insecurities.  But it also gives back to you in abundance. Beautiful emotions that you may have not felt for a while, pride and security with yourself that you may so desperately need, and a respect for this planet, others, and your life in a way that can honestly change the course of your life.  The point is to find YOUR thru-hike. What makes you feel alive? And what makes you want to change for the better? It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be intimidating, but it’s going to be worth it.  

With love and happy trails,

Jennifer “Starbust” Mabus

A man and woman stand behind the Forester Pass sign.
Photo by Jennifer Mabus

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Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is an epic journey of over 2650 miles (4260 km) and is one of the most popular thru-hiking trails in the United States. Its path travels from the US-Mexico border to the northern US-Canada border, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington.

2650 miles       $29.99 full guide
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Washington, Pacific Crest Trail
Photo by Justin Helmkamp
A trail meanders through a green and mountainous landscape on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Washington, Pacific Crest Trail
Photo by Justin Helmkamp
Get our hiking guide for this area!

Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is an epic journey of over 2650 miles (4260 km) and is one of the most popular thru-hiking trails in the United States. Its path travels from the US-Mexico border to the northern US-Canada border, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington.

2650 miles
$29.99 full guide
Explore the Trail
About the Author
A woman wearing a baseball cap and American flag tank top stands in front of a beautiful view.

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 and places and nature, which might explain why she has almost 23,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things social media/marketing-related and might be seen frolicking around Flagstaff taking photos of the Arizona Trail.