About the Author: Raised in Southern California, Dyana Carmella became an adventure seeker at a very young age. After attending collage on a volleyball scholarship, she graduated with a Psychology major and a double minor in Broadcast Journalism and Film & Television from San Jose State University. Carmella then worked as a journalist in the entertainment industry specializing in international on-location shooting and technical advances in equipment. Carmella has backpacked around the world visiting places like Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia, Mexico, Spain and all over the United States. Her love for hiking and the outdoors was sparked as a kid after camping trips with her family. Her favorite place to hike is the Eastern Sierras in California and in 2019 she completed her biggest thru hike to date, the Pacific Northwest Trail, which spans 1200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to Cape Alava in Washington. Currently she’s a creative director and journalist and has a YouTube channel featuring the outdoors with spotlights on gear, food and profiles. Instagram: @dyanacarmella.
I have a confession to make: I pissed on myself. This is something that I thought would never happen to me as an adult — until I got to Day 65 of my long-distance “thru-hike.”
This fateful day took place on a trail overlooking the mountain majesty of Washington’s Olympic National Park. It was late afternoon and I was soaked with sweat while rain poured down throughout the day. My wet clothes were glued to my body, and I had hit a level of stench that almost seemed inhuman. Unknowingly at the time, I had developed a premature case of trench foot after my socks and shoes were drenched for six days. The pain was unbearable — every step I took felt like I was trampling on shards of glass. Blisters were bursting on the soles of my feet. My knees were swollen and weakened, causing me to slip on the mounds of mud and horse manure smeared across the trail.
Drowning in pain and despair, I finally screamed and stopped hiking to take a breather — and as I released my pent-up frustration, I felt a sudden urge to pee. I had exactly five seconds before the floodgates would open. Like a mad woman, I threw my trekking poles to the ground and tried ripping off my backpack but the straps were entangled. My rain-and-sweat-soaked pants were also impossible to pull down in a hurry. I could only scream before giving up — and as warm urine streamed down my legs and into to my socks, tears began to fill my eyes. I had officially hit my lowest point on the trail.
As a thru-hiker, days like this are expected. Lesson Number One for thru-hiking is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The sooner hikers grasp this concept, the less likely they’ll quit and catch the first flight home. But why do we as hikers do this to ourselves? Why do we choose to put our bodies through hell, chasing 20+ miles a day while surviving on potato chips and tuna fish and praying that when you hit town the locals won’t smell the stench radiating from your body? These questions plagued me during my thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which spans 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to Cape Alava along the Washington Coast. I repeatedly asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” My friends were also baffled by my decision to tackle such an arduous hike. I knew I had a heartfelt reason for doing it but I just couldn’t put it into words, so I dodged their question with a joke. I’d say, “I’m like the female Forrest Gump. One day I woke up and just felt like walking.”
I have to admit, the Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike is an odd choice for a fun adventure. The challenge was 71 days in the deepest backcountry of the lower 48 states. Thru-hikers must sleep amid grizzly bears in the heart of darkness and endure extreme heat, pouring rain, hail and constant elevation shifts as well as loneliness, defeat and heartbreak during long stretches without resupply. I started questioning my sanity while sickly enjoying the challenge. It was twisted. Days and weeks would float by before I finally started to realize the truth of why I chose this challenge for myself.
It was August 3, 2019, and I woke up, packed up my tent and checked my paper maps before starting a 17-mile day. I started at 6 a.m. because the day was going to be a scorcher, and I hiked seven miles on a two-lane road to the Parker Ridge Trail. I was tired and my knees were swelling but I needed to get to the summit before sunset. As I started climbing, sweat poured down my face and back, and each step felt like my feet were being stabbed with sharp pushpins. I was exhausted but needed to keep moving. When I came to the dead “blowdown” trees covering the trail, I had to climb over each one. My legs were scraped up and numb and I was constantly falling. After three hours of stumbling, I was consumed with frustration. I was also overheating and out of water. My body was giving out and I hated life and hated myself. As I flew into a rage, throwing my trekking poles and cursing ungodly things at the trail, I slipped on a log and fell into a ditch covered by heavy brush. I was like a boxer down for the count after a brutal knockout.
As I came to, I thought I had broken both my legs. I laid there for about 15 minutes but it felt like hours. I started taking slow deep breaths and told myself something that would become my mantra: “Get up. Take it slow. You have nowhere else to be today.” My body rose slowly and from that point forward, I was laser focused on every step I took. I was fixated on not falling and kept telling myself, “Pay attention. Go slow and don’t stop.” Amazingly, my body gracefully floated around each log. I was patient and careful, and I never fell again. I made it to the top of the ridge and pitched my tent. As I looked through the dead trees at the setting sun, I peacefully told my body, “I knew we could do it.”
That evening, I discovered the reason I wanted to take on the brutal Pacific Northwest Trail. I needed it to force my mind and body to work together. For so long, they had been disconnected — as my body went through the motions of my daily routine, my mind would float in some disconnected dreamland and often become stuck in a mire of negativity and self-hatred. Some would call it depression, but I saw it as an addiction to self-suffering. I live in L.A. where I’m constantly being pulled in different directions in work and my personal life. I would often feel like I’m slowly drowning or falling from a cliff, and it seemed like the only way out would be to grow wings and fly.
When I discovered thru-hiking, I envisioned it as a boot camp for my soul. My mind and body would need to work together or I wouldn’t survive the challenge. While I was terrified, I wanted to experience the fear, pain, excitement, wonder and joy of hiking to the nth degree. I wanted the wilderness to fucking beat me down. I wanted it to be brutal. I wanted to face some of the most dangerous animals on Earth. I wanted to piss myself. I knew the Pacific Northwest Trail would grind me down to nothing but, if I could make it to the coast, I’d be left with the only thing worth fighting for: My mind and body would become one.
Many of us go through life feeling disconnected, fearful, doubtful and numb. We also sometimes fail to live fearlessly and in the present. In his inspiring book “The Power of Now,” spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle notes, “Many people are so imprisoned in their minds that the beauty of nature does not really exist for them. They might say, ‘What a pretty flower,’ but that’s just a mechanical mental labeling. Because they are not still, not present, they don’t truly see the flower, don’t feel its essence, its holiness just as they don’t know themselves, don’t feel their own essence, their own holiness.”
To live in the present and accomplish the trail as a solo female, I needed to force my mind and body to team up. When I ran out of water and didn’t see any around, I needed to be present so I could close my eyes and listen for the sound of trickling water through the brush. I needed to think clearly and utilize one or all of my five senses at every moment. I also needed to be fearless, especially if I encountered a grizzly with paws larger than my head. There was no room for self-doubt. I needed to pay attention and make decisions. Day by day during the hike, my mind and body slowly began to unite. They were rooting for each other, and nothing mattered but the challenge I was tackling for that day. I was calm. I was at peace.
Along my journey, I met some incredible people who shared their personal struggles. As I listened and immersed myself in their heartfelt stories, I learned that it’s better to serve than to be served. I also aspire to help those who feel held back by their own limitations and doubts, so I put my struggles aside to uplift these people, mostly through jokes and sarcasm. I grew attached to them in just a few hours but I needed to continue my hike. The memories of our time together will stay with me for the rest of my life.
After hiking 1,200 miles, I set foot on the sands of the Washington Coast. I finally finished the Pacific Northwest Trail. My body felt beat down like Rocky Balboa’s after his brutal match with Apollo Creed, but I had gone the distance. I was proud of myself, and my deep sense of worthlessness transformed into intense self-love. My internal suffering was replaced with a sense of inner peace. And as my tears began to fall, I whispered, “I did it.” My body and mind were one and I was now free. That’s what thru-hiking an endless trail with nothing but a backpack can do for you.
The Pacific Northwest Trail is a one-of-a-kind thru-hike challenge for the wild, open-minded and fearless frontiersmen of the 21st century. These individuals may hike to remember or forget some aspect of their lives. They may hike to find themselves or get lost in the untamed wilderness — but I can almost guarantee that all of them have pissed on themselves at least once.