Climb Every Mountain, Ford Every Stream

2009 August 26

Today’s post is the first in a new feature I’m referring to as Rogue Models. Rogue Models will highlight interviews and discussions with diverse twenty and thirtysomethings who are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to pursuing happiness and personal/professional fulfillment on their own terms.

Last year, former journalist Tamsin McMahon quit her job to hike the Pacific Coast Trail from the Mexican border all the way into British Columbia (over 2600 miles in total). I first read about her in the Globe and Mail (for whom she’s also blogging about her hiking exploits) and when the idea of the Rogue Models feature came to me, I remembered her story and sent her an email to ask  if she’d be interested in sharing her tale with GenMeh’s readers. She graciously agreed.


Photo from The Globe and Mail

What motivated you to quit your job to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

I had dreamed of it for years. I always figured I’d hike the trail if I ever happened to win the lottery or otherwise become independently wealthy one day. Then I spent last year commuting an hour each way to work in a lot of bad weather. I enjoyed my job, but my industry was falling victim to severe cutbacks, buyouts and layoffs. I was at the bottom of the seniority ladder and saw the writing on the wall.

Then it hit me: I didn’t need to have a lot of money to go hiking. I needed as little as a few thousand. I was young enough now to go live my dream and hope the economy would be better when I returned. It seemed the right time to take the plunge.

Was this a difficult decision or one you arrived at easily?

It was actually a really difficult decision for me. I did struggle with it. It was a financial and professional risk. I had been pushing for so long to be successful in a career, but when I achieved success, I realized that it didn’t completely fulfill me. I felt a lot of guilt about abandoning a career I still loved and believed in. I talked to friends and family, not all of whom understood or supported my decision. Then I just followed my gut and gave my notice.

Have you regretted your decision at any point during the hike?

No, not at all! Surprisingly, I feel more confident in my decision every day. This hike is amazing, an experience I’ll cherish for a lifetime. Sitting behind a desk for what turned out to be a rainy and cold summer back home would’ve been no fun.

Would friends and family say a plan like this is out of character for you or do you have a history of taking such leaps of faith?

I don’t think my friends and family were shocked that I’d do something like this. I like to be spontaneous and tend to move around a lot, although I’ve usually quit jobs in the past to take new ones that were higher up on the career ladder. I did leave a job several years ago to go live in Europe for a while, but I was right out of university. That being said, while they probably weren’t surprised, some friends and family felt I was making a mistake.

What has been the best moment so far?

That’s such a hard question. There have been so many amazing

Climbing Mt. Whitney just after a snow storm and making it to the summit while others turned back. Glissading (sliding on your bum) down Sonora Pass, climbing Half Dome in Yosemite on July 4, hiking off-trail to a private hot springs and soaking under the stars, crossing the border into Oregon after hiking 1700 miles of California. Take your pick!

What about the most harrowing?

There have definitely been a few, although we’ve been pretty lucky with our hike so far. Some of the Sierra mountain passes were a bit dicey – there’s nothing like hiking up a 12,000-foot mountain in just your sneakers to find a steep, snowy drop on the other side. We actually just came through an area that suffered about 30 forest fires because of a big lightning storm. The mountain above us was totally engulfed in flames (a spectacular sight as we hiked this section at night). I woke up to find the tent and my pack covered in ash. The forest service closed this section of trail the next day.

Do you think about what you’ll do when you finish? Do you have any plans in the works?

I do, but don’t worry about it too much. It will be a challenge – the newspaper industry is in such a crisis and the economy isn’t doing well. But I’ll worry about that when I get back. Things have a way of working out, even if you end up taking a path you hadn’t intended to take.

I don’t have anything in the works. I didn’t want to have the pressure of a work start date hanging over me on the trail. People keep telling me to write a book about this experience. Maybe I’ll try.

What advice would you give to someone who feels as if he/she is lost or stagnating professionally and/or personally and wants to make a big life change?

Just go for it. I’ve always believed that few things in life are truly irreversible. If going to live your dream doesn’t work out, you can always go get another job. Sure, it may not be the one you had before and it may take you longer to get re-established, but you can get re-established if you want. If you’re stagnating and something else will make you happy, you owe it to yourself to try. I know it’s a cliché to say this, but no risk, no reward.

Are you a Rogue Model? Do you know someone who is? We’re always interested in suggestions for future interviews.

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