100DaysOfCode — Terminus
Suddenly, it’s over. I remember feeling like that standing at the border between the US and Canada. Unsurprisingly that’s exactly how I feel right now. The elasticity of time perception really becomes apparent when you turn around and look back down the trail from where you came, and you get that funny sensation of having just been at the beginning, while simultaneously feeling emotionally overwhelmed by what feels like an entire lifetime of memories.
Over the course of 100 days my mindset has gone through a complete overhaul multiple times. Whether it was working through a problem for days only to realize that the problem wouldn’t exist if only I would change one simple thing about the way the app’s UI was structured, or through sitting at the ThirdsMedia table with the team talking for hours about other features the project could have all because of asking a simple question about button shape; the highways of my brain have undergone multiple construction projects. It’s interesting to watch your small pet project morph into something completely different then what it began as. It’s function, it’s motivation, it’s entire reason for existing changing fluidly yet with complete certainty, indifferent to the creator’s whims or wishes. Like a living organism it adapts out of necessity to external forces beyond our control so that it may go on living. Don’t get me wrong there’s a long way to go still, but this leg of the journey is complete.
The Pacific Crest Trail is generally broken up into five large chunks: The Desert, The Sierras, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. The desert section is long and arduous, but carries with it the excitement of doing something brand new. Each day brings a unique lesson as you find your footing; you fail here and stumble there while you discover your own personal flow. After about 700 miles you’re about ready to be done with the heat, the long stretches of no water, and the dirt.
Upon reaching the Sierra Wilderness section you are reinvigorated as you see the white-capped mountains looming in the ever-shrinking distance and you hear the sound of actual cold rushing water. While many of the days are physically more challenging, you persevere through them with relentless joy. You are indestructible. This is the reason you started the journey in the first place. Eventually you reach Northern California and the excitement gets harder to come by. Many of the new faces you’re used to seeing start to dwindle. The grandiose views start to transform into a monotonous green tunnel and despite the fact that you’re still required to put forth great effort to continue climbing up and down the elevation, the visual and mental rewards come less and less frequently. Not that it’s not a beautiful section with it’s own unique personality, but as you begin to realize that you still have an entire other half of the journey to go you start to wonder if you really did want to go the whole way, or if you got what you came for and enough is enough. After all, you wanted adventure and you most certainly got it. You’ve done over 1000 miles at this point, no one would blame you for deciding to pack it up early.
With an insane amount of stubborn determination and a little bit of luck you find yourself in Oregon. After all the talk you’ve heard about arriving at this point you find yourself surprised that it’s actually real. The landscape changes, and with it your outlook on the future.
The punishing climbs ease up a bit, and the land gives you gifts of berries and rain. “I can do this”, you say to yourself for the first time in weeks. At last, a reprieve. There’s still quite a ways to go and many challenges ahead, but you’re ready to continue tackling them. You may even be daring the environment to come at you. If you’ve made it this far there is very little that can stop you from reaching your goal now, if that’s what you still want.
Finally, Washington. You should feel proud. You should feel powerful. You should feel like a conqueror. Instead, all you feel is peace. You aren’t thinking about the days that lie ahead of you anymore, or the challenges they may bring. You aren’t worried about having enough food to keep going or finding a good place to sleep through the night. You realize you can’t conquer the journey and more importantly that you don’t need to. How silly of you to even think of it that way in the first place. You’ve become one with it. Every step forward is a step you were always going to take, or never were. The landscape around you regards you with familiarity; it’s awaited your arrival since you got this crazy idea all those months ago. Suddenly it hits you: it didn’t matter what preparations you made in the beginning, or if you made it to all the planned stops, or how many extra miles a day you forced yourself to do to get to them. You were always going to get to this point as long as you kept moving towards it. As long as you kept taking that next step. Now that you’re here you aren’t ready to be done. Suddenly, it’s over.
When I started coding I ran into a lot of snags and a lot of tough days trying to find my footing. Eventually my landscape opened up and progress seemed inevitable. As the project grew so did the challenges, but tackling them effectively became more fluid. New ideas would emerge from seemingly nowhere. With them the challenges, but the solutions to those challenges seemed to flow out of me like water. It felt as though I would reach the end in no time. After awhile though, the routine flow that helped me eventually started to become too comfortable and it became harder and harder to make those giant climbs with the same amount of enthusiasm. Some time past the halfway point I began to forget why I started in the first place. “Why do I need to do it every day? Who even cares that I’m putting forth the effort?” Well, besides the Twitter bots anyway. Moving forward became less about happily accomplishing and more a matter of spitefully refusing to succumb. Eventually the landscape changed and new concepts and ideas sprang forth from the project like fresh streams. Now I’m not thinking about the end at all. In fact, there is no end. There’s only the next step.
The end of this particular leg of the journey takes place on May 12, 2021. I didn’t realize it until recently, but five years ago today marks the start of my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I promise I didn’t do that on purpose.
There’s a funny thing I’ve learned about taking on long-term challenges such as spending 146 days hiking a ridiculously long trail, or 135 days trying your hardest to avoid telling yourself you’re an imposter while hacking through Offsec’s labs, or 100 days fumbling through code in an attempt to create something meaningful; the defining moments are the ones where you fail, and have to decide what to do next. That next decision is the only thing in the world that matters. That decision is the one you have to make. You don’t get to opt out. What you do on those journeys will define what your life will be, and who you will be when you reach the end.