I break things.
As a kid, toys would meet their end too soon, fatalities of intense play and a lifelong tendency to, as my parents would put it then or now, “never take care of anything.” And as a student, my schoolbooks would often end the year in ruins, despite well-intentioned book covers fashioned by my mother from brown paper bags. And in one yearlong period of adulthood, I must have gone through five iPhones, each a victim of my mindless habit of sliding the phone into a cupholder — holding, mind you, a cup full of water, no lid. Computers, kitchenware, record players, car axles: I break things.
Imagine my skepticism, then, when a pair of Satisfy’s three-inch trail shorts landed on my porch late last winter. The top layer was a billowing scrim of leopard-print “Rippy™”, almost transparent; the bottom layer was a thin sheet of elastic-infused boxer-briefs, attached to the leopard skin above by a circumference of seemingly fragile stitches. I had opted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail — that is, a 2,653-mile foot path from the Mexican to the Canadian border, through punishing deserts and massive mountains and scrubby riparian bottoms — in this 100-gram gam finery. I offered a supervillain laugh the first time I held them up to the light. These shorts wouldn’t survive the PCT. These shorts wouldn’t survive me.
To be fair, I wasn’t convinced I would survive the PCT, either — not in the way of mortal peril, but in the way of simply completing the task at hand. In my history of breaking things, I worried that I’d added my own body to the index of victims only two years earlier. After years of running far and fast, I’d hiked the Pacific Crest Trail’s eastern forebear, the Appalachian Trail, in 2019. For five months, I’d joyously walked from north Georgia to Mount Katahdin in middle Maine. It was as free as I’d ever felt, a clean and necessary break from the career I had let swallow my physical and mental health for far too long.
But the constant seesaw of ascending and descending those ancient mountains with too many pounds strapped to my back had hurt me. I knew as much the first time I tried to run a mile several weeks after finishing, the pavement pounding the insides of my knees like a sledgehammer. For the next 18 months, excruciating pain migrated between my knees and hips, ankles and shins, sometimes taking up residence in the muscles I’d spent years steadily building in the form of intractable knots. The pain would sometimes vanish long enough to let me enjoy running again, to convince myself the woe had relented. It hadn’t, of course. I realize how easy I’ve had it in this life to be able to say this was the lowest I’ve ever felt, but that doesn’t soften the sting of the truth.
My ridiculous new shorts, then, weren’t just funny; they were strangely comforting. Sure, they suggested arriving at an extravagant holiday buffet wielding one of those neon spoons used for ice cream samples. But their potential to break down long before ever reaching the Canadian border, I happily thought, mirrored my own. They wouldn’t last, I just knew, but after the Appalachian Trail, I didn’t think I would, either. Friends often asked what scared me most about the PCT — bears, snakes, mountain lions, California prices? No, I was terrified by the prospect of physical failure, of a knee injury or an ankle strain or complete body refusal to go the distance. I couldn’t handle the implications of what that would mean for my athletic future.
So long as the shorts broke before I did, I reckoned, I would have accomplished something, even if only outlasting 100 grams of silk, nylon, and elastic. Perhaps they would be destroyed the first time they snagged a cactus thorn, just 50 miles into Southern California. Perhaps the playful leopard print would look more like the blood-speckled Shroud of Turin the first time I took a spill. So long as I lasted a little longer than these dainty Satisfy shorts, that might be enough to stanch the despair of eventual failure.
I will spare you the infinite details of what followed during the 142 days after departing the southern border’s weathered steel wall — volatile desert temperatures, idyllic mountain valleys, ragged Cascade peaks, trail-family theatrics, glorious Yellowstone swims, 100-mile hitchhikes — and skip straight to the end. When my wife, Tina, and I climbed atop the wooden tower marking the trail’s northern terminus (and the edge of Canada), I was wearing the same leopard-print shorts that had made me chuckle so many months and miles before.
Sure, they were in tatters, the rear-end stitched together by a friend in Portland an entire state back. And rather than having the one intended split on each side, they now had several, as if I’d taken a knife and added vertical slits for extra ventilation. The briefs were pocked with holes, each a memory of that briar encounter or this slide down a pebbly embankment. But they had survived near-hypothermic nights and many blazing days, midday soaks in raging rivers, the sundry sticks of tree-and-bush branches, and more slips and trips and falls than I cared to count then or care to recount now. The trail hurt them, just as the trail hurt me. But they had survived 2,653 miles. I had survived, too.
The shorts, by any actual standard, are now broken. Soon after the hike was done and we slipped into the comfort of a friend’s family minivan, I slipped out of them and into something more presentable for a few down days in Seattle. They live now in some deep corner of a closet drawer, crammed into a recess in a tiny ball that does not befit their accomplishment of endurance.
I should, of course, throw them out or turn them into dishrags or patches. But much to Tina’s chagrin, I won’t. They’ll stay there until the day I need them — not as shorts, but as a reminder that it’s OK to break things from time to time, yourself included, so long as you don’t mind a little mending. And if not, what’s the point of any of this at all?