My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. – Maya Angelou
Thank you, Marc for this beautiful quote! I received it in his comments on my diary entry for the last day of the PCT. I read it while cleaning gear to put away for now until my next walk.
I’m finally home after a few days visiting my dad and my brother’s family. I guess I’m still a little girl to them. Dad showed up with a monster package of Toblerone chocolate, telling me his luxury hotel in La Jolla was an official resupply stop. We talked about a lot of things, not having seen each other in years. While he still makes me feel vulnerable and lonely when we touch on the subject of my future, I move the conversation along before I sink too low and find my time with him is exactly what I needed.
Hiking, of course, was on the menu. Dad was the one who sparked my interest in hiking when he brought me and my other brother, Andrew, to Yosemite thirty some odd years ago. I’d always taken long walks by myself in the woods and fields near our home in New Hampshire, then Illinois, but I’d never experienced anything so grand as the Sierra. Every step I take now resonates with both the young child exploring, telling herself stories and that leggy tween climbing Half Dome and realizing hiking was her calling, the place she felt the most blissful.
Dad told me about the time in his mid-40’s when he hiked hut-to-hut in Norway. He was carrying a rucksack and boots on a flight to Copenhagen and it sparked a conversation with his seat mate about hiking. This man must have used every minute crossing the Atlantic to give precise details on a particular hike, which dad followed to the letter the next summer. What struck me was dad’s huge laugh at himself describing native hikers passing him on inclines like he was standing still. My eyes crinkle up like his, too, when I laugh. I also have an easy smile and laugh at my own jokes.
Dad is really old now, almost 90, and walks with a cane. But he’s engaged and has lots of good stories that make his eyes crinkle up and sometimes tear. I lean in when he uses the Norwegian word for hiking. Like the English word ‘ramble,’ the Kiwi, ‘tramp’ and John Muir’s preferring ‘saunter,’ the Norse use ‘vandre,’ to wander when referring to hiking. What a glorious description that captures the setting aside of expectations and the intentionality of allowing things to reveal themselves. This is how I walked the Pacific Crest Trail. I wandered it or at least tried to remind myself each day when I’d invariably slip into wanting to ‘get there,’ that I was a wanderer, experimenting, tasting, seeing what happens outside and inside me.
One of the thru-hiking friends I made this summer finished after me in pouring rain. ‘Toast’ put up a picture on facebook of himself standing on the monument in gloomy mist with a caption reading,
My PCT journey reminds me of the important answers: Where am I? I’M HERE. What time is it? IT’S NOW.
That sounds like the kind of thing my dad would say. Although he’s not always good at it, he tried hard to live in the present moment. Oddly enough, when I cast my runes after returning home, the reading pointed directly at the need to be present. With words like ‘wait, ‘patience,’ ‘contemplation,’ ‘mindful,’ the message was clear – to give myself, and fate, for lack of a better word, the space and time needed to percolate.
That does not mean I’m sitting back and just letting things happen. That’s definitely not my style! I’ve set up my office in a small room underground with huge windows looking up to trees frosted now with fresh snow. Richard and I are systematically cleaning out our closets, storage areas and utility room, mostly so I can build my recording studio, but also to wipe the slate and start this new chapter, fresh.
My nighttime dreams have morphed from walking dreams where I’m anxiously piling up miles, to ones of possibility, where I walk through a door in my house into a room I never knew existed, but had somehow always been there without my noticing. These types of dreams are alarm bells reminding me there is always more to know about myself, more available to me, my potential is greater than I’m aware of, there are always unexplored chambers.
And yet, there’s so much I do know well that feels completely different now, like when Richard and I landed at MSP at the crack of dawn, our flights delayed by hours and yet we still we chose to take two busses home, simply because it’s cheap and because we can. It felt powerful and freeing. It helps that it wasn’t cold yet and the busses were on time, but I couldn’t help but think on that dark morning riding with mostly Somali airport workers, that we all have to start – whatever it might be, a thru-hike, a new business, a fresh attitude towards ourselves and our lives – we all have to start from where we are.
Hiking the PCT didn’t fix me, but it certainly helped me put things in perspective. Just like rationing water in the desert, I’ll need discipline going forward; like wearing my bug burka in Oregon, I’ll need to be prepared; like walking mile after mile after mile, I’ll need patience; and like all the beauty that astonished me – electric wildflowers, the string-of-pearls volcanoes, babbling brooks for my feet, stars as a lullaby – I’ll need to nurture a sense of wonder as I take these first tentative steps into what comes next.