Audio Narrative and “Visual-Audio” essays document impressions for an immersive experience, almost like a conversation. Consequently, the listener becomes a participant in the act of discovery, the decision-making and the myriad emotions activated by long distance walking.
In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.
It was a cold, blustery day with dark clouds threatening as I dropped down to the highway at Sonora Pass late last September on the Pacific Crest Trail. The wind was so intense, it literally took my breath away even as I paused to take pictures and enjoy this sensational scenery right on the edge of Yosemite National Park.
Ahead was the Emigrant Wilderness, an exposed crossing of over ten miles at high altitude and I was fairly certain this was a no go day for me, but I needed a resupply and that would require a hitch deep down into the valley. With weather like this, the trail was empty.
At the tiny turn out, a few scattered picnic tables stood watch over the approaching weather, along with a single RV. On its door read Sonora Pass Resupply. The proprietor, Casey Cox, was cozy warm inside with his beautiful, blue-eyed dog named Lucky.
The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, and dignity.
On day 99 of my thru-hike of the Te Araroa, I completely lost it.
It was a combination of utter exhaustion walking a non-existent trail – the rocks hurt my feet and the grass is taller than my head! – being overheated and hungry, and having spent the night in a hut with a couple of unfriendly Kiwi trampers.
I turned on video to capture this very real moment of just how difficult thru-hiking can be on all parts of our person – body, mind and spirit.
It cracks me up looking back from the comfort of my air conditioned studio that I laugh at myself, even when crying so hard the snot is leaking out of my nose…
Firefighters never die, they just burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved.
Last September, I walked through the final bit of the Cascades heading south, or SOBO, on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The hike through Lassen Volcanic National Park took one day, but it was a heavenly day of sunshine and cool air, most of the park all to myself, shared with with my thru-hiking friend, Klaus.
The park is full of lakes, and, though chilly in the morning shade, I was urged on by his jumping straight in, to ever so slowly wade into the deep azure of Lower Twin Lake. At that moment, my friends, I felt I’d never been so clean and refreshed in my entire life.
Yes, the best part of hiking south is that the trails were nearly empty in the fall and I finally found solitary campsites and deeply longed for quiet.
Long distance hiking is not a vacation, it’s too long for that.
At a tent site high up on a ridge in Washington, I met two women sitting on logs next to their individual mineral green tents and passing a small flask betwixt themselves. They lifted their outstretched legs as I passed, since that was the only route to a tiny spring – described as a “crisp, cool, mystical, scoopable pool of water” below the trail.
As it goes with all backpackers sharing a space, the two were friendly, eager to share about their day’s hiking. For them, it was a return to familiar ground, which last summer had been shrouded in smoke with no views available at all of splendid Goat Rocks or Mount Rainier himself, shining high above.
Fortunately, it had been a gloriously clear day, so all had been rescued – and that might have explained the celebratory Scotch which was eventually offered to me.
Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
Simone de Beauvoir
Change is not easy.
Most of us would prefer to keep things right where they are. We’d rather not, thank you very much, risk change that might bring on unsettling feelings of having no clue what we’re doing, or worse, having to start all over again. Kind of like when you choose that card in Monopoly – go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
When I started walking the Pacific Crest Trail last July, it was all about survival of my spirit. If I could just get out of town for a few weeks and start walking again, I might clear my head and maybe the drastic changes happening in my life that were making me sit bolt upright in bed every night in a state of panic, would just go away.
I bought a one-way ticket to Bellingham, Washington and planned to carpool with a trail angel who organized a caravan of rented vans. She ferried thirty hikers to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass. I was surprised by the number of us and soon learned that there was only a handful actually starting the trail. Most of the hikers were what we called “flippers,” hikers who needed to change their intended route because moving forward was impossible.
The metaphor in that bleak moment of my life was not lost on me. Circumstances beyond their control forced them to reckon with the situation, make a decision, and act. Not everyone was happy or comfortable with what needed to be done, but they figured things out and finally placed themselves over a thousand miles from where they left off.
The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.
As I headed into the Blisstudio this morning to do my eLearning workout homework, I thought of a wonderful quote I read a while back about youth. I have to admit, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself starting all over in something new at age 55, needing to adopt a “beginner’s mind” while taking lessons from someone younger and more successful than me.
These are humbling times for all of us and I think it’s worth contemplating these words right now. They’re attributed to Luella F. Phelan, of whom I sadly can find absolutely nothing about on Dr. Google. If you have followed my blog at all, you’ll notice nearly every quote I refer to is from a woman. And if you know anything about women, our histories are often lost to time.
But at least we still have this amazing statement.
Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. People grow old only by deserting their ideals and by outgrowing the consciousness of youth. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…. You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair. The way to keep young is to keep your faith young. Keep your self-confidence young. Keep your hope young.
Finally I saw that worrying came to nothing. And gave up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.
I gather speed as my car swoops down a winding roller-coaster
of road. The posted speed is 25, but she lunges forward, whining after I
downshift all the way to the bottom until leveling out, then slowing to a creep,
back up the other side. I pass a curtain of silvery birch. Snow blankets the slopes
to my left, the chairlift is still now. Oak Savannah on my right, is crispy
brown and dry.
This is Afton State Park. It shares a name with the quaint
village nearby which took its name
from Robert Burns, “Sweet Afton.” Fields roll toward vistas, three hundred feet
above the Saint Croix River, Minnesota and Wisconsin’s natural border. Afton is
home to gold medal winning crosscountry skier Jessie Diggans, and the grandly
named Afton Alps, the largest ski area in the Twin Cities.
We’ve been told by our governor to stay home – but not stay
indoors necessarily, urged to get outside while still keeping our six-foot
distance. The parking lot is full and people walk in small clumps, crunching
through last year’s leaves. An ice island of phantom ski tracks and long-healed
thunderbolt-shaped cracks is filled with migratory birds. The crackly noisemaker
call of sandhill cranes competes with a neighbor’s revving engine.
But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations.
For many of us, early March was “before” and now we reside in “after,” or perhaps more accurately, “during.” It’s hard to remember so many freedoms we enjoyed only a few weeks ago. And I don’t speak simply to being able to come and go as we please, congregate and share activities without a thought, or that our lives had some semblance of stability.
What I refer to is the loss of our dreams, ones we could plan for and bring to life, ones that sustained our hard work and focus, ones that made life rich and worth sacrificing for.
Now, we isolate and we wait.
Believe me, I am committed to what it takes for our common welfare, but I wonder if we’ll lose something from this time. If that’s hubris, then ok. If it’s hope, I’m heartbroken.
We’re home tonight after the concert we planned to attend was cancelled due to Covid-19. This is all a bit unnerving and scary, but hopefully drastic measures will help the medical community get control of things.
Frankly, I don’t mind a little social distancing at home. Richard and I still have a few more tasks to take care of on the voice recording booth. But first, we walked hand-in-hand to the local market, the evening clear and brisk with no snow on the ground as winter gives way to spring. We then put every Billy Joel album we own on the stereo, one after the other, singing loudly to our favorites as we sawed and glued. Home is a good place, especially when you have love, memories and hobbies surrounding you.
It made me think of meeting Sam Risjord last summer, a man who moved back to his home in Southern Washington when he really could have lived anywhere. He likes it in Stevenson, a place his family has called home for generations. Somehow its sweetness was more acute after being gone for so long.
Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.
It was thick forest and I was heading down – finally – on the last descent in the state of Washington, careening towards the Columbia River. It’s a natural boundary and I’d cross the Bridge of the Gods before heading straight back up again towards Mount Hood and all of Oregon. The rain let up this far south, though mosquitos were out in full force and I had no plans to linger even though I was surrounded on both sides by multitudes of black-, blue- and huckle-berries, all within easy reach. I felt happy and so alive, punch drunk that my intention of walking a little wisp of trail had grown to my being on the verge of checking off an entire state.
A rough section of dirt and rock loomed in front of me, a landslip that appeared to have just been cleared. Unlike hardcore tramping in New Zealand, a landslip of this magnitude was never going to be left there for hikers to climb over. Someone took it upon themselves to dig right into the side of the mountain and create a wider, more stable path. Aside from a bit of dust on my La Sportivas, I barely broke stride.
Ahead, two people covered head-to-toe in long sleeves, long pants, gloves and helmets were lumbering along, snipping away at errant bushes and kicking loose stones aside. Their manner was focused and meticulous, like a proud home owner. It wasn’t just respect and reverence they exhibited for this gorgeous patch of trail, they acted as if they owned the place.
And to be fair, they earned that attitude.
Tammy and John are caretakers of the PCT – perhaps more precisely, of eleven miles of the 2,653 mile-long PCT. For the past sixteen years, they’ve set aside their free time to ensure the trail is walkable by removing downed trees and limbs, cutting back overgrowth and fixing any damage like the huge landslip I managed to simply float over. Why do they do it? That’s simple – because they want the trail here.
Neither of them identify as long distance backpackers. Just like thru-hikers desperate for a break in town every so often – they begin to miss beer and flush toilets.