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peeps of the PCT: Catholic scouts of the trail

Thank God I have seen an orange sky with purple clouds. How easy it is to forget that we have the privilege of living in God’s art gallery.

Erica Goros
The backpacking priest carries everything needed to celebrate the mass: his cassock, a chalice, the host, wine, a missal, candles, a bell – and his guitar!

It was a wet, chilled-to-the-bone day in the North Cascades, when I hopped down a spur trail towards a lake, looking for somewhere reasonably dry to eat my lunch. I came upon a group of men sharing this strip of land in the midst of celebrating a mass. They too felt the cold, I’m sure, but it didn’t stop their desire to commune with the spirit by making music and chanting blessed words together.

This week, my goal is to dig in and read every blog entry over the past year as well as sort through thousands of pictures. Yeah, I know, it’s a massive goal, but stay with me. The aim of this endeavor is to help create a coherent storyline for the many presentations I am being asked to give. Not surprising, it’s an enlightening experience – if not a touch bittersweet – to look back at all I accomplished, but maybe more important, to understand my state of mind and why I felt compelled to take this radical detour in my mid-fifties.

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peeps of the PCT: G-punk

About all you can do in life is be who you are. Some people will love you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some won’t like you at all.

Rita Mae Brown
“Grapefruit Punk” is an artist with a free spirit. We met in the North Cascades and hopscotched the entire trail to Mexico.

What does it mean to “be who you are?” And how do we get “comfortable in our skin,” as the saying goes, able to accept ourselves fully and know that not everyone will understand us, let alone come to love us just as we are?

I met Grapefruit Punk in the North Cascades near Stevens Pass, Washington. She is a person who has chosen to identify as gender neutral. I have to admit, I’m not entirely comfortable using ‘they/them’ in place of ‘he/she.’ I totally understand the need for gender neutral identifiers and a more fluid understanding of who we are as human beings, but as a person who loves words, a plural term for the singular feels awkward.

The gender theorist Judith Butler reminds us that, “Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act… a doing rather than a being.” I find her words a balm when considering my identity as a hiker having taken on the enormous challenge of walking the Pacific Crest Trail, but also post-PCT, as I navigate my future and try to blaze a successful career path.

I walked with G in Central Oregon and could barely keep up with their fast pace.
I walked with G in Central Oregon and could barely keep up with their fast pace.
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peeps of the PCT: Karl and Holly, trail angels

Wherever we travel to, the wonderful people we meet become our family.

Lailah Gifty Akita
Clowning around with Karl in the camping section of the local store. Staying with these trail angels was absolutely heavenly.
Clowning around with Karl in the camping section of the local store. Staying with these trail angels was absolutely heavenly.

Last night I had vivid dreams with a cast of colleagues from my recent past. In and out popped characters with whom I’d developed deep ties working on projects, solving problems in a hectic deadline-based environment and seeing each other every day, often for far more hours than I see my own family.

These people are gone from my life now, at least in the material world. I’m pretty sure they’re still alive, but we have nothing that binds anymore. We don’t talk. We never see each other. In the dream, I was desperately trying to grab hold of a microphone just so I could speak into it and say goodbye, but they wouldn’t allow me. I failed. I was bereft.

Oddly, though, when I woke up, I didn’t feel sorrow. Rather I felt cleansed, as if I had gotten my words out and made peace before letting go.

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peeps of the PCT: the start

It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

Kristen Armstrong
The first day on the PCT was unseasonably clear and warm.
The first day was unseasonably clear and warm.

As I prepare for the Continental Divide Trail, I love looking back to the start of another long-distance trail, my frame of mind and some of the advice I received including from “Broken Toe” who advised to “make the step you’re taking right now, the priority.”

I started walking the Pacific Crest Trail on July 1, traveling up to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass in a caravan of three rented vehicles packed to the gills with eager hikers, our gear and our very gingerly placed ice axes. A lovely trail angel named Premila organized our carpool, inviting hikers to camp on her lawn night before and use her shower and kitchen plus pack lunches from her carefully purchased high-calorie fixings for the long drive to Hart’s Pass from Bellingham.

It was an unusually bright day with crystal blue skies, though my mood couldn’t have been more of a contrast. I was still in shock and feeling depressed, anxious and uncertain about where my life was headed. My intention initially was simply to take a time-out to clear my head. Or some might have seen it as an escape from the nearly physical manifestation of my pain, a blob of matter so large it took up more than its fair share of space, swallowed up the air leaving me paralyzed. I might hurt myself is what Richard thought, and I needed to literally remove myself from the “scene of the crime” as it were.

I soon discovered on day one of the PCT, I was not alone in my reasoning.