A southbound hiker begins the PCT on steep, exposed slopes and more elevation gain and loss than any other part of the trail passing one volcano after another like pearls on a necklace including Rainier.
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.
These things are ours for God creates within our soul a mystic sense of wonder that we may hear allegro tunes among tall swaying cattails.
Before we get to birds, a small bit of business.
So many of you have asked me how to pronounce New Zealand’s “Te Araroa.” This is my hiking-partner-for-the-first-eight-days Irene’s dad’s longtime girlfriend, Vern with her gorgeous Kiwi accent setting us straight on this Maori word.
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.
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.
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
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.
…you’re the author of your own story, honey, so take your time telling it. revise. revise, and revise some more. oh baby, be your own happy ending!
These last few weeks, as Richard and I build a voice recording booth and I gently spread my wings to check the size of this new space in my life, I’ve felt the most hopeful I’ve been in months. I’m giving talks on my hikes. I’m writing and voicing. I’m playing my flute. Things are going to be ok.
And then I go ahead and put myself out there. Just like my old self, I hosted a concert last week, microphone in hand in front of an audience, enthusiastically interviewing performers and trying to offer the concert a sense of flow and interest. I feet good. My jokes get a laugh, the performers give lovely insights and I hear myself sparklingly clear through the speakers assuming everyone else can too.
Wherever we travel to, the wonderful people we meet become our family.
Lailah Gifty Akita
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.
In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. – Eleanor Roosevelt
The men are awake and out by 3:15. True to their word, they are absolutely quiet packing up. They’re heading north to ‘meet their wives,’ they tell me from a very snug two man tent. I sleep beautifully in my tiny spot under their clothes line, especially happy they warned me about mice and I hung my food and garbage on a mossy branch.
Everyone marches out early and I find it difficult not to succumb to the peer pressure to move faster. My body is only tired, not injured, though I have two small infections to attend to – a bear-grass slice on my pinky and an ingrown toenail. Sounds small, but out here it’s nearly impossible to stay clean.
If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. – Erica Jong
My morning begins with Zach stirring, wanting to “get up early and bust out miles.” The mist is down and I’m concerned the ladies won’t get the great views. Judy drops by my tent as I sip chococoffee to show me how small her tent packs down. She’s persistent, but I imagine it will make me a customer.
I forgot to mention that the other day on some endless, muscle bashing descents through the woods, Zach comes up behind me to tell me long-winded groaner jokes. It does pass the time. He says he hates to carry water, but I fill up for the next ten mile stretch, even if it’s all down hill.
The light is strange this morning, reminding me of my solo walk through Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. It was so quiet and eerie in there, and the light so dim, it felt as if I was in an ancient cathedral. Today has a similar feel of being indoors where a lighting designer has cast a spell.