The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. – Emily Dickinson
I wake up late and lay under my quilt enjoying how cozy I feel in here. Cheerio tells me we synchronized slept, turning over and crunching our mattresses on cue.
I’m glad it was just the three of us – though I’m desperate to be alone at least some of the time. I feel like Downton Abbey’s dowager getting her way and causing that obnoxious young man to leave. My murderous rage has lessened overnight, but I suggest he not mess with me at a cliff’s edge.
Sadly, we have a bigger problem – Cheerio’s knee is an absolute disaster. She can’t put any weight on it whatsoever, wincing in pain and falling over trying to pee. I don’t know how to talk to her. I’m concerned and think she needs to seek medical attention, but she is focused and refuses to leave the trail. Zach tells her she can just take off a few days and come back but not to mess with this. She remains cheery, but eventually begins to cry. I share my story of being evacuated from Aconcagua and that it was giving up that bothered me the most even as I stared death in the face that cold, snowy night when I could barely breathe. She says that doesn’t help through sobs and I feel a failure.
But just now, Erin, Rook, Bounce and Supe come up the trail and I tell them we’re in trouble. Now we have a committee and all agree Cheerio needs to take a ‘zero’ day and rest right here in her tent. Besides, Sweet is on her way up, so she’ll be looked after. Bounce even gives Cheerio Annie Dillard and we all fill her water bottles.
I tell her ‘chin up’ and head up the trail. Things start in the forest on a slow ramp, vanilla frosted mountains appearing through the trees. I meet ex-ranger Bruce who tells me to go up and over the snowfields after the knifes edge. We talk briefly about the overcrowding on the trail and blame Cheryl Strayed, then I push on, way steeper above treeline.
I grab water that gives me an immediate ice cream headache, from a shimmery spot in the sunlight. Rainier is wearing a huge cloud hat that casts an unusual blue shadow below it. The trail is rocky and steep, it’s hard to grab hold. I downshift a notch and remind myself I have the entire day to get over Goat Rocks.
I didn’t entirely believe in the power and magic of the ‘trail providing’ even when it did in New Zealand. I felt like a lot of what happened there was luck rather than a general goodness that seems to appear just when a hiker needs it. I am feeling it today, perhaps simply because the unhappiness of my life unfolded in such a way, it led to this incredible moment.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to ascend into the mountains. The trail gets rockier, thins out and sometimes seems barely holding onto the side of the mountain with sweeping, roller coaster falls beside me. I stay within my breath and watch my footsteps – especially if there’s a small descent where the stones act as ball bearings and are easy to slip on.
I’m always amazed at the speed I gain altitude as I walk. This day is not like any day so far, because the trail is steeper and harder, much less a set of switchbacks. But the views just open bigger and bigger, my smile matching.
At the intersection, I see my friends decide to risk the snowfields. There are tracks to step in, but one false move and the fall would be absolutely calamitous. I’m told the views are better above, probably because the trail gains 500 feet above the snowfields. It is definitely a workout on narrow zigzags up large, clanky pieces of slate sounding a bit like bottles striking each other.
I meet a 72-year-old man who ensures I know this fact, and several others with big smiles for this incredible day. The wind picks up and I put on my jacket, but it’s sunny and feels absolutely fantastic. I take a pitstop for lunch at a rocky point. I spy people descending from the tiptop of Old Snowy so I leave my pack at the junction and head up.
Even in the wind, the orange and blue butterflies dance up here, flowers spring up in random corners. I am all alone and completely surrounded by peaks. I can see the snowfield and a long line of hikers working across. Bruce gave me the best tip to come here, cloud shadows moving over the mountains.
Yesterday, as I climbed up into this beautiful landscape, the mountains dipped in white peaking through a burn area, I wondered if I deserved this gift. I can’t say now if I do or don’t, but I know this adventure is the medicine I need. It’s new, big, and unknown, it’s a massive challenge that is forcing me to learn to trust myself and to believe I’m ok.
Life, by design, is uncertain, often unfair, with limits and dead ends. It sometimes takes a huge leap of faith, to simply thrust oneself out in it, to break the choke hold we put on life in hopes that if we hang on hard enough, the negative parts won’t find us. What we really need to do is to have moments like this one I am having – views all around only accessed by my walking – then tell life that ok, bring it on, your best and your worst. I can manage it because I have this moment forever.
Did I decide to walk the PCT to distract myself, to reflect and gain perspective? Yes, all true, but what I realize here is that I came to build my store of bravery so that I can face whatever comes my way.
This place – like my body and my life – is all mine, but only for a short while. I soon descend, using my hands to keep from slipping. The timing is just right as a couple comes up to take my place. More views open of the mountains against different backgrounds. I cross snowfields and enter a magical area filled with wildflowers so numerous, they blur into an impressionist painting.
I stop for water trying to be disciplined with hydration. The clouds adjust over Mount Adams into a Donald Trump combover. I enter another bowl of beauty, a waterfall tumbling from glaciers that rest above scree. I love feeling myself just a speck in this gigantic space.
The trail is horseshoe shaped and takes me into yet another landscape, dry and austere. Marmots’ squeaks echo in this solitary place. But this landscape changes too, almost immediately, into grassy slopes and statuesque pines. The wind begins to pick up and mist starts flying into the valley, settling around the long boughs.
I pick a spot for the alicoop near a stream with big pools and mini-waterfalls. Dinner is early. Zach and ‘Bat Girl’ show up too, but I am tucked in before 7:00 as the wind rattles the walls. Bat tells me rain was predicted today and we both realize how incredibly lucky we were to have it wait until after we cross to threaten.
I am blessed. Sweet dreams.