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
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.
Stephen Cope describes in his ground-breaking book The Great Work of Your Life, A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling a process of stopping and reflecting. He lists steps to take (though none that include actually stepping!)
- ask for guidance
- check it out
- wait to act
- pray for courage
- allow for risk
- move methodically
- let go of the outcome
Using his list as a guide for my fluttering lost self, I stumbled over “waiting to act” and allowing things to happen without being married to the outcome It did not come easy to surrender to the utter powerlessness I was feeling at the time. That being said, I knew that my suffering was not in vain and could possibly serve a higher purpose to help me get to grips with what is essential in my life and what is ephemeral.
It was my fellow hikers who helped me keep it real. I wasn’t exactly glad to be in the predicament I was in having lost my career, but I realized too, that I was the luckiest person alive. Unceremoniously shown the door, I was handed an opportunity to reflect and grow. I may not have liked how I got there, but there I was placing one foot in front of the other on the most celebrated long trail in the world.
It’s curious that one of the lovely hikers I interviewed that first morning was named Divya – which in Sanskrit means Divine. She told me that she was able to take four months away from work and family and follow her dream by changing her perspective and watching paths open up for her. I only saw her once again after that day, struggling mightily up a steep slope still with a huge smile on her face. Like a bodhisattva or trail angel, Divya appeared placed in my path to grant me a small bit of wisdom.
Since entering the United States is forbidden on the PCT, to actually start the trail, a southbound hiker – known in the thru-hiking world as a “SOBO” – needs to walk thirty-one miles north to touch the Canadian border. It’s some of the most beautiful country in the world so worth an out-and-back, but this exercise became a metaphor for my being stuck and unable to progress. While I muddled over this odd state of affairs, my step-father shared a quote with me from Joseph Campbell. He’s the man who coined the phrase “follow your bliss.” He also said, “We must be willing to give up the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I might even add ‘Broken Toe’s’ advice for the trail here, which could just as easily be adapted to how we live our lives. “Don’t plan. Take zero days on trail. Make the step you’re taking right now, the priority.”
I hope you enjoy this visual-audio essay of the fertile ground that was my beginning.