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.
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.
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.