The Trail is Over… Mostly

It has been difficult to start writing my post-PCT thoughts. I’ve been putting it off because I thought I needed more time to process it, or the perfect time and place to write, or maybe I wouldn’t remember my password to get into WordPress, etc. The time is now. I have to make progress on something. On the trail, I was getting closer and closer to a goal every day. Here at home, I need to create a new goal every day.

In those last eight miles that I walked from the northern monument to the “official” end, EC Manning Park, I still couldn’t quite process that these were truly the last miles of this seemingly endless trail. Everything I did was the last time I’d do something on trail: gathering water, treating my water, going pee, eating a snack, climbing a hill… As Tea Time (a fellow hiking partner) and I finally reached the park, we weren’t greeted by a crowd of cheering people as we were at the monument. We walked down a road in the middle of nowhere and spotted a few hikers whom we knew, who were struggling to find a room in the lodge and were coping with the fact that they were going to have to spend this victorious night camping in the rain. We made it to the restaurant, but accidentally went down to the bar first, which was a not-so-lively venue with no other hikers in it. Even the restaurant upstairs was not very lively, but it did have hikers at the tables. It was strange and anticlimactic. The servers didn’t congratulate us or really even seem to understand the monumental occasion that this marked for us. On the way home, I strongly felt obligated to hike soon- like I was about to just take a little time off trail and then go back. It wasn’t until I was pulling onto my road at home that it started to sink in that it was over. This dream that I had kept in the back of my mind for 8 years and finally manifested, was over. Well, the truth is that I actually still have 260 miles of the Sierra to do- Kearsarge Pass to Ebbets Pass- but, I won’t be doing that until sometime next year probably in August or September, when the snow is mostly melted. So, I’m happy that 10% of the PCT still waits for me.

When people ask me, “How was it?”, I have no idea how to summarize about 150 days. It was everything and more. I struggled more than I ever thought I would. I cried too many times to count. But, I also loved and laughed so hard. The trail was so brutal and challenging at times, and other times, my body would feel broken regardless of how hard the trail was. Persistent physical pain had such an effect on my mental state. I thought of getting off trail so many times. Two weeks before the end, I was sad because I realized that I just wanted to get the trail over with so that the pain in my shoulder would stop. Thankfully, a lot of my pain subsided in the last week of trail, and I could mostly focus on cherishing all the moments I could. What usually pulled me through any struggle was the people I met along the way.

That was a huge takeaway from my experience- how much I cherish connection and community. I realized that throughout my young adult life, I have often tried to keep a few people very close, because I like creating a chosen family. With my first trail family, we stayed together for almost three months, and I found it hard to think about letting them go, but I realized that we had different goals and we would have to part ways. It felt great in Oregon to hike a lot of the trail by myself. I had this newfound freedom. I still saw Stitch (a member of my first trail family) fairly often, which was nice to have a familiar person around sometimes.

In Washington, I was totally alone at first, which opened me up even more to new people. I ended up meeting someone who I consider a very close friend now: Beans. We seemed to click right away and people thought that we had known each other for a while, even though we had just met a few days ago. On trail, time works differently because there are far fewer distractions. Time can slow down, and you can spend hours talking to someone that you haven’t known for long, exchanging vulnerable and personal stories about each other. Trail relationships are intense because of this phenomenon.

If you’ve known someone for 1 or 2 weeks, it’s like a whole month in the “real world”. There aren’t all of the fronts or masks that people put up in the “real world” that usually take time to break down. People on trail are putting plenty of energy into keeping it together physically, so keeping up the energy to put up an emotional front is not as likely to happen. Plus, people have something to bond over immediately. We understand each other’s struggles and what we’ve been through. We already stink and are dirty, so doing foul things in front of each other is no big deal. So, when I say that my first trail family and I were together for almost three months, that’s a long time in trail time. I connected with a few random other people besides Beans in Washington, and we formed a little family: Stitches (from Oregon), Tea Time (from France), and Spicy Bite (from SoCal). We really knew how to have fun and laugh, and probably drank too much beer. It was great, because Beans had thru-hiked the trail in 2016, so she had such a relaxed air about her since this was her second time in the Washington section. The others were also pretty relaxed in nature, but with Beans, it made the unknown miles ahead seem less scary. We dawdled a lot in towns, packed out beer, made campfires, watched stars, and enjoyed each other’s company until way too late into the night. It was like we were making up for lost time.

Goodbyes are bittersweet. They’re the marking of a new chapter, and they’re also an occasion where you have to realize that the next time and place you’ll see the people you’ve grown to cherish to might be far away. Thankfully, a conversation with them is just the click of a button away. It’s been nice processing this big life thing with them over text or messages online. We did it. We made it out alive. Maybe that makes us unstoppable. We can’t stop seeking, we can’t stop searching for meaning or adventure or connection. That’s the point of doing something like this. The PCT had this way of occasionally showing you, in wide open spaces, the miles of path that you came from and the path where you were headed towards. The exciting thing was walking into the unknown.

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