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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So, I hiked to the top of a mountain.

I was waiting in the studio for somebody to come to my Sunday vinyasa class. I felt a surge of energy flow through me as my music picked up it’s rhythm and I moved through some poses that felt good for my post hill run from the day before. I burned some palo santo after the clock showed that it was 10 past class time. I was going to meet up with my friend once class was over so that we could drive to the Olympic mountains, but it was obviously too early for her to pick me up, so I locked up and ordered some chai next door. I took my drink and walked down to the dock to sit in the sun, eat my lunch, and wait.

Everything was so blue: the sky, the water, my sweater, my ring. I closed my eyes and heard the seagulls, heard children laughing and screaming on the playground. People passed back and forth on the old wooden planks. Children went running towards the playground once they saw it. I thought about how pleasant it is that playgrounds allow children to amuse themselves with what is already there, without rules, letting their imagination take over.

The sun was warm, the air was cool. I sighed a satisfied sigh and noticed how it sounded like “home” and how “om” also sounds like “home”. Both sounds representing states of being connected with all that is, being content, being at home.

I noticed that the longer I sat in one place, the more satisfied and loving I felt. Everything continues, there is stillness in the movement. Everything is okay.

Once my friend showed up, we exchanged smiles and hugs and were soon on our way to the mountains, particularly to Mount Ellinor. I navigated. We grew increasingly excited the closer the mountains became. After making our way off the highway, we were on 7 miles of gravelly, windy, pothole-ridden  road. We finally made our way to the parking lot and prepared for our hike: sunscreen, hat, bathroom, water. This hike was only 1.6 miles to the summit, but a 2500 ft elevation gain. The first five minutes were some of the easiest, which is saying something, being that it was all uphill and I was already short of breath. My friend brought her dog, like many of our fellow hikers, which I feel helps people to continue being motivated.

This hike required a lot of concentration, lots of tactical foot movement. My quads were feeling it. The higher we got, the more the trees cleared and the rocks became less slippery and more sharp. The view also got more impressive. Once we got up a rocky staircase, to a part that was only about 10 minutes from the summit, we could start seeing the rest of the Olympics. Finally, we made it to the tippity top. We could see Mount Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, the rest of the Olympics, Seattle, and even a shining sliver of the ocean on the horizon! I was surprised to see a tiny finch-like bird flitting around the rocks at the top.

Whenever I’m out in nature, I’m reminded of my own simple truth. I am always here, in my body, like a single tree in a forest. Things are constantly changing around me. I may adapt, change, and grow with time, but I am always here, existing.

I am honored to be a yoga teacher. I am simply reminding people of these tools that are our bodies, our basic foundation, and how connecting back to what is can bring peace to our racing minds.