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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Pre-trail Thoughts

Many thoughts have been going through my head in the past few months as I’ve mentally prepared myself for leaving for the PCT. I often find myself thinking of what I am looking forward to, and also what I will miss. There were events that were created or thought up after I chose to commit to hiking the trail, so even though this is the opportune time for me, missing incredible get togethers or events was inevitable. I know that I will need to remember to just have as much fun as I can while I can, and soak in this experience. Oh, and of course: never quit on a bad day.

I will miss: my little family (my partner and my dog) and cuddles with them, my friends, most of summer in Washington, sporadic adventures with my friends, a couple of weddings, fresh local fruit grown by neighbors and friends, fresh fruit and veg in general, season 8 of Game of Thrones, chilling and eating popcorn while watching shows at the end of the day, comfy pajamas, centralized heating, and many of the things that bring convenience and comfort to my day to day life.

What I’m looking forward to: new friends, watching the landscape change every day, being less sedentary (more like not sedentary at all), fresh air, feeling a sense of accomplishment each day for making it just a little further, time to reflect with minimal distractions, getting more clear on what I’d like to do with my life after the trail (harvesting ideas), using food truly as fuel, eating a lot, not having to meal prep, getting to see the details of these states that I’ve called home, having this journey be a part of my life story, trail magic and trail angels, the beauty, the hard days that I will overcome and become stronger from, focusing only on one day at a time (and sometimes the next day)

A New Chapter is on the Horizon

I will be hiking the PCT.

Let me expand on that in the order that I usually need to:

I will be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

I will be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from the Mexican border in California up to just past the Canadian border in Washington.

I will be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from the Mexican border in California up to just past the Canadian border in Washington, starting April 14th.

I will be solo thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from the Mexican border in California to just past the Canadian border in Washington, starting April 14th. It is 2,650 miles long, which takes between 4 and 6 months to complete.

 

Something that I feel is important to mention is the amount of privilege I have that will allow me to hike the trail. I have enough financial support, I am able to take that much time off from a job, my body is capable of handling that much physical activity and challenge, and I had access to an education that made me aware of the trail in the first place. I am also able to budget for lightweight gear. I realize that the land I will be walking and sleeping on is stolen land. It will be an enormous privilege to be essentially homeless by choice for months, all while appreciating the nature around me. I am so very aware that this is an opportunity that not many people get to take advantage of and I often feel guilty about being able to go. But, I also know that this is a dream that I’ve had for several years and I don’t want to miss this opportunity. All I can really do is acknowledge the privilege I have and not take it for granted.

With that said, here are common questions I have gotten and my answers to them:

1. You’re going without your husband? 

or-

You’re going alone?!

Yes. I did say that “I” will be hiking the trail, not “we”. This is a trip for myself, a feat I have wanted to accomplish for several years now. It is not easy for many people to take 4-6 months off of work. I made a commitment at the end of my AmeriCorps VISTA year to make time on my calendar between April and September so that I had no other excuse but to hike this trail. Also, I get this question a lot from women, oftentimes followed by, “Wow, you’re so brave to go alone. I’m so afraid of hiking by myself.” I urge women to go on a day hike alone (which can include your dog). On my first solo hike, I realized just how silly the fears are, especially on trails that are further away from cities. The other people on trails are usually out there for the same reason as you- to enjoy the nature and to get some physical activity. The notion that some deranged man might leap out from behind a bush to attack you several miles out on a trail is really irrational. Media fear-mongers women into not going out alone. These are extremely rare cases. Statistics are on your side. You would be at a much higher risk of death or injury by driving your car down the street.

2. You’re bringing protection, right? (Some people have suggested a gun, a rape whistle, or bear spray)

I try to answer this very cautiously, but recently I’ve been a little snarky. First of all, have you met hikers? The hiking community is not a group to be afraid of, unless of course you bring up the controversial question of whether to wear boots or trail runners. The people to be most fearful of along the trail will be town or city folk. In the times that I’ll be visiting towns or cities, where I’m not a few miles out in the wilderness, I’ll most likely be with other hikers. To quell fears, I am bringing a little neck knife, which is pretty fool-proof (unlike a gun), and I would have less time spent fumbling around for my weapon, just in case I do get in a dangerous situation. Also, a neck knife can function as a knife for avocados, resupply boxes, and all sorts of survival situations. Bear spray, yes, can be used on people too, but is banned in many areas. It is also very heavy. I’m also pretty sure that I would just anger the bear that might be trying to attack me.

3. Are you taking your dog?

No, because she did not sign up for a hike of this magnitude. I am sure she would enjoy a lot of it, but it is my journey- not hers. To expand on that- I would have more responsibility than just keeping myself alive, which I think would take away from my overall experience of the trail. It would also be almost twice as much food to send in resupply boxes. There are also many national parks that do not allow dogs. I would also not want to risk her running off after wildlife that could potentially harm her.

 

If you are interested in hearing more about my preparation/training for the PCT or want to virtually experience the journey with me, this site will serve as the place where I write about it!

Countdown to leaving for Campo, CA: 10 weeks, 1 day

The Key is to Find Grace in it All

My head is a whirlwind of thoughts, because summer has not brought focus to any one theme really, it has been so many things. So, I’ll use this post as a way to hone in by connecting the many elements that this summer has been into a more comprehensive picture and see how it relates to yoga, because really, things can always relate to the practice.

First of all, I’ve been training with my partner to run in a ragnar relay at Mount Rainier. Many people don’t know what a ragnar is. In fact, the computer is underlining it as a misspelling! It is a relay run, where either the team of runners cover up to 200 miles together on a road, splitting it up and taking turns, following each other in a van, or the team does trail routes that are set up in loops, each person completing the loops when it’s their turn. I’ll be doing the latter with my team. I was so excited in the beginning and I was making true progress with my speed, but something happened where my speed progress retracted, and so I’ve been a little discouraged with that.

On the topic of physical challenges, I’ve set my mind to hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, going from Mexico to Canada) next spring. I remember hearing about it 6 years ago and my mind has come back to it a few times over the years. It wasn’t until recently that I really started getting into researching gear and getting into other peoples’ stories about their experience on the trail. It’s something in my heart, where I know that I will be faced with tremendous challenges (mostly mental) and I will ultimately be relying solely on my own preparation, knowledge, instinct, and body.

Soon before I plan on getting ready for that trip, I will be coming back from my honeymoon! I am getting married in two months and we plan on taking a round-the-world trip in the spring. Wedding planning requires so much more detail oriented thought than I anticipated! All of the things that have yet to be decided and bought are looming over my head all the time. I really just can’t wait to have so many loved ones around me, all meeting each other.

Though I live in an apartment, I have a small “garden” on my patio that I am proud of. I have a tomato plant, kale, broccoli, lettuce, celery, and potatoes. The lettuce, celery, and potatoes were started just by my leftover scraps and a single sprouting potato! I love giving life to my plants every day through water and making sure that they have enough space in their pots.

I feel like I learned a bit more about gardening at GRuB, a non-profit organization in Olympia. Every time I drop in during the volunteer hours, I feel so accepted and at peace knowing that I’m helping the community by taking care of the farm that feeds so many. I love the manual labor of it, digging my hands into the ground, pulling out weeds, all the while talking with a new friend or just hanging out by myself. I also take pictures for their events, which I love doing with my whole heart. I love seeing the people that GRuB draws in, because they are the people that want to give back. I have gotten a couple of thank you notes from GRuB for my pictures and help, and they made me feel more appreciated than I have in a long time.

At the moment, I’m reading the famous book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. My mom gave it to me a few years ago and I’m finally getting around to it. I like the lessons that it teaches, though I’m not totally keen on the writing style. I find it very repetitive and simple. But, the chapter I’m on right now is the one about not taking anything personally. It comes at a good time in my life because I have subconsciously been making assumptions about things, or having expectations, and the book explains how those things lead to disappointment and miscommunication. I know this too! I have a post-it on my wall that says “Expectation leads to disappointment”. But, sometimes we do these things without even realizing. The book explains that assumptions happen when we don’t have answers to things, so our brain just fills what we don’t know in with whatever information we do have. As humans, we want to understand things all the time. This is why open and honest communication is always key. Asking too many questions is better than asking none.

 

So, how does all of this relate to yoga? I think that my personal summer illustrates the pose Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose). It is a pose, that when broken down, is really a complex map of different actions (push, pull, lift, gaze, breathe) that come together to create this one intense balancing pose. A true balancing act, juggling all of the things at once. The key is to find grace in it, and often grace comes with not taking yourself too seriously and knowing when to laugh at your own mistakes.

[http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/natarajasana-lord-of-the-dancers-pose/]