It has been two weeks now since I stood triumphantly along the 49th parallel, the international border between Canada and the United States, at monument 78...the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. While many of the thoughts and feelings that I have had over these two weeks are reminiscent of those I had soon after finishing the Appalachian Trail, I have to admit, that this overall PCT experience seems to be fading with a much greater intensity. In a way, I'm glad that I won't be sitting around, sulking and pining for the days of the long expansive trail like I did three years ago, but I am a little sad that such an amazing experience can so easily be put away into the dusty filing cabinet of my memory of life experiences. I truly thought that this entire pilgrimage (or whatever you want to call it), would leave a more permanent etching into the transcendental and philosophical region of my mind. Perhaps I'm just expecting too much, or perhaps it's still too soon...but I kind of want to miss it all more. I feel like I've earned the right to miss it....if that makes any sense. Don't get me wrong, I do miss the simplicity of it all, but I have no desire to be out there right now. With that said though, how is that I can spend four months of my life walking; four months of my life building incredible unique memories; four months of my life going through such different environments (ie snow, desert, mountains, rain forest, etc) as opposed to the long green tunnel of the AT, and yet it all seems to be one big blur in my mind? What's more, is that when I think back to specific memories, they almost seem to be from a 3rd person point of view; almost as if I watched a documentary about it and I was in it...as opposed to it being an actual memory of mine.
Needless to say, this is all a little anticlimactic. When I set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, I was single in purpose, and driven by a desire to prove to myself that I could say my goodbyes and to wipe clean my much-tarnished slate. I walked for over 1500 miles with tunnel vision. I had chaos unfolding in my mind and heart as I asked myself countless questions...and tried to answer them over and over again. "Why did this happen?", or "What could I have done differently?", "How long will I miss them?"...etc. It wasn't until Vermont, mile 1700, that the answers started to come, my peripheral vision came alive, and I finally began to experience the trail for what it was: A beautiful National Scenic Trail, with gorgeous views, and stunning landscapes. The last 500 miles of the AT, changed my entire perspective on life, and on living. I started school that fall reborn, and with a new sense of purpose.
but, that was then.....and this is now.
This PCT experience has been very different. When I started walking I didn't have that single-minded sense of purpose. I just knew (or at least I thought I knew), that I needed to go walking for a while. Over last winter while I was deployed in Antarctica, I was overcome by a horrible lull. I have never really felt a sense of melancholy or despondency in my life that wasn't brought on by an obvious sad event...yet in Antarctica I felt sort of lost, aimless....despite many positives in my life. To this day, I don't know why this came about or what exactly it was, but when I searched my mind to find an answer, what I came up with was that I needed another solo-walk. Not a walk like on the Colorado Trail (a short, scenic, fun walk), but a serious AT-style walk. So the idea of a PCT walk, which had already been on my life to-do list, became my solution. The difference, however, is that this time I didn't have a whole slew of unanswered questions, or wounds that needed healing. I honestly didn't know what it was that I was missing...or just how I was going to get it back by walking.
When I began the planning, it was important to me to keep the spirit of my late father alive and honor him through my the hike in some way. I set up the memorial fund as a way to do this, and as a way to raise some money for a good cause.....one that has affected my family deeply. This was important to me...and still is, but was also not that single-minded sense of purpose on my hike like others who were hiking for charities had. Perhaps it should have been, but it wasn't. I found that while it was a part of my journey, I didn't advertise it very much. If people asked, I told them, once a month I put a blurb up here about it, but I didn't evangelize it. Again....perhaps I should have, but I would have felt dishonest if I told people it was "Why I was hiking"...because it wasn't the sole reason I was. In the end, the memorial fund did raise over 1200 dollars, and many wonderful and kind people donated to it...something I'll be forever grateful for. This is the truth.
The actual walking was very different on this hike. Especially the solo walking. For much of the journey, I kept my mind busy with trivialities and by hiking with others, but also thought a lot about people I was missing back home....something I wasn't used to. For all of the miles that I had company, I found that the simple act of walking-while-chatting, kept me at ease. During the SoCal sections, it was still so early on, the novelty hadn't worn off and during the Sierra, the pure challenge and focus of snow-hiking and navigation kept my mind occupied. In NoCal, I had a small group of good hiking partners that allowed the several hundreds of miles to fly by. In Southern Oregon I was too busy dodging mosquitoes to think about things. In northern Oregon, I finally had 6 days of solo hiking, but treated them as sort of a mileage game...and before I knew it I was in Cascade Locks looking ahead to Canada a mere 500 miles away. Southern Washington flew by with the help of some good hiking friends, and it wasn't until Snoqualmie when I finally hit the wall. I was solo-hiking, and couldn't come up with a convincing reason to keep going. I desperately wanted to go home. I was missing certain people very badly. But then something happened. Against my own will, I decided to keep walking...and I finally had the feeling I was looking for. The last week on the Pacific Crest Trail was magical. I stopped for hours at a time to just admire the simplicity and beauty of my surroundings. Things were back in alignment for me. When I hit Manning Park, I had myself convinced that I was my "old self" again and that my walk was a success. I sit here now though, wondering....was it?
This is what I've been thinking about a lot the past two weeks. Just why was I really out there walking 25+ miles a day? Why was I purposely keeping myself half-way across the country from people I would have much rather been with back home? Why was I purposely missing important lab work and research in Denver? Why was I walking?
I don't really have a good answer to these questions....at least not yet. What I've come to realize is that perhaps this hike wasn't about the usual cliches. It wasn't about "soul-searching", or "getting away", or "living life to the fullest", or "mentally and physically challenging myself", "proving to myself x, y, or z".
This hike was simply about being someplace, and doing something where I knew I would feel right....that would feel familiar...where I would feel safe. That sounds incredibly ridiculous, but it is true. I can travel the world, see extraordinary things, and spend time with incredible people. In all cases, there are times when I feel like things are "as they should be". For whatever reason though, over the past year I somehow shifted "out-of-phase". Despite going to amazing places, and spending time with wonderful people, I just didn't feel right. Walking along the winding, dusty, and often snowy tread of the PCT this summer, I felt in alignment...something I needed (for whatever reason). I didn't have that uneasiness that I had had for the past year. I was back in a place where I could simply breathe in, and breathe out...and live simply again. This all sounds incredibly selfish...and in a way it is. But, I truly believe without doing this, I would have only become more uneasy, and probably pushed away those people that are most important to me. So perhaps it was somewhat of a "healing" process, even though I wasn't really "hurt" in a traditional sense. I don't know if I'll every understand why it was that I fell into a sort of funk over the course of 2009, and just how this hike was the logical answer...I just know that it worked. I am home now, happily, and I know who and what is important to me. I hope that in time more answers will come, but I am content knowing that I was fortunate enough to go on an incredible journey, I saw indescribable scenery and landscapes, and that I'm happy to be home and to be myself again. Despite the overall journey already starting to be filed away in my mind, and the somewhat anti-climactic sensation of it all...I am definitely in a better place, and with plenty of incredible memories to go with it.
SO....onto the not-so-philosophical stuff:
My DG's and Crocs?