Night 1 | 4 miles
Because I love my family, and “see you laters” are hard I started the trail later than I was expecting. Regardless, it was amazing and perfect, and when I saw a sign that said I had gone 2 miles I thought, “THAT’S IT?!” (all caps for the greatest effect). The parts of my body that hurt or not the parts that I was predicting, and I think that takes mental adaptability, a different type of mental adaptability that I also was not predicting. My shoulders are aching already, no doubt, but it isn’t unbearable yet. I am excited for when they become stonger, becuase I know they will.
The trail is magical medicin; its bitter like caugh syrup and hard to handle, but once it reaches your system, it does heal.
Day 1 | 16 miles
The morning is fresh, the air is cool. I enjoy the sun rising along the moantain line. Birds are more alive in the morning than any other part of my day. I drink instant coffee, in my Nahko mug and it feels personal. My own time to be with a materialistic object that is uniquly mine, not from a list of recomended “to buy/bring items.” I put all my things away in my pack and realize, overnight, my camel pack of (2.5L) leaked. It is completely empty. I have 2 1L smart water bottles to get me 16 miles. In the exposed to sun mountain ranges. That is it – 2L. I do not panic, because I am still in positive mode. I will drink slowly, a sip or two every mile or so and I will stay hydrated. I will take breaks in the shade, which I do. Other hikers pass me, like this is the easiest experience of their lives, and I feel slow, but okay about it. I know that I should not compare my miles to others. That will be the death of me. Still, I am envious of the ease in which they seem to be traveling to the next water source.
I am 9 miles from Lake Morena. Where I will be meeting my parents, and camping for the night. Where I will get water. Where I have a Beyond Burger waiting for me on the grill, and rest. Real rest. I eat oatmeal with hemp, flax, almonds, and other healthy mixes inside. But it is not enough. I know this, but the thought of stopping to cook an actual meal seems so time-consuming, and I just want to get to my destination. Plus, I don’t really have enough water to waste on cooking. I eat snacks; a granola bar, and fruit jerky. I push on.
Somewhere along the way, I see a snake (California Striped Racer). The snake sees me too. He (or she) is adorable and small, and their presence rejuvenates me. I want to grab a picture, but we are making eye contact and I don’t want to be rude. I just want to be here, living in the moment, as I promised myself I would be. My new friends stays for less than a minute and then escapes into the brush. Trail magic.
I have experienced other moments of magic. Two hummingbirds practically landed on my pack. Their wings were fluttering rapidly in my ear, creating a startling humm… It scared the shit out of me when I first heard it, not knowing what was making the sound at first. But then I saw them, floating from flower to flowing, and once I saw them I thought of my grandma. She loved hummingbirds, but not so much in the traditional way that you’d presume, like she wasn’t the type to set out feeders for them or observe them from her porch. Sure, she showed appreciation when she saw them, but her passion was more in the collecting of figurines or blankets or earrings – basically, if the product was sculpted into or embroidered in resemblance to a hummingbird, she was the target purchaser. And this living, heart pounding, tiny bird buzzed around me, and I thought of her. In this tiny being I felt connected to my grandma, like she was there on the trail with me, sending a little reminder of her presence. Trail magic.
7 miles from Lake Morena I cry. Very dry tears. I am surely dehydrated. I want and feel like tears should be coming from my eyes, but they don’t fall. I stop dry crying and play Eminem in one headphone, still remaining alert to the dangers of a rattled warning.
5 miles from Lake Morena, I meet up with some other hikers. We walk together, and their company is appreciated. I have less than half a liter of water left. My mouth is dry. The trail is beautiful. But I am struggling.
At some point, amidst our hiking chatter, we miss the left from the dirt road we are on and the trail. I make the decision to continue on the dirt road. I don’t want to travel back. It was on this road, the next 3 miles, that I had a breakdown. Luckily, I was alone (accept maybe from a window observer from a roadside house, or a car passing by). I felt like throwing up. I was worried I would suffer from heat stroke if I didn’t get more water and rest and shade soon. I threw my pack down in every shady spot I could find. I sat on the side of the road, thinking I couldn’t possibly take another step – but then I did. I kept going because I had to. The roadside trail eventually brought me to the Oak Shores Malt Shop. Once I saw the sign a new type of excitement rejuvenated my steps. I made it into the shop and immediately bought the biggest jug of water, electrolyte drink, orange juice, and a large bag of lays potato chips (for the salt, calories, and fact they are just fucking delicious). I sat on the patio of the store, in the shade, and unapologetically stuffed my face with the most delicious chips I could have purchased in that moment. Crumbs fell on my shirt, and I chugged water, and electrolytes and lived in bliss. Then I sent a text to my Mom and Aaron: “I’m going to hangout here. To be honest there isn’t much left of me that wants to do this hike.”
Yep, it’s day 2 and I am sitting outside the Malt Shop 20 miles from the start of the trail questioning the purpose of this experience… already.
Aaron walked the mile from our campsite (where I was suppose to meet them) to the shop. By the time he gets there I am feeling a little better. We talk, and I feel even more better not to be alone – to get out of my own head.
We go back to camp. I shower, and eat, and yes drink tons of water. I feel better and I am grateful to have my parents, because that mental breakdown was real. I take my time setting up my tent. I enjoy it. This space feels like home already, which sounds crazy as I write it, but it does. I feel safe inside, and I love it.
Day 3 | Rest and Writing
Are you all ready for my very unpopular opinion?
Now, let me preface this by saying I woke up today (day 3) feeling so great. My feet don’t hurt (that was fucking shocking) and where I do ache is equivalent to a good workout (refer back to detailing of calf muscle feels, if need be).
You do not have to hike every mile (as directed) on the Pacific Crest Trail to be successful (unless your own success is measured by that specific detail) AND you do not have to hike every single mile to obtain personal growth OR to push even your own limits.
It’s insane to me that even as I write this some weird sense of guilt bubbles up, this guilt bubble grows into doubt. It makes me believe that what I feel deep down is wrong; but I also have a strong-strong feeling – a knowing – that it isn’t. At least not for me. But, where does that seed of doubt which flourishes into the toxic plant inside my mind begin? Where does it come from? Ego. And, this is, I believe, universal among “thru-hiking” communities.
We tell ourselves that enjoyment is the death of growth. That we must suffer in line with the standards of measurability. We must risk death, because that is where our new lives begin; and only in specific measure (miles) will those true challenging experiences emerge.
I do believe that hardships bread strength – overcoming some forms of “suffering” spawns magnificence, and empowerment in yourself. But that level of suffering to growth can only be measured by the person who is experiencing it.
I have already learned that comparing yourself not only in miles per day, but miles skipped will be the death of joy. It will be the death of growth, and personal power.
I am here, and have been dreaming this dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail my way for so long. Over time I have given into the vision of what that needs to look like, because that’s what it is for other, that I have lost track of my own purpose. If my way garners me less respect, admiration, or general platitudes from the public or other hikers then that’s okay. If it bothers me, then my entire perspective on why I am doing the trail in the first place is wrong.
Hardship, growth, strength is measured by no one but yourself. My journey is my own, and what I promised myself in the beginning are the things I will provide myself until the end. I am relinquishing the ego, and forging a path of adventure as magical as I set out to seek.
Quick Things I Have Also Learned:
1. As a notorious tomato hater, this one came to me by surprise; I like caprese salad if the tomatoes are fresh from Mexico. They are dark red, and not tangy bitter, like every other tomoto I’ve had in my life.
2. I am more terrified of rattle snakes than I’d ever thought. I love snakes, so this surprised me. On trail, my heart races every time a lizard runs into the bushes, or my bag brushes against the brush – making the sound, that for a split second, can be mistaken for a rattle.
3. My feet can travel really far distances, on rough terrain, with 25+ pounds strapped to my pack, and little water. Still they should not have to go so far on so little. I need to be kinder to them and the rest of my body. She will take me farther, become stronger, and live happier, longer this way.
4. I will dry cry for no reason, and I should, because it makes me feel better.
5. My reasons for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail are not the same as everyone else’s, and therefore my miles don’t have to be either.
6. No matter what, I am so fucking proud of myself. For being here, and doing something I imagined over and over. For making those imaginations come to life, and not letting fear or uncertainty over power my life.
7. I have the best husband in the world. The best family in the world. And the very best friends in the world. Their love, encouraging words, and support keep me going. I love you guys.
8. Living creatures (with the exception of Horse Flies and mosquito’s) are my trail magic. Sunrises and sunsets, also magic.
9. The little things, especially if you’ve never done them, will make you feel self-sufficient which is a key ingredient in empowerment. I lit my stove and cooked a meal for the first time, and felt fantastic about myself.
10. People will ask you if you’re afraid. Not because you’re in the wilderness, but because you’re a woman in the wilderness.
Talk again soon.