May 29 | 6 Miles
Today is the day, to get back on the trail. The last few days of rest have been great! We had some trail-angel magic with family – eating delicious food and getting all my conversations out before resuming trail seclusion.
I spoke about this briefly in my last entry, but I wanted to cover the concept of fear a little deeper in this one. It is multifaceted, so let’s start from the beginning.
Whenever I take time off from the trail, no matter the length or distance, I get an anxiousness inside when I think about returning. At first, I think it was because my first day on the trail wasn’t the best. But since then the days have been different. Really good actually. While undoubtedly physically challenging and taxing, every single day I’ve had a strong sense of gratitude for the experience. I have seen new things and caught myself actually saying “f*ck this is beautiful” out loud – plants, animals, insects, bodies of water, mountain tops, astrological musings the environmental observations I’ve made in the past week surpass most of my years.
Still, it takes a certain measure of mental strength to return every time. My brain, like many others, is constantly playing out scenes in my head of what never happened, what could happen, and attempted predictions that are far less favorable to my safety. In other words, my brain is working against me. She means well. But man, the b*tch needs to calm down sometimes.
There are benefits to this spastic-cautious mind of mine. I understand that it’s her way of protecting me – to play out various scenarios so I can preemptively plan for the best outcome. Science. Regardless, my mind works itself up. But, something pretty amazing happened on drop-off day.
We pass through some dryer areas of California and as I set to take off from Paradise Valley Cafe, I am looking around, getting a vibration in my feet, and a flutter in my belly. A ting of energy starts pulsing from my spine and into my brain. I am excited! I am eager to get my pack on and walk some miles in wild sage fields! The land of so many lizards and mountainous-wild cats roaming the hills undetected.
May 30 | 14 Miles
Nothing likes a mystery tent to make you cry for your husband. I am strong! Right?
It begins around sundown. When the sun leaves our sky and I attempt to greet the night with sleep, but instead, I find myself feeling completely on guard and very much awake.
It was a brutal and beautiful day; that’s the best way I know to describe it. There were water caches on the trail. I feel hydrated and just all-around good. Throughout the day the terrain climbs from an elevation of 5,000ft to over 7,000ft then quickly drops back down annnddd goes back up. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Up – down – up – down.
Throughout the day, I am gifted time and time again by the sights of Beavertail Priclypear, Desert Cottontails that scurry across the path, and Monarch butterflies resting on bright flowers in all shades of the rainbow (Just in time for PRIDE Month). White Sage fills the air with the fresh scent of divine earth. There are countless lizards resting on warm rocks, ever very aware of my presence. I love the Pacific Crest Trail for these diverse ecological gifts.
But the nights are tough. When the only light is observed by bright stars and waning moons, I find myself feeling entrenched in the crevices of the world – all of the unknown parts both in my imagination and in my physical place.
I am left alone in my thoughts and typically they take me on journeys of shape-shifting shadow monsters. Sometimes it’s a protective mama mountain lion who stumbled across my tent with her babies, and other times it’s men with terrible intentions.
Now is the part of the log where I tell you, every human that I’ve come across on trail is more than pleasant – kind even. Mostly, I get the urge to want to see them again. Many, I would feel safe hiking or camping with them at length.
But these shadow monsters are created not from the known, but the unknown.
I have spent a lot of time dissecting my feelings and fears. I want to understand them and perhaps move forward with more rational feelings. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Women are afraid (speaking broadly and from personal interaction), to venture out on their own in the wild, because through experience and perception we know the dangers of being a woman in general, much less in relative seclusion.
Why am I afraid? Why do I assume the worst?
In my life, I have had countless unpleasant interactions with men. From a young age, I learned men are not trustworthy. I do want to clarify that I’ve had more good men in my life than bad. But when you interact with bad, it can affect the way you perceive things, all things. That is my reality. Men have a tendency to take by persuasion or force that which does not belong to them – women’s bodies.
If you seem disassociated with what I am saying let me paint a less creative picture. Imagine walking around with all your most valuable and vulnerable possessions attached to your body; knowing that if someone is tempted, they may take these valuables from you with violent force.
We as a society know this reality… That’s why we tell our women how “brave you must be” when they do what men are taught to do naturally and without fear – venture into the world.
All this brings me to the mystery tent.
I had a long day of hiking and I already knew where I had planned to camp for the night. When I arrived, someone’s tent was already posted up. I know what you’re thinking – obviously! This is the PCT with plenty of other hikers to be found. But as I’ve made it clear, the night and my mind are funky together.
So, I see this tent and I have no idea who is inside (obviously) but the location (at the top of a 7,000ft mountain) is the best one to keep me safe from high winds and you know… falling! I set up my tent, rainfly off, cuddle into my sleeping bag, and… cry. Which is, admittedly, laugh-worthy now. But, I really just missed my husband, Greg so much at that moment. He makes me feel safe and therefore stronger when I am with him. But part of this journey was to find my own strength. To discover parts of me that have been lost or that I have unwillingly given to others or just never found. It’s about connecting with everything around me and bringing that within to keep close always.
So, I cried and I fell asleep. I woke up about an hour later. It was really dark now and this was the first time I’d slept without the cover on my tent. The stars were bright and beautiful and I could see the lights from the below city of Palm Springs. I rested on my back and looked to the sky. I saw my first shooting star and then another and slowly I’d wait… and another. Just like that, I wasn’t scared or sad anymore. I was simply amazed!
May 31 | 7 Miles & Meeting Mayor Max of Idyllwild
When I could hear the man snoring in the tent across from mine, I knew I was most likely safe. He was in fact sleeping and everybody knows you can’t be fast asleep while simultaneously plotting to kill the person in the tent next to yours.
I woke up to another magical sunrise and met the sleepy (not murderous) mystery, hiker. His name, coincidently, was… wait for it…Greg. He was beyond nice and I wished I’d met him the night before, so I could have slept easier. That morning met me with a steep descent from the mountain top to town. I enjoyed every freaking step.
I am currently listening to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer – one indigenous woman sharing her wisdom of nature and reflecting on how we choose to live and how we can connect more with our environment. It has been a delight on this stretch of the trail.
My parents greet me off-trail on the side of one road or another and we head into Idyllwild – my favorite town off-trail thus far.
In Idyllwild, I drink coffee from Alpaca Coffee & Tea, eat a bomb breakfast burrito from Red Kettle, take an extra-long delicious shower (yay), and fulfill my dreams by meeting Mayor Max; the Golden Retriever Mayor of Idyllwild, California. All and all great town day.
I have spent enough time existing in a state of fear. As Cheryl Strayed once eloquently said of her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail:
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” – Cheryl Strayed, Wild
When things get rocky – literally and figuratively – whether I am climbing over 2,000ft elevation in 2 miles or in my tent on a particularly lonesome night. I tell myself:
I am strong.
I am brave.
I am safe.