It’s less than a month now until I start the Pacific Crest Trail again. Wow. That feels so strange to write.
It used to feel like this day would never come, like I would be waiting forever, but now it’s barrelling toward me, gaining speed as my start date moves closer. It feels like there is so much I have to get done, but I can’t stop time and I watch as it slips through my fingers.
The past month I feel like I have knelt at the feet of every emotion I could possibly cycle through. I’ve wondered if I’m still the woman I was when I finished the trail last time. Who was she? Her feet were calloused, her fingernails caked in dirt, she lay in the dust, ran through the rain, laughed without covering her mouth. She was free. She is still there, she is still there somewhere, but my body has grown soft between the cotton sheets and my spirit softer still with all the comfort and stability and stagnant routine the 9-5 world offers. I have searched for her in the in the bright mirror in the bathroom of my office, touched my straightened hair in the reflection and she wasn’t there, felt like a stranger in my clean, pressed clothes and she wasn’t there either. At times I have barely been able to recognise if the other version of me ever existed at all.
Where was she?
But the shift is happening and the end is in sight now.
And the rebellion has started and I’M SO EXCITED (LIKE SCREAM IT THROUGH AN OPEN WINDOW EXCITED). The other side of me is coming back, I can feel it. She’s there, even though for months she has had to stay put behind the glass looking in on my life. Pacing, pacing, pacing around, like a wild thing that has been shut away and every so often she’s been gently tapping on the window asking if she can come out yet. It’s so close now I can almost taste it. I’m slowly opening the door to the other side, just a little at a time, just a crack and I look in and whisper “get ready” and my alter ego looks back at me (while eating chips) and says “Pffft, please – I’ve been ready this whole time”.
Right now, right at this moment when I close my eyes I can almost transport myself back there. I’m imagining myself sipping on warm gritty water under the blazing hot sun. I’m getting sunburned and wind burnt and my feet feel like they are on fire and I know to most people that sounds like hell, but if you know you know and right now that sounds like the most glorious thing ever. GIVE ME SUFFERING AND PAIN and let me feel alive again!
I’m going into the same hike, but with new eyes and I’m not scared this time. I’m not scared of the desert at all. I think of the desert as hours spent laying in the shade of prickly shrubs, days of fiery orange sunsets and weeks of watching the world expand, rolling right out into the horizon. Mostly, I think of the desert as months of letting go of my expectations and letting the experience take it’s own shape.
That was the whispered challenge, the one I almost missed. The one that creeps up so softly you barely hear it over the noise of what you think this should mean for you. You have to be prepared to hate the trail, to loathe it, to sit on the side of it in the dirt and ugly cry and be thirsty and tired and feel like giving up and then with your entire heart wish you were somewhere else. You have to be prepared for your experience on trail to be nothing like you imagined. The desert can be unforgiving, it’s true. It can chew you up and spit you out, but every single mile of suffering there exists to make you stronger and tougher and more honest and every single mile did.
getting my ass kicked in the Sierra
It would be untrue to say it was love at first sight. My relationship with the trail at first was complicated and humbling and nothing like I had imagined it would be. Where is the romance in this? I used to think as I hobbled along in the desert. Where is the romance in armpit chafe? Or between the toe blisters? Where is the romance in shitting in a hole? Where is the romance I felt through the words of others? Where is the romance I saw in the pictures? Is there something wrong with me? Am I not tough enough for this? Maybe this is not for me? Where is the romance? Because I can’t find it!
But then I did.
And it was like some sort of transcendence.
And it was like pure magic
It took me 1,325 miles to fall in love with the trail.
A lot longer than others, a lot longer than most.
But I found it.
It took 1,325 miles and a tiny halfway point marker to truly understand what I needed to know. It didn’t have to be perfect. IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT! It didn’t have to be what I had imagined it was going to be. It was like the weight of it all could finally fall from my shoulders. I was finally able to let go. The romance was not making the ideal experience real. The romance is that you picked your ass off the ground when you fell, wiped away your filthy snotty tears and continued anyway. It is learning patience and unconditional kindness and how to be there for others even though you barely know them and they have nothing to give back. It is being exhausted and vulnerable and frustrated and exhilarated all in one day. Because that is real and that is what makes the resilience of the human spirit so complex and beautiful and that is what I needed to feel alive.
The romance of the trail was letting go of everything I wanted this to mean and allowing it room to just be what it is.
And i’m so ready to start this all again.