10 Ways I’m (Emotionally) Preparing For The CDT
1. Practicing Gratitude
First, thank you to the trees back East where I grew up. Thank you to the lakes, the loons, and the cold winters of my teenage years further North. Thank you to the Douglas Firs and their siblings, the mosses and lichens of the Pacific Northwest. They were the ones who kept me breathing, placing one foot in front of the other, toward adulthood. Thank you to the desert flowers down South here, who are guiding me into something new.
2. Reflecting On What Brought Me Here
Hello, all. My name is Matthew, or Twain when I’m on trail. If we were to meet out there, you might ask, “Like Mark Twain?” and I would respond, “Or Shania,” with a grin and a playful look.
I grew up on the ancestral homeland of the Lenni-Lenape, the present-day Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape. I knew it then as Southeastern Pennsylvania, near Philly. I come from a settler background, mostly Dutch immigrants, and have travelled across this country probably more than my share. I live and work now on Kumeyaay Land, in San Diego.
It was two years ago that I left this city and started walking North on the PCT. I made it about 1700 miles, through the Sierras, on my first real backpacking trip. I had kind of expected it to just be a little post-college adventure, a one-off. It turned out to be way more than that.
In a little under two weeks, I will be setting out again to begin the CDT. It feels different this time, like how the past year and a half has felt both like a blur and a long fever dream. I, like many, am still living in that grief and that heartbreak. I am more grateful than I can say, then, for this opportunity to walk along the divide, to watch the land change under my feet and listen as best I can.
If I’m honest, it’s been a struggle to get out of the house to hike. Part of it is Covid anxiety, part of it is just my brain and its complications. Also though, ever since I got off the PCT, there’s been a part of me that resents having to drive to nature. I never stopped wanting to wake up among trees, to running water and bird sounds. That boundary from society to the wilderness feels so wide sometimes.
These days, as another big one nears, I don’t have the luxury of not hiking much. I know from personal experience that it’s not impossible to go from couch to trail and make it pretty far–but it’s much, much more difficult than just training a little beforehand. So, I fill my backpack until it is a strain to carry, toss on my shorts and my trail runners, and go climb some hills. My body tires in a good way. My spirit breathes some fresh air.
Over the course of a week, I moved apartments, applied for healthcare, started wrapping up my dungeons and dragons campaign, and got my first Covid vaccine. This has left me more time to plan out my early food resupplies, finalize my gear list, and continue the never-ending trail research. Sometimes this consists of just scrolling through Guthook and looking at the longest water carries, or looking at bail-outs in potentially snowy and difficult sections. Sometimes research just means asking my more knowledgeable friends which paper maps they’re bringing, or if my gear list looks okay. There is no greater resource than the community.
5. Slipping Back Into the Mindset
I’ve been trying to eat oatmeal every day. Maybe I should start eating it cold. Hell, maybe I should stop showering for weeks at a time.
I’ve been packing up my town clothes and putting them in our apartment’s little storage closet. I’ve been trying to bring foot-in-front-of-the-other-foot simplicity back into my life. Mostly, I’m trying to re-evaluate what I think I need versus what I actually need. It will help me leave unnecessary baggage behind, physical and emotional.
I’m ready for some melancholy to follow me out onto the trail, as it did last time, but I gain so much by losing whatever excess I can. I am focusing less on my comfort and more on the small works that keep me alive–making food, drinking water, moving my body.
6. Filling My Backpack With Books and Water and Wandering Tecolote Canyon
I feel like I’m doing Hiker Drag each time I walk up Linda Vista Road, toward Tecolote, in my big straw hat with my heavy pack. I am aware of eyes on me as USD students pass on the sidewalk and cars drive by. I’m an anxious person, and the scrutiny makes me uncomfortable. But, I’m lucky enough to live in desert conditions and need to get as close as possible to how it’ll be those first days on trail. I’m glad to have this straw hat. Got it at the swap meet. Glad to have it today, as the sun is fierce, like usual.
7. Setting Realistic Expectations
In 2019, I almost quit in the first 150 miles. It was just after Warner Springs, still in the early days of my L.A.S.H.. I was still wearing the big, heavy, expensive Gore-tex boots that I had thought were a good call. They weren’t giving my feet any air, they were blistering me to bits, but I didn’t want to admit that the purchase had been a waste. The pain in my feet was sharp in the morning, would fade in the afternoons as I found a rhythm, and then come back worse in the evenings.
I was lying in my tent that morning, sore and still in pain, trying to scrape together the emotional strength to crawl out of my shelter and put those damn boots on again. It seemed, in those moments, that I just didn’t belong out there. Everybody else knew what they were doing, it didn’t seem this difficult for them, and I had probably just gotten in way over my head. Sometimes while I hiked, at my lowest, I would wish to get injured somehow, just enough to justify going home without hurting my pride.
In the end, I needed about 5 days of rest, which I found in Idyllwild. My feet began to heal, I got a different pair of shoes, and I kept going.
8. Trying Not to Make the Same Mistakes
Weeks before my Warner Springs crisis, my hiking buddy Tumbleweed and I had been getting ready in San Jose, packing our bags to get moving down to the border. I kept peppering him with questions about little things I should and shouldn’t bring, how to reduce my baseweight, as if I could go back and buy different gear. At a certain point, exasperated, he told me, “You don’t get to just skip the part where you’re bad at this.”
He was right. There was a lot of experience that I was missing, a lot of knowledge that I couldn’t have gained from scrolling the internet or reading a book. Even now, in 2021, as I prepare to hit the CDT, I know I’m going to make mistakes. I know I’ll make fewer, though. My trail prep will never be perfect, just as the experience will never be exclusively positive. It is the nature of the thing, and I’m not so worried about it this time around.
9. Practicing Gratitude
I still worry. Fits of anxiety tell me that I am only putting off my “real” life, extending my adolescence even further, putting off a career, putting off stability. There are times I think I’m still just engaging in escapism.
I reject that, though, when I am grounded in who I am and what I value. There is no mythical “adult stasis” that I will eventually achieve. Even my friends with a more stable life are constantly in transition. I am choosing to devote my money and my time to this pilgrimage with the land. If these 5 months walking are the pinnacle of my life, it will be a life well spent.
I am especially grateful, as I get ready to leave, for Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass. The teachings that she shares affirm and push me forward into what I have been learning. I am a student of the land, and a young one. With her help, I hope to have a few small ways to show my gratitude as I go.
10. Filling My Backpack With Books and Water and Wandering Tecolote Canyon
By the entrance to the canyon this time, there was a softball game happening down below. It stopped me in my tracks. I’m not really a sports guy, I just haven’t heard cheers like that in a long time. I waited under a tree for a minute to listen to the players calling out to each other, the clang of a bat against a ball–signs of precious life.
I’m reminded of how, the night before I got on the PCT, my fever broke. I had had a bug of some sort that left me as I began to walk. This time, I am starting out tired in a new way, hoping to walk through some of this grief.
After a long uphill, I pause to watch two birds ride the hot air. They circle each other for a time. It’s beautiful, until one flies off, and I am left a little sad. I put my head down and keep walking. There’s a lot of hills yet to climb.
(Thank you to Baby Step (@yo_al) for the Featured Image)
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