2,650 Miles of Happiness with my Mother
I can see her. Eyes closed, chin lifted upwards, a slight smile at the corner of her lips. My mother, whose eyes are usually open, aware, and analyzing, is standing still and soaking in the warmth of the sun on her brow.
I am driving back up the Shenandoah mountains in Virginia to my little apartment, having made the journey to the nearest town an hour away, when this image appears in my mind. Tears of heavy joy start welling as I imagine her in this state of genuine happiness and peace. This is what I look forward to most on our thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail together – seeing my mom happy and free.
On April 4th, Easter Sunday, my mom and I will be boarding a plane from our home in Virginia to San Diego to begin our 2,650-mile thru hike of the PCT.
My interest in backpacking began when a friend of mine, Hillbilly, guided my first overnight trip.
I will never forget the feeling of sheer horror as I watched the shuttle drive away and I was left facing the 17 miles of trail before me to get back to our car the next day. The first mile was entirely uphill, and with that heavy pack strapped to my back, waves of anxiety washed over me as I thought to myself, “What the fuck have I gotten myself into.”
The only choice left was to accept the circumstances and to keep taking one more step. In every step I took farther from the trailhead, I found just an ounce more of peace….and about a gallon more of sweat.
I will never forget the visceral shock of terror in those first few steps, but I will also always remember that feeling of wild and savage joy as the car came into view on that second day.
It was not just the feeling of joy that got me hooked on backpacking – it was the wide depth of juxtaposition between the beginning and the end – the fear and the joy – the anxiety and the peace.
The trail is a place where I can experience the depths of human emotion and learn to walk with them, one step at a time.
SNAKES AND SWAMPS
My mom is a motherfuckin’ badass. One time, back at my childhood home outside of Washington D.C., the garbage truck came to a halt outside of our house. The men were all out of the truck staring at something on the road blocking their way. It was a giant, black snake. To my childhood eyes, this thing must have been at least 10 feet long.
My mom catches wind of this situation, and in a flash she’s out in the road with a shovel and a paper bag, scoopin’ up the damn thing and dumping it safely in the woods behind our house.
So, it should come as no surprise that my mom flew to Florida with me in January of 2020 to complete the 61 miles of the Ocean to Lake Trail for her very first overnight backpacking trip. I am talking at least 40 miles of ankle to thigh deep swamp walking. Have you ever heard of such a thing?
I AM HAPPY
So, we get to Florida and our Uber driver pulls up to the trailhead next to Lake Okeechobee, and keeps repeating incredulously, “Aqui? Aqui!?” He refused to believe that we wanted to be dropped off on the side of this road in middle-of-nowhere Florida.
It was almost evening, so we immediately set up our camp next to the lake with the intention of starting our trek the next morning.
I am in my tent, crinkling around on my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad, when my mom whispers across the way from inside her tent, “Kaley…”
“…I am happy.”
As I write this the tears return. That mixed feeling of aching pain and pure joy, somehow both suspended in the same emotion. The pain of our past, now restored with her joy in this present moment.
So, mom, here’s to you, to your happiness and to our healing. May this hike be the adventure of a lifetime. I can’t imagine doing it alongside anyone else.
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