Becoming Present on the PCT
It felt like a whirlwind of activity at the Southern Terminus on my start day of April 23, and somehow I was in the midst of it. Lots of eager hikers with packs and poles, all flashing pictures of each other with the monument.
THE monument. The one I’ve also seen pictures of, the one I’ve been dreaming about seeing in person for months. I’m here, I marveled in awe.
But am I actually here, am I really present? I wondered this as I also had my photo taken in the blur of it all, posing in my pink tutu-like tennis skirt and rainbow unicorn hat. Before I knew it, my turn was over and I was walking toward the US/Mexico border wall. I thought of my recent life back in Guatemala and my Guatemalan coworkers, how it had been hard for many of them to understand why I was doing what I was doing. That I was choosing to walk from the Mexican border to Canada for fun, willingly leaving a life with a good job, stability, and community.
So here I was feeling all of that amidst everything else as I started my hike. There were a whole bunch of us beginning to walk at around 8 a.m., chatting and buzzing with excitement. But I felt like I was missing the moment in some ways, that being with so many people was making it difficult to truly drop in and realize, “Holy shit, I’m finally hiking the PCT!”
That’s how it went for a few days, as I got back into the groove of walking, camp chores, trail talk, and other hikers. I had to constantly remind myself to slow down and get present. It’s so easy when thru-hiking to get wrapped up with all the stuff we do from the moment we wake till we go to bed. It becomes a routine as we establish our rhythms.
But I don’t want that. I want the attitude of being more than doing out here. It can become too easy to forget to pick our heads up from the path and look around at the views. To take in that sunrise. To stay for a moment and connect with the woman at the road crossing giving out Girl Scout cookies with her children (Thanks, Halo!). To remember why we came out here in the first place. To savor it and not wish to be at the next town or next section, even when it seems unbearable.
I was having a bit of a rough moment in the heat as I pressed on toward Scissors Crossing near Julian. I normally take a break in the heat of the day, however I was so close and wanted to go to town, so I kept hiking. I was uncomfortable to say the least as the sun pelted down on me and sapped my energy, even with my sun umbrella.
I then had a flashback to hiking in Spain, close to Cabo de Roca, the most western point of Europe. My hiking companion and I had walked 39 miles the day before, and I was still exhausted as we pressed on in the hot sun to get to the point. I distinctly remember one moment when I was tired, drained, and also uncomfortable, just wanting to be there so I could rest. Then I looked up at him ahead as we plowed up a cliffside and thought, “There will be a time I’ll look back to this moment, this experience. That I will wish I was here again doing this climb, on this great adventure. So treasure it now, even in the discomfort, because all of it will eventually be gone.”
Remembering that moment and that sentiment kept me going. It reminded me to value this time because it will pass. It kept me smiling inside, even if it kinda sucked right now.
About a mile from Scissors Crossing, I saw a sign for trail magic ahead. I knew there would be a water cache, and was stoked to chill out in the shade of the underpass from the road. When I got there, I was suddenly transported into a scene of a party: deep house music coming from a speaker, a smiling man who greeted me with a moist towelette, hikers sprawled out on lounge chairs, a mat with foam rollers for stretching, and a dude behind a grill who immediately asked me, “Do you like bacon?”
Talk about overstimulation after feeling a bit delirious in the desert heat. I happily joined in the festivities despite being a bit zonked out. I reveled in every moment of kindness, enjoying it all, knowing I didn’t need to be anywhere else but here.
Later I went into Julian to get a few things I needed, and around 6 p.m. I hitched a ride back to the underpass. Now quiet, there was only one other hiker from South Africa there who decided it was a good place to set up camp for the night. I decided to join him. Sure, I could’ve gotten a few more miles in, but I just didn’t bloody feel like walking anymore that day.
I took my time to set up. I was leisurely with my pace, which isn’t always the case when you still have camp chores to do. I practiced some yoga. I sat on the sand with him to watch the sun set and we shared stories about our lives. Later I watched the stars twinkle before I tucked into my tent for bed.
It’s been both a haphazard and intentional practice with becoming present out here on the PCT. I’m so glad I am though, because I don’t want to miss a damn thing.
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