Challenges of the Trail: Coming to Terms with Competing Needs

Days on trail: 67

Miles completed: 963

Most recent sighting: A bear! (From Bighorn) and a quail (From Bonsai).

As I stare up at the ceiling of our hotel room, I notice a strange sense of growth in the dotted panels above. It’s like that one mind game where you look at a spinning black and white wheel, then turn to look at your hand. If you look at the wheel long enough, it will cause your hand (or any transfixed item) to look as if it’s growing in size and changing shape.

This has been happening to me a lot lately as I’ve spent so much time looking at the same old thing. Just the other day I was hiking closely behind Bighorn throughout the morning, watching my footing carefully over the loose gravel and slippery dirt. Once I realized how long my head had been cocked downward, I glanced up only to notice the same visual sensation occurring on the rock faces across the valley.

One of many views along the trail between Etna and Mt Shasta. For the first time along the trail we can consistently find lakes, a wonderful reminder of our Minnesota home.

Sometimes we loose total track of time and place out here. We’re so dedicated to a bigger goal that we can’t help but keep our heads down and go. I’ve been realizing this a lot more lately and it sparked an interesting but necessary conversation between Bighorn and I.

When it comes to why we’re out here, Bighorn and I have very different reasons that often can’t coincide.

For Bighorn, he wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to challenge himself and have fun, two things he’s usually very good at.

For me, I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to find peace of mind from the constant chatter that fills my head and to have fun, two things I’m very bad at.

When Bighorn says he wants to challenge himself, he means physically. Hiking 30-35 miles a day, pushing past pain and exhaustion to complete the trail faster than we imagined possible, these things resonate with Bighorn.

Inevitably, hiking in pairs comes with some sacrifices. When Bighorn wants to push 30 miles on days where I can’t even imagine going 25, we always have to compromise. This has created a challenge for Bighorn in patience rather than a physical one.

On the days where I compromise more, I find myself so transfixed on pushing mileage in order to satisfy Bighorn’s needs that I can hardly stay focused on the present moment. My mind wanders to how many miles we’ve done, how many are left on the day, how quickly we can get through California, how we’ll get back up to Ashland… anything and everything other than my immediate surroundings.

Mt Shasta off in the distances greets us from time to time, reminding me that we’re not so far away from town.

On these days, especially, I complete my day too exhausted to nourish myself at camp. Journaling, practicing yoga, or meditating go immediately to the wayside as I sit with my tiredness. I hardly have enough energy to do anything other than necessary camp chores and I end up crashing hard, quickly, before giving myself the chance to unwind.

In both scenarios, we both end our day feeling unfulfilled by our experience. With so many sacrifices occurring day to day, we can’t work towards our own goals. We discussed this, trying to come to terms with what it is we’re missing in our experience out here.

As always, even our hardest conversations bring about fruitful solutions. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been struggling to communicate effectively. We pride ourselves on our ability to communicate, so to have such a constant period of bickering between the two of us was really wearing on our state of being. We realized that even though we have different reasons for being out here, we have one commonality that should be working for us.

We both wanted to have fun out here but because we’re so focused on sacrificing and subsequently falling short of our own goals, we haven’t felt like we’re having that great of a time out here yet. Bighorn pointed out that, off trail, we have so many things we love to do together that help us have fun. We love rock climbing, going on bike rides, cooking together or grabbing a drink at the bar, going to trivia every week, playing with our rabbits, the list goes on. Since our life no longer has stability in it, and we don’t have the ability to do the things we love, we need to fill in the blanks and find new ways to have fun together especially on days when we can’t independently work towards our other goals.

We discussed some ways we can make this happen and ultimately we were able to come to a much better understanding. This adventure is really important to us, but what’s more important to us is being successful as a couple in accomplishing our goals. Being independent while in a partnership is something we actively work towards everyday, and we want to believe that despite sometimes competing reasons for being out here, we can make this work and have fun. It might take time, and surely will bring about more challenges, but we’re feeling committed and confident in our ability to find exactly what we’re looking for out here.

We got into Mt Shasta yesterday, a small mountain town in Northern California. The beautiful Mt Shasta has been following us in our journey south since leaving Ashland, and I’ve loved being able to see it from all twists and turns along the trail.

After crossing our last batch of snow in this section I came across a fantastic view of the mountain. I’ve loved seeing Mt Shasta over the last ten days

We’re working to catch up with my parents right now who are section hiking southbound, about a hundred miles away. We’ll be pushing some bigger mile days in an effort to do so and to help make a mid-September end date more feasible. This week should be an exciting one for us- we’ll cross the 1,000 mile mark, we’re entering into a section that has almost no snow, and we’re starting to cross paths with more northbound hikers who we know.

As always we’ll try to update next time we get into town, but until then happy trails!

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Comments 2

  • Patti : Jul 10th

    You are really amazing, and insightful. Relationships do come with some compromise and respect as it sounds like you two are doing.
    I completely understand the chatter and mindfulness is harder to achieve than one would think, right?
    I’m reminded of a hiker we passed last year, ( don’t know his name but we called him the Happy Hiker). Sitting peacefully at the top of some pass, he blurts out to us, as we pass him, “As long as you are at leave with your experience.”

  • Eileen : Jul 11th

    RIGHT ON! Love how you wonderfully your self… your words inspire me. sending lots of Aloha


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