Dreams, Progress, and Revelations
When I began my shakedown, I was full of bravado, confident that my 15-mile days at the gym, weight lifting, and gear that I had bought left me ready to face the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail.
I was so impatient to get into my shakedown phase, eagerly counting down the days, marking off workouts, announcing proudly on social media each day that it was one day closer.
Then it happened. My first day, and all of my bravado and confidence proved to be nothing more than a blinding fog.
The tent I had chosen didn’t work, my pack left me in agony, then the night froze me solid and soaked me to the bone. Bewildered and shivering the next day, I sat down with my husband for a post mortem of the experience, again wondering what I had gotten myself into.
It was time to make my first choice: persist or turn back.
Deciding to push forward, I went with a different tent, got back on the highway, and fiddled with my pack.
Two weeks into shakedown now, and the bravado is definitively gone. With the days ticking down toward my start date, the Pacific Crest Trail isn’t a dream anymore, it’s an all-consuming focus as I prepare to be as ready as I can for the surprises that await me out there.
I am certain that the trail is going to roll me, that I am going to have some truly bad days, and low moments out there. Two weeks into the shakedown, I’ve also learned that I can face those low moments with a mental attitude not anchored in a forced and false positivity, that I’m ready for anything but a vision toward persistence and progress, come what may.
Call it hope with a side of reality, keeping an eye ever toward the horizons of my goals while dealing with the immediate terrain of challenges before me.
It’s a strange place to be. I’m certainly not afraid anymore. There’s a bubbling excitement as I prepare to leave for Campo, mixed with a lingering guilt that I’m going to be away from my family for so long, but most of what I feel right now is a resolve, and a need to be out there on the trail.
This is no longer something I want to do; it is something that I must do. In the absence of my fading bravado, a fierce but steady drive has risen in its place that I have to make it Canada, come what may.
The trail is going to change you? It seems in some ways that it already has.
That, however, is not all that I have learned in this shakedown phase.
For the past two weeks, my days have largely been the same. They start at 4:30 a.m. I run through morning calisthenics, pack up the gear, break down the tent, eat a quick breakfast, and then get on the trail.
Every day, it’s the same 15 miles into town and back, along the same roads. Cars whoosh by as I move at a steady pace along the shoulder, making my way toward the park. Three hours there, three hours back; following the Cowlitz River much of the way.
After the first few days, the novelty was gone. By the end of the first week, I was learning to be truly grateful for my podcasts and my audiobooks, if for no other reason than to beat back the boredom.
Every day it’s the same thing; the sound of my trekking poles ticking like a metronome, marking off the seconds of my journey.
Three hours to the park… Two hours to the park… One hour to the park…
Still, I’ve kept it up. 7.5 miles there, 7.5 miles back. The loop, much of my life now, has become a daily patrol.
And I’ve grown to love it.
The movement, the weather, the subtle way the day changes as I progress through it. It all sings to me; watching sea lions come up in the Cowlitz River, while bald eagles and gulls skim over the top of the water.
These are all things that I never noticed driving along that very same highway in my truck. They were things I would have never witnessed had I remained reclusive and isolated in my home as I was for almost three years.
There was beauty, real beauty, in the patterns of life along the sides of a busy highway, and it was only through my daily routine of getting out there with the slowness of my walking trek, that I was finally able to see it.
To my surprise, far from becoming monotonous, I’ve come to cherish those daily road hikes. While the larger notes, landmarks and rhythms are the same, the key ever changes, the tonality of those notes change with each passing day. What seemed like drudgery at first, has proved to be anything but. Every day is different, even if the route is the same. There’s always something new to witness, discover, or experience.
And how much more will this hold true on the trail? Out in the wildlands, amid the grandeur of nature with all its wonders, far from the terrifying cars, and the irregular highway shoulders.
Mud and dirt, the stars at night, the constant presence of wildlife, and there I am, among the symphony, learning by rote repetition and daily rhythm to truly experience it all, to truly live within those moments.
It is the call of the trail, the love of beauty to be found in the world, and it is one of the things that I know will help propel me forward toward the Northern Terminus.
I have learned, ultimately, that I love being out there. The trails are calling and I must go.
Onward! Toward the farthest star!
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