Pacific Crest Trail Day 8: Morning, Geographic Diversity, and People
I’m hiking with my dear friend Diane, who got her trail name, Guppy, a couple of days ago on her 61st birthday. We have been having a blast chatting about just about everything as we meander along. Guppy is a bit slower than I at packing up camp in the morning, so I take off ahead of her to enjoy the early quiet of the desert.
I can hear my breathing begin to open up as my feet crunch the dry earth with each step. It’s cool in the morning so it feels comforting to be a bit bundled up, but I’m not cold. It feels invigorating. I flush out birds nesting in the brush beside the trail, notice the lizards starting to scurrying about, and occasionally stop to look back over my shoulder to catch the sun throwing more and more color onto the sky. In the morning solo, I get to conceive my day just like any other creature in the wild.
The terrain on the southern PCT seems to change up daily. From broad sweeping hills that come together at narrow dry creek beds, to open meadows with an occasional creek actually showing itself. Leaving the creek beds the trail often stacks upon itself, switchback upon switchback, as we gain elevation. We may be walking from one border to the next northbound, but we will mostly never walk in a straight line.
Some plants are in full bloom and others are working on it. It is easy to consider from a distance that the desert scenery is monotonous, but if one is slowed to a walk with a weighty pack, it is easy to catch all the nuance and life, bustling on the side of the trail. I am always attracted to rocks so I focus on the multitude of colors and textures in the rocks.
Getting closer to Warner Springs we dropped down onto vast open meadows of poppies and a rainbow of additional wildflowers and meadow grasses interspersed with piles of giant boulders. In the middle of one meadow sat an icon of the lower PCT—Eagle Rock. It seems like yesterday that we were at the border. Now we have walked a handful of days and are at Eagle Rock. Baby steps of progress? I’ll take it.
After planning and then hiking an experience as extensive and challenging as walking 2650 miles through challenging terrain, it is natural to feel an instant connection with every person I come upon who has done similar planning and who is doing the same journey. Even in one small way we are soul mates—striving for the same ultimate goal. A goal that in these early stages is tough to get one’s head wrapped around fully. This connection of a similar giant goal breeds empathy—I am instantly in touch with at least a handful of their joys and struggles as they are of mine—even if I have never talked with them. Because of this instant empathy, it feels like every hiker I come upon reaches out in some way to every other, as I do to them. Even when no words are spoken.
I was imagining while walking solo in the early morning light, how the world would be if we could be open to this unseen reaching out to others in day-to-day life. Having empathy for the beauty and difficulty of just being human. It is easy to imagine such things in the wilderness because there is no one here to tell me not to. So I am free to imagine what I wish. When distractions back home seep back in, upon my return, can I still imagine this type of empathy? I’ll get back to you on that one.
I’ll share again soon from places north. In the meantime, I remain measured, steady, deliberate, and open. For all those back home who are walking with me—down your hallway, around your block, or perhaps further—hike on!
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