Pre-PCT Stuff, Like: Hello! (Part Two )

The Logistics

A mere Google search does not a plan denote, though, and with the P.C.T. the permit is the obvious obstacle to declaring your hiking intentions. I tried and failed to get a northbound permit last fall; I successfully snagged a southbound permit this past January. Cautious excitement started brewing but was quickly tempered once I started researching in earnest. Big miles from the jump! Fires everywhere! The constant pressure of time and weather and a bone-dry autumn desert! Southbound on the A.T. was one thing but this seemed legitimately intense! I hung on to the permit as I thought and thought and thought. Could I swing it? Should I try it? Most importantly, did I even want to hike 2,650 miles?

In Opposition to Thru-Hiking?

I’d started to believe that the beauty is in the small details, that one can respect and appreciate nature from a small park in a city just as much as from a towering mountain top. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic was being able to spend longer periods of time with fewer distractions in fewer locations, watching the seasons wind through nature, watching slow growth, watching snow become wet earth that fostered explosive green. I no longer wanted to be in an environment of passive aggressive competitive hiking on a trail strung between arbitrary endpoints established by white men in decades past. Additionally, the act of hiking through a place denotes constant motion, with fewer chances to connect deeply with places, to understand your purpose I .the fabric of the world. Even the best-planned, best-timed, best-weather distance hike requires constant forward motion, sometimes foregoing things like lingering, appreciating, and understanding a swathe of land, recognizing and respecting its original inhabitants and stewards, studying its geology and history, being aware of the fragility and doing our part to conserve it for those who come behind us.

I thought and thought and thought some more.

Truth be told, the more I hiked, the less enamored I’d become with the epically long National Scenic Trails. The pressure to reach certain locations by certain dates, be it for weather or post office hours or holidays, can cause hikers to make dangerous decisions that put the lives of local rescue teams at risk. Articles and posts about how to thwart fire closures, skip reroutes, or frolic across bridges that are structurally unsound exude the same sense of entitlement that I’d resented in restaurant clientele.

Do not misunderstand me: Trails are glorious peripatetic communities that have the potential to allow humans to transcend much of the irrelevant minutiae of day-to-day society. But there are also negative undercurrents: The privileging of the individual experience over the collective benefit and safety of others, the engaging in behaviors that are detrimental to the trail, environment, and surrounding communities due to a lack of pre-hike preparation or unwillingness to believe more experienced people. Five years had elapsed since my first long-distance hiking endeavor: How would I find the trail experience?

So What Did You Do?

At this point you’re probably like, “Lady, why the hell are you flying across the country to hike a trail whose existence you seem to resent, whose culture you seem to despise, whose very existence seems to perplex and frustrate you on a psychological level? Like, if you were a stronger hiker – or had gotten a northbound permit – would you be pseudo-intellectually performing armchair analysis on a poor trail you’ve never even met?!”

This is a fair question. It’s also one I’ll never have to answer because after many a reload of the PCTA Permit Management Portal, I got damn lucky a couple of weeks ago. I was able to change my direction and dates to head north from Campo up towards Canada. The timing aligned perfectly with the natural end of many things – a job, a lease, maybe even a pandemic – and I’ve decided to go.

Okay, But Why?

I don’t subscribe to the belief that hiking trails are otherworldly realms where everyone is treated with kindness, that “trees are not racist,” that all the ills of the world melt away as soon as we measure in miles. I do, however, think that stepping away from our comfortable communities and into a more visceral day-to-day existence can potentially allow people to connect with one another in a more respectful and genuine way. I think hiking with intention and awareness shows us how large the world is, how small we are, how brief our time here truly is. I want to collect my thoughts slowly and deliberately and maybe make something somewhere better. I don’t know what that means yet and I need more time. Hiking for weeks on end is the only way I’ve learned to slow down time.

I want to have long painful days in painfully beautiful places. I want to be delighted and disgusted with the dirt on my hands. I want to cut my legs on cacti, I want to cut my teeth on mountains. I want to walk the spine of the West Coast of this country I was born in and yet feel utterly disconnected from. I want to be terrified, I want to talk to myself, I want to laugh with delirium as I hike into the night, day after day after day.

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