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Last week, I packed up my exorbitantly overpriced Seattle apartment, jammed everything into storage, bid the job farewell and hit the road. When I moved to Seattle last August, I drove up the coast from my hometown San Diego, so I wanted to switch it up and drive east of the mountains. My route took me through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and finally California, where I’m working on resupply for the next week before heading back to Seattle to start the trail. I wanted to take a two week respite to, you know, take a breath between cubicle life and tent life. Below are some of the highs and lows of the ongoing adjustment period.
Washington is my 10/10 state. I ended up in Washington on a bout of serendipity that brought with it monumental ups and downs. These will be sure to manifest themselves on the trail in one way or another, so I’ll spare the serendipity talk for when it decides to bubble to the surface. In the meantime, let’s discuss what it’s like to leave your 10/10, or at least this moment’s.
I decided I liked the idea of spending my first jobless, homeless night on the PCT, so I drove out to White Pass and camped lakeside among the fly fishermen. The drive out there circled Mt. Rainier, and the clear bright blue of the day meant she was out and proud, stark white against a backdrop of blues and greens, a true beacon of Washington state.
A friend of mine was working trail maintenance along my route, so I stopped by for a visit that ended up being everything I didn’t know I needed. I lay in the grass next to a man who spends months on end living outdoors, as we drank beers and he asked all the right questions about this new life I’m taking on. It almost felt like he was transferring some sort of unspoken, unwritten ode to achieving balance in the natural world, which sounds lame but melded perfectly with my irresolute state of mind. If not that then it was the beer, but either way it felt amazing to connect with someone who “gets” the perma-outdoor lifestyle. I drove off to find a campsite, shut the stereo off, turned to my copilot (aka my dog) and said ‘hey, let’s just be.’ So that’s what we did, and it was a true authentic happiness unlike any I’ve felt in years.
What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. Pay no mind to the vision that the committee made up. You get to make your life. -Cheryl Strayed
Idaho earns a solid 1/10, and it’s only getting that point because the freeway speed is 80 mph. To be fair, my route went through the parts of Oregon and Idaho that neither state wanted, so they just split the difference. Thankfully I’d spent my morning lounging in a lakeside hammock in Washington because there’s nothing to do in that part of Idaho but hide from mosquitoes. As soon as I rolled into my campsite, they were on me within seconds. I didn’t have bug spray, so I ran around my car in a sort of interpretive tribal rain dance while trying to throw on pants and long sleeves, quickly set up the tent and crawl inside – all while attempting to keep the bugs out of my car and out of my tent (unsuccessful).
The experience reminded me of a backpacking trip I went on a few days before a job interview, which I walked into with no less than 8 bites on my forehead in their full histamine glory. It’s an ever-losing battle with those suckers, but hey I got the job!
Pictured above is Zion’s Narrows – spot my dad for scale 🙂
When I was in Cuba last year, I came across the Spanish word ‘patria’ a few times and it’s stuck with me ever since. Roughly translated, patria means homeland, and was part of one of the slogans during the Cuban Revolution: Patria o Muerte. Does this relate to Utah? Not really. But maybe if we rotated 180 degrees from the Cuban Revolution, we’d end up in the Mormon spectacle that is Southern Utah, which is one part of the world that makes up the patria of my heart space.
When I first thought about taking an eastern route down to San Diego, I checked a map and saw that Zion was (or could be) along the way. I got excited; I’d been to Zion the past two years for backpacking and rappelling trips, and had been feeling bummed to miss a trip out to the park in 2017. I swung into Salt Lake City to pick up my dad from the airport, and launched into three days of Southern Utah bliss. We hiked out to the furthest point of Angels Landing, rappelled into stunning canyons and swimming holes, and trudged upstream through The Narrows. And even though I always leave Utah wishing I could do more, just one more day, it was perfect.
I like to think that part of the reason Zion is patria to me is its call to mindfulness. You know that delayed jolt of adrenaline you get when something scares you but your body hasn’t caught up to the fact that everything is okay? Like you lose and regain your footing in an instant, but brace yourself for that full-body tingle that always comes when you have a close call? Mindfulness is like being able to brace for a full-body tingle all the time. It’s being so acutely aware of what’s happening to your body or mind that you’re able to consciously stay or move beyond wherever you are in that moment. Mindfulness is neat stuff.
In Zion, when you’re gripping chains to ascend the last half mile of Angels Landing with thousand foot drops on either side, where else can your mind be? How does it feel to navigate over bowling ball sized rocks through the water of The Narrows? To slosh up on shore and fart water out of your shoes? To look up the walls to the rim, feel the first rays of light find you, enjoy a slight breeze wafting through the canyon?
What’s it like to realize how small you are?
As I drove south on the 15, alt-J crooning Taro in the background, I passed a Pilot station, crossed under a bridge and took in my first view of the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range out there beyond the haze. In some ways, it was strange to think that I had spent the last week driving almost the entirety of what I’d spend the next 4 to 5 months hiking, but in other ways it was comforting too. Seeing those mountains made the whole thing tangible.
Being in my hometown made things feel tangible too. Admittedly, I had my ‘oh sh*t, what have I done?’ moment, but combatted this when I opened up one of Cheryl Strayed’s books to a quote:
Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.
As I sit here and reflect on the week I reserved for respite and the week in front of me that I’ve reserved for resupply, I’m feeling so much gratitude for this opportunity and this soft landing. I’m grateful that I get to be here making my own life.
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