Ruminations on the First 700 Miles
Campo to Kennedy Meadows
On June 9th, 42 days after leaving Campo, CA and the Southern Terminus of the PCT, we hiked into Kennedy Meadows. 702.2 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a big milestone for PCT thru-hikers. It marks the end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra. This goal was what spurred us on when the heat and wind and monotony of the desert felt like it would never end. I was ecstatic to be done with the desert section but just could not quite feel as accomplished as I hoped I would. The thing was… I only hiked about 500 of those miles. I couldn’t help but feel like an imposter as I was cheered into the Kennedy Meadows General Store by my fellow hikers. Did they know I hadn’t done as much as them? Does everyone else feel like I cheated? This had been something I struggled with throughout the first six weeks of hiking. Was I really a thru-hiker?
It has taken a lot of mental and emotional effort to come to terms with how my hike has gone. Ultimately, I know I did the right thing by listening to my body and taking time off. And it has probably saved my hike. I guess this is the wisdom that comes with age?
Speaking of Age…
Starting out from mile 0, I was hiking with my husband, who has a thru-hike under his belt (and is just a beast when it comes to hiking), and a group of people 10-20 years my junior. Early on, they were able to put in big miles and my pride agreed I could keep up. Turns out, my body had insufficient funds for the checks my ego was writing. There is a saying amongst thru-hikers: hike your own hike. I didn’t at the start and it almost cost me my hike. I had to take a six-day rest in Tehachapi because I, quite literally, had to be carried down the final mile of the hike into town.
Now my body finally feels good. I am still tired and sore at the end of the day, but it is not the pain of injury. I had to learn how to be realistic about where I am at in life, the shape my body is in, and how long it takes me to recover. Because there are people 10-20 years my senior who are still rocking it out here, and I want to keep going for many years to come.
Hiking Your Own Hike… As a Couple
My husband and I are still learning how to do a thru-hike together. It’s not as easy as you might think. But after 700 miles (he has hiked them all), I think we are figuring it out. We have come to a happy medium of some hiking together at my pace and some letting him go alone at his. We are communicating better about what we each need to enjoy and maximize our hike. We are making joint decisions about our mileage and resupply plan. I am becoming more comfortable with him pushing my limits and he is becoming more at ease with letting go of a set plan.
The Desert Is Not My Favorite Place
When picturing this hike in my head it was all alpine lakes and mountain meadows. Turns out, 700 miles of desert is the price of admission to those beautiful sights. We call it the desert, but it is actually more diverse than wide stretches of sand and rock you might imagine. There is beauty in the land we traversed: flowers blooming from rocky soil, gnarled and twisted trees making interesting shapes, and awe-inspiring geology.
I actually prefer the dry heat of Southern California over the humidity of Iowa and South Carolina where I have spent most of my life. But the destruction from previous forest fires, the death of trees and other plants that cannot survive in an increasingly arid climate… those things made me sad and angry. The sand and the wind frustrated me. The sun burned me and forced our hiking hours into the morning and evening to beat the heat of the day. After just a few days in the Sierra section, I am already so very glad to be moving farther north.
Trail Magic Is Real and Angels Do Exist
It is so amazing how many people who are not current hikers want to be a part of and aid the hiking community. From offering rides to providing cold water to opening their backyard to hikers to camp, trail angels make our journey so much easier. Some will refuse to let you give them so much as $5 for a ride and I know I would not be hiking still without their generosity. It is inspiring to see how many good people are in this world, despite what we may see in our social and traditional media about our “divided” country.
Hiking is a Dirty Business
I have become extremely accustomed to being dirty. VERY dirty. Dirt and sand get everywhere: ground into your palms, stuck between your toes, built up behind your ears. Sunscreen layered with dirt and sand covers my legs and when I use hand sanitizer before dinner… well, can you call sanitized dirt clean? Did that M&M just fall on the ground? Well, it’s no dirtier than when it was in my hand so… the five-second rule is in full effect. In addition to the dirt, there is a level of funkiness one can only achieve by sweating for days in the desert without showering. We get used to our own smell for the most part, but every once in a while that stench will still smack you in the face and make you glad you are not in an enclosed space.
Have I made thru-hiking sound appealing yet?
I read other blogs and posts where people say they love everything about being on trail and there is nowhere else they would rather be. Honestly, there were many days I could think of a lot of places I would rather be. So I won’t blow smoke about how “I love every second of the journey.” I have not. But I have grown as a person and learned a lot about myself. I am learning to voice and guard my boundaries. I have come to recognize my resilience. I have been humbled by injury and I have been amazed at what my body can do. I have cried tears of anger, frustration, and pain. I have laughed and smiled and stood in awe of my surroundings and the people with whom I share the trail. While I miss my dog and showering more than once per week, I WANT to remain on trail. I want to see what else is out there for me to learn and feel. I want to challenge myself to be more open to others, to be kinder to myself, and to see just how far I can go. Not just physically but in a deeper sense that doesn’t quite translate to paper. So, let’s hike on!
See you down the trail.
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You are walking the literal journey of ones quest for the meaning of life. Your truth and your vulnerability about what it is really like out there is awe inspiring! And I love the word “WANT” ….you want to keep walking…no force, no pressure. You are amazing!!!!!!! You have so many behind the scenes who believe in you and that your journey will be the exact perfect journey for you!!
Wow ! What incredible people to take on such a tremendous long, loh journey 👏! Really amazing and inspiring. I love hiking myself and have thought about something similar. A hike of long proportions. But as I am aging ,at 63 I think my tone is limited. Then on the other hand I still think 🤔 about it often . Great people, hikers to take on an amazing journey on the path. Hats off thought all and God be with you 🙏 on your remaining journey. 🙏