I Hear a Beautiful Symphony in the Call of the Trail

The purest, most enchanting note emanates through the air. Its vibrations course down my body, pooling in the delicate space in the center of my clavicles. I chase the ethereal melody as it beckons flirtatiously, teasing my soul, tantalizing my spirit. The sound cascades, an auditory waterfall, as I part the stream with a pale, freckled hand. My fingers tingle pleasantly and vanish into the serenade. I open my mouth and release my harmony, returning the call. The call of the trail.

A light breeze teases the wisps of hair drifting across my forehead, as I rock serenely in my vivid, pink-patterned hammock. Cicadas buzz in a monotone performance and I hear lizards rustling in jerky movements through the dry underbrush. I fill my lungs slowly through my nose, until they are balloons filled to capacity; then exhale in an aggressive blast through my mouth, pushing until I am empty again. I taste the freedom of the jungle air and smell the petrichor of the morning rain showers.

I have yet to shake the surreality of being in the jungle outside Pucallpa, Peru


Laundry day.

Especially considering the juxtaposition of arriving here from my home-base of Philadelphia, Pa. I traded in the shiny skyscrapers for palm leaf thatched roofs, fluorescent glaring grocery stores for outdoor mercados (markets) bursting with unfamiliar fruit, and fluent English for barely beginner’s level Spanish. The seedling idea of this trip blossomed into fruition on my 2016 adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail, a pact between my trail brother Lapsang and me. It’s hard to believe that a mere year and a half has passed since that promise was birthed. As Lewis Carroll so eloquently put it:

“I could tell you my adventures–beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly: “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

To say I am a different person from my pre-PCT existence would be a horrendous understatement. It’s not even so much that I am a different person, but that I have obtained a clearer vision of myself. Not the person who I thought I was supposed to be, but my true, authentic inner being. The beginning of 2015 was the start of a long (and hopefully eternal) road of self-discovery and healing for me. It was the year that I finally decided that I no longer wanted my life to be ruled by suffering, fear, and pain. I was finished being a puppet on the strings of my emotions; it was a draining, hopeless way to interpret life. The PCT was a large catalyst for my motivation, catapulting me levels beyond what years of therapy and inpatient stays at mental health facilities could not quite attain. Not to denounce their vital role on my path because they were a paramount part of my journey. I could never have accepted the healing the PCT offered without having first learned the skill sets needed to fill my toolbox.

This soul-seeking journey of reconnection through South America is the next step of that path

I have arrived at a crossroads, but for the first time I am not vacillating between which route is the correct road to take. There is only forward, because I have finally granted myself the knowledge and belief that it is what I deserve. For the next three months I will be trekking through Peru, Chile, and Argentina; absorbing knowledge from shamanic maestros in the jungle, backpacking over majestic glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park, being hypnotized by the residual energy of the ruins of Machu Picchu, and drinking yerba mate from my trusty purple gourd.

Me and my tambo.

My main intention of this trip is to manifest self-love, which is nowhere near as easy as the simplicity of it sounds. I have discovered that at my inner core the main antagonist is a parasitic self-hatred that has amassed such a powerful reign that it leaks into every fiber of my being. All these years I blamed my issues on past traumas. I categorized them, fed them, and held them close; they were my false sense of security. Pain and suffering were all I knew, but at least they were something I was familiar with. I would rather doom myself to misery than take the risk of diving off the deep, dark edge of the abyss into the unknown. I wielded my trauma around me like a safety net, fortifying my walls and never letting anyone inside my fortress.

Most therapies and inpatient facilities fed into this misbelief; they tried to treat my symptoms and not the root of my suffering. They medicated and diagnosed, the exact opposite of what I needed. My problems were not my eating disorder, PTSD, self-harm, depression, or anxiety. My problem was a complete and utter lack of self-love. I don’t identify with those categories anymore, which is not to say I don’t have work to do in those areas still, but when I accept these “diagnoses” I am dooming myself to live in-between the confining lines of those categories for the rest of my life. I am not my traumas and they do not define me, nor are they worthy of the power I have granted them in the past.

After these next three months of working toward manifesting self-love, I am embarking on another grand adventure on the PCT

Revisiting the start of it all and walking the same path, but with a different mind-set. My start date is May 3. Many of my trail pals have questioned my choice to dedicate another six months of my life to a trail I have already traversed. It is hard for me to articulate to them that it will not be the same path for me this year, although my footsteps will still leave the same shadows of passage in the dust and mud as in 2016. I was broken then, my gait was unsteady, and my steps unsure. Although I was not completely lost in the depths, I was still unable to fully absorb the experience. I still lacked the capacity to live wholeheartedly and to comfortably make connections. There were certainly exceptions to my lack of skills. I met some truly amazing people who I eventually let behind my guarded walls (including my trail brother Lapsang, who is currently with me in Peru), but it was always the exception and never the rule. All these obstacles gradually improved the longer I was on trail and encompassed by the glorious borders of the PCT. I weaned myself off all of my medications and learned innumerable lessons, crucial to what I was trying to achieve.

This year the trail will have a different purpose. This year I have the capacity to make connections, which is really what the trail is all about. Not only do I have the capacity, but I crave the connections and am not afraid to satisfy those cravings. This year I will be integrating all the lessons I have gathered since that fateful day in 2016, when I took my first steps away from the southern monument and toward Canada. I will be able to give the trail the attention and presence she deserves, because she has already gifted me so much and asked for nothing in return. This year I have finally learned my harmony and perfected its pitch, crescendos, and tempo. This year I finally have the ability to answer the call of trail. I can’t wait to hear our beautiful symphony.

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Comments 3

  • Elaine Cooper : Feb 24th

    Hi Emily,
    Your writing and photography are beautifully poetic and insightful. I’d love to read about your adventures and thoughts on my email. Is Will writing also? I’d love his as well.
    And, the picture of you, your Matador photo…it’s cover of National Geographic worthy. It’s an iconic strong girl beautiful girl image. And photographically the set up is striking.

    I send you both prayers for power, safety, and love.

    • Matador : Feb 24th

      Thank you Elaine! Yes Lapsang and his girlfriend have a blog for their CDT hike starting in June at http://www.thelafoo.com

  • MamaBear : Feb 24th

    Yes! Your journey is inspiring.


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