Towards a New Dawn
One week, and I have a chance to try again.
I cannot get that idea out of my mind as I look towards my start date next Saturday. Campo awaits, my flight is booked, reservations are made, and my daily temperature check has been holding steady at 97.7 almost every day.
The path is shockingly clear, reminding me much of the aftermath of thunderstorms in my youth. After the staccato strobing lightning, the ground shaking thunder, and the wind that shook the windows, evoking thoughts of Armageddon, as suddenly as it began it ceased. The world found a strange, yet deep calm, the air was clean and cool, almost as if in the rage of the storm, the day was working some things out.
I miss that calm, that quiet peace. The part of the Pacific North West that I now live in is not known for thunder boomers, but rather, many days of grey that stretch out over our long winters, till one almost begins to forget the blue skies of summer.
Yet those days always come again, as I’ve set out for my road hikes, gone on my morning training runs, I’ve watched the sun rise a little earlier each day, watched the weather turn warmer, even if only by a few degrees, and now, just a few weeks after the official start of spring, my own spring is coming again.
The Long Winter
I was so hopeful last year, and exuberant as I trained; working towards my start date of March the 20th. Those that were following my blog here on the Trek then would recall weekly updates where I talked about my training routine, and how I had become a local hiking cryptid, with my quirky way of dress, and bright purple pack as I roamed the roads near my home, dreaming of long days on the trail.
It felt like destiny then, that my life was reaching the loudest parts of its crescendo, six months challenging myself out there on the trail, sending back my missives to civilization much like the pioneers of old, penning letters to family back east.
The stay-at-home order came down on my start date, sending me home, sending all those dreams crashing down and I did not know at the time if my day would come again, though initially, I was defiant.
It all came to naught though, my year diverged strangely, as I worked to support my friends and family that caught the virus from a distance, all the while, doing everything I could to keep up with my training.
My daily runs became a type of survival mechanism, an outlet for my disappointment and confusion. I felt like I had done everything right only to still come up short, though I could not control the greater storm that raged around me. Still, all I wanted was to be out there, to be going for it, all the while coming to understand that no matter how much I wanted to hike my hike, that would be selfish. It was too much of a risk, and I had to come to accept that. I’ll be honest, that took time.
In my previous blog, I’ve already talked about my injury, as if 2020 was a malevolent spirit, it wasn’t even content to let me have my runs. With my knee blown out, and no decision from the PCTA as to open for permits, the long descent into winter proved to be an especially dark time for me, as I sat in my chair, and brooded, hoped, and waited, not because I was feeling especially patient, but because there was no other choice.
Spring at Last
The first of spring for me was in January, shortly after my 40th birthday, with the opening of permitting for the 2021 season. There I found the strength, and the will to begin my training again, working my way back from my injury, and a type of non-clinical depression that had been weighing on me through the winter.
It’s funny, that 2020 feels decades away now, though it’s only been four months. I feel older beyond the year I’ve aged since then, and my attitude has shifted a bit, as I look towards the trail.
I’m as ready as I can get, prepared as I can get, and I have the debt levels to prove it. In the time that has passed, I’ve learned how to backpack better, pace myself, and know a little bit more about what I’m about.
There have been new friends made and fresh challenges that have emerged on the way, but while last year I felt defiant, almost as if the trail was a type of birthright, now I feel resolved like it’s a destiny that must be faced.
“Your life is your life, know it while you have it,” wrote Charles Bukowski in my favorite poem, “The Laughing Heart,” and for me, I’ve come to understand that’s much of what my hiking is about.
I need to know my life, to live it in fullness while I am alive. One day I will be too old, Gods willing, resting in my chair, with many dreams of brighter days and past achievements to keep me warm as I face an even longer winter. While I can live in fullness, I don’t just want to, but need to.
Hike Your Own Hike
That one cliché is oft-repeated in our thru-hiker community, but the danger of a cliché is that its wisdom can be ignored, and turned into a footnote rather than a feature.
This is going to be a challenging year, and I do understand that there is still encouragement that people delay a year for a myriad of reasons, and if that’s what people decide to do, no judgment, but as the PCTA said in a recent statement, this hiking year presents a unique opportunity to hike the PCT as it once was.
Back in the 90s, it was much quieter on the trails, hikers were fewer, we were much more unknown. Hiker days and the great social experience weren’t fully formed yet as I understand it. The people that got out there were out there for their own reasons. Some came for solitude, others to find themselves, it was a time when thru-hiking was viewed as a more solitary pursuit rather than a social activity.
In short, it was much like hiking is for me now.
I’m all for making friends or having fun in a gathering, but I’m on the trail to hike the trail, to live in the nature that I love so much, and to live deliberately, as Thoreau famously wrote in Walden.
Now, even with the greater challenge, 2021 truly feels like my year, and I welcome you to join me as I share my successes and failures, documented on the Trek.
We’ll see you out there!
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