Walking Home

Our PCT through-hike start date is almost here and I find myself thinking a lot about home — the places, people, and states of mind where we feel most at peace and where we also feel part of something larger than ourselves. For me, I’ve always felt that sense most strongly in the wilderness. And as I prepare to leave the comfort and familiarity and ease of the place I call home for months on the trail, I am  excited for and anxious about all that the experience will bring.

Finding home

I’ve lived in ten states and the District of Columbia, and traveled and worked in more than two dozen countries. I’ve called a lot of places home. I’ve found that there are wonderful people everywhere and that there’s something new to learn each place we go, as long as we’re curious and open. There are always new challenges, too, and each time we meet them, we learn we are stronger and more capable than we knew. These days, I live in Washington State. While my children were born in California, it’s here that my husband and I have raised them. It was here that my daughter asked me to through-hike the PCT with her.

Considering home

I’ve lived in Washington longer than I lived anywhere else. It’s from Washington that my daughter went to the East Coast for college and on to Colorado to begin her career, and from here that my son went to California for college and on to Eastern Europe where he’s currently studying. It’s to Washington that I brought my mother from the East Coast after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s in Washington that I hope to finish the through hike at the northern terminus months from now.

My daughter, Reyna, and I begin our hike in merely days. As we prepare to begin, we’ve whittled our gear to the necessities plus a few tiny luxuries. It’s deeply satisfying to look at our final picks laid out, the essentials that will see us through 2,650 miles. It’s freeing and almost euphoria-inducing to think of all that we will not be bringing, of all that we have stripped away in order not to have to carry a heavier-than-necessary load.

Leaving home

When my mother, Cathy, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease as we sat together in her Philadelphia doctor’s office thirteen years ago, I could not begin to imagine what lay ahead. Weeks later, when Cathy asked if she could move to Washington to be with us, I said of course, and understood that it would be up to me to wayfind and build the trail ahead. It was steeper, darker, and much, much longer than I could have imagined. But it also took us to some incredible views and sections of joy and laughter and accomplishment along the way.

In the summer of 2022, as my daughter completed her through-hike of the Colorado Trail, I asked her whether she’d ever do another through hike. She immediately said, “Yes! The PCT with you in 2024.” I thought she was nuts.

Walking home

But then, after twelve very long years of caring for my mother through her decline further and further into dementia, while simultaneously navigating my career, raising my family, and nurturing my marriage and friendships, Cathy died. It was difficult in ways that were unimaginable to me. After more than twelve years of ensuring she never walked alone, I held her hand and walked her to the threshold. And then, she took one last step and was gone.

My daughter arrived a few days later to help with some of the arrangements and within twenty minutes of picking her up at the airport said “So, summer of 2024, you and me and the PCT.” I had not slept in weeks and was more exhausted and worn to the bone than I thought possible. Again, I thought it was a crazy idea.

A few days later, though, as I began to catch my breath and glimpse some light through the dense fog of a slow death, I was overcome with gratitude and enormous, expansive possibility at the thought of undertaking such a journey with my beloved, adventuresome, wild daughter. Yes. Absolutely, yes: PCT, 2024. Together. 

Returning home

I once read that we are always, each of us, walking ourselves home. It occurs to me that the world would be a dramatically different place if we ensured that no one walks home alone.

Accompanying Cathy on her incredibly long walk home was a privilege, and a feat of horror, beauty, endurance, and so much more. 

As Reyna and I prepare to make our way to the southern terminus, I know the home to Washington and the northern terminus will be very long and very hard, in entirely different ways than walking my mother home for twelve years was, and I am overcome with with joy and excitement to begin this particular walk with Reyna.

If I’ve learned anything living in so many different places, it’s this: home is within us. We can choose what to carry, and what to put down, and keep walking home one step at a time. 

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Comments 4

  • Chris S : Mar 26th

    Your journey on the PCT will be both circular and linear. Circular in going back to California where Reyna was born and returning home to Washington. Linear in hiking south to north along the trail, but also into the next stage of your life after Cathy’s passing. A generational passage and a circulation of roles as mothers and daughters.

  • Justin : Mar 26th

    You are both incredible and inspirational! I look forward to updates along the way! Happy trails!

  • Nephi Polder : Mar 27th

    That was a beautiful intro post.

  • Jeff Greene : Mar 27th

    I love your story! My father is dealing with dementia, and my adult PNW daughter has asked me to join her in a MUCH shorter than PCT backpacking trip (her first ever, though we hiked and camped when she was younger), and I hope she gets her permit drawn! I’ll be rooting for the both of you!


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