Camaraderie Comes As Miles Pile Up

I’d seen photos of the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail countless times. The photos always represent a journey, a looming dream waiting to be realized. Yet, something always remains missing when viewing these photos. They are not representing my own dream, as I am sitting somewhere distant while viewing the photos. Finally, on a bright sunny Sunday with a gentle breeze, the monument lay bare before me, steps from the raggedy wall that represents the division of Mexico and the United States. I touched it and nearly felt visions of the next couple thousands miles dance in my mind. I was finally ready to put these constructed images aside and experience my own dream. What lay before me was a complete mystery. I left my expectations at the monument and took my first steps.

As with any large goal, it needs to be approached as eating a whale ought to be. One bite at a time. Shout out to Professor Morsella for the imagery. So, to put everything into perspective, I surveyed the map for the next 20 miles and wandered off. The temperature was perfect. I sauntered rather than flew over the first miles, letting the wonder seep into my being. I find that when I approach the outdoors with a glass half full attitude, it quickly continues to fill until overflowing. As I left at 3 p.m., I decided to stop after 7 or 8 miles and camp with a stunning view to ease into my venture. I looked off over the mountains, watching birds glide in the breeze as the sun set. A yellow hummingbird even hung around my camp for a few hours, as if keeping an eye to ensure my voyage was smoothly beginning. The solitude was welcome.

The next two days were full of much the same. Walking, solitude, and nature in all its glory. The weather declined rapidly to subfreezing temperatures. Misty mountains seeped chilling waves through me when given the opportunity. I got bundled up, handled business, and kept walking. It was after three days of this misty cold that I finally realized why my once overflowing glass had seemed to spill off the side of some mountain I’d recently climbed. I hadn’t really connected with any hikers yet.

Community

At last, on my fourth morning, a spry young gentleman slid past my solo campsite as I was finishing packing up. We got to chatting and found ourselves hiking together the next few hours. He was a certified adventurer out of Vancouver Island. He shared tales of travel in Nepal and New Zealand among other places, descriptive and humble. We joked about words we didn’t understand from one another, and discussed dreams outside of trail life as well. All of a sudden the 40 degree chill didn’t seem so cold. Laughter and connection can warm you in a way even a down jacket cannot (although please do not rely on it to save your life).

We parted ways as he wanted to stop for some hot food and I aimed to continue through the misty afternoon. I took the glow of our communion over the next handful of ridges. I found myself taking a break about an hour later on a welcome log just off trail. Then meanders up a smiley woman whom I quickly find out has come from Australia to pursue her dream of thru-hiking the PCT. In a fortuitous turn, I find myself hiking with her the next few hours. From three days of solitude to a day full of communication. We joked and laughed, shared our feelings and goals, and developed a rapid kinship as the trail tends to do. Shortly after we quieted as a light rain fell, temperatures dropped to about 40 degrees, and the winds began whipping. This very recent stranger and I were now a few layers from death, experiencing the trail together in a meditative state, always keeping on.

A few miles later we arrived at a large opening where a few other hikers had set up. We joined them, shared the day’s events, and got to setting up our abodes for evening. One hiker helped my Australian friend repair a broken zipper on her tent. Another gave tips on how a hiker could care for his aching knees. Yet another hiker gifted his vegetable soup that he found less than tasty to a hiker who tried it and loved it.

Community sprung up spontaneously, and I remembered again what the trail means to me. It is not only about discovery of oneself, but the discovery of kindness, kinship, and love that comes from sharing a wild and grand adventure. All of the hikers I meet enrich my life and experience of the trail and I can only hope that I can do that same for them. Happy hiking everyone.

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