PCT Update – Part 2
Back to trail
After our much-needed time in town, Crunch and I got a hitch from Dodger to Scissors Crossing. I remember feeling super nervous to get back on trail and I couldn’t figure out why. As we started the climb out of Scissors, I stopped on trail, turned to Crunch and started crying. We talked through what I was feeling – it was a flux of emotion, a lot of which didn’t make sense at the time. I started wondering if section hiking was more my speed. I felt out of place and didn’t know why. Crunch asked me if I wanted to go back into town or if I wanted to push on. I decided to push on and said that if I was still feeling like this in the next town, I’d figure out what to do then.
Because we got back on trail later in the day, our plan was to only hike 4.5 miles the first day. Crunch stuck with me that first day and helped me hold everything together. It was super windy, so it never felt super hot, which I was grateful for! The down side is that most of the campsites we found were exposed and not ideal for high wind. We both ended up finding spots to pitch our tents. The wind died down later that night, but still made for an interesting night by getting woken up by high gusts that make you think everything around you was about to come crashing down!
The next morning I got up around 7 am and started packing up. I left camp around 8 and started hiking. Crunch and I had a great rhythm – she hiked faster than me, but took more breaks while I tend to just keep going. She would spend most of the morning catching up to me until we stopped for lunch. Then she could hike out and I would catch her on one of her breaks and just play a great game of leap frog!
Up in all the feels
The second day of this stretch was tough for me, more mentally than physically. Anytime that I would stop to take a rest, I would start sobbing. Like I mean full on ugly crying. After about 5 minutes or so, I would finally find some composure, wipe the snot from my face, and keep going. This was the rhythm of the day and it would happen about 5-6 more times. I was starting to toy with the idea of getting off trail, at least for a while. The thought broke my heart, but I knew I needed to listen to my body.
When I finally got to the Third Gate Cache (about 9.8) miles from where we camped the night before, I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted that any minor inconvenience felt like a major catastrophe. After I got water, found Crunch, and got camp set up, I started to feel better. I ended up seeing Bonnie and Robin again at the cache! I hadn’t seen them since they hiked out after we got to Lake Morena. The trail provided the support I needed in that moment, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Starting to come unhinged
This next section comes with a content and trigger warning – mental health crisis and suicidal ideation.
The next morning, Crunch and I packed up camp and started the 10.2 mile hike to the road to Ranchita – mile 101.2. The day started off ok. My mind was racing, so I put in my headphones to try to drown out the thoughts. Even though the music I had playing didn’t drown out the loudest thoughts, it gave me something to focus on – I mean who doesn’t laugh at the thought of a hiker jamming out to NSYNC on trail?
Everything hurt. My feet hurt. I had chaffing on my back from my pack. My mind was tired. The trail followed the road connecting Scissors Crossing and Ranchita for that whole section. Sitting 2,000 feet above the cars that you would dream would pick you up and take you into town – hitches that would never be. I would find myself periodically thinking that if I rolled off the trail, I might get to the road and then maybe I’d get a hitch. Those thoughts got louder as the day went on. There was a point where I knew if I rolled off the trail that I might not survive and I didn’t care. I invited death. It seemed easier. Less painful. Better than this.
The day continued in that fashion for a bit. As I got closer to the road, I started to see hikers I hadn’t seen since Hauser Creek. I would talk to some hikers as they passed by and they all offered the same sentiment – we want you here. I hope you all know you saved me that day. Thank you.
Some comedic relief
Crunch had passed me as we were about 2 miles from the road. It felt as if the trail would never end. I finally made it to the 100-mile marker, snapped the obligatory photos and continued what felt like a death march to the road. For the last mile, I only had a quarter of a liter of water left. Crunch said that she was going to meet me on trail with some water. The only thing I wanted to do on trail at that moment was sit down and cry, but I told myself that I couldn’t because I would be wasting water through my tears.
I can laugh about this moment now, but in the moment, it was a full-on crisis. Water was what mattered in the moment. I’ve told this story to friends who haven’t backpacked and they don’t get it, but to friends who know the struggle, it’s hilarious!
The trail provides
I had decided earlier in the day that I was getting off trail when I got into town. I needed to let myself heal – physically and mentally. The thoughts I had throughout the day were scary. It had been over 20 years since I had suicidal thoughts and frankly, I didn’t trust myself not to do something self-destructive if I stayed on trail.
Crunch met me about ¼ mile up the trail from the campsite near the road crossing and walked with me into camp. The other hikers who were at camp already lined up at the end of the trail and formed an archway with their trekking poles for me to walk through. It was exactly what I needed to bring me back to the current moment. It was the sendoff I desperately needed.
I had booked a stay at Mountain Valley Retreat, a yoga retreat for PCT hikers. If you are ever in the area, you NEED to stay there! The energy is incredible and Chery and her crew are amazing! I got to spend some time with other hikers and get the relaxation and rejuvenation I needed. Even though I was starting to feel better, I knew I needed to go home.
The realizations and understanding started
My flight home was uneventful, but as I was waiting for my mother to pick me up, I had an “aha” moment. I started to understand why I felt like I couldn’t control my emotions – I was starting to process the loss of my grandmother who had passed exactly a month before I started the PCT.
She was an avid poker player and had taught me how to play at age 7. When I would play with her and her friends, the rule was you needed to have Jacks or better in your hand to play. When I was swapping out my sleeping bag, the brand of quilt that I got was called Jacks R Better. I think that pulled the pin on the dam of feelings I hadn’t processed yet.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve been able to sort through more and more and have been able to put a lot into perspective. I don’t regret getting off trail, simply because it was what I needed at the time. I still make it to mile 100. I’m incredibly proud of myself and everything that I’ve accomplished. I’m not done with the PCT – nowhere close. I’ve fallen in love with the trail and the people around it. It’s the closest I’ve felt to myself in a long time, if not ever. I think, at least for right now, when I get back on the PCT, it will be as section hikes.
One thing is certain – you haven’t seen the last of me.
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