Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Site

I started blogging angsty poetry as a teen on everyone's favorite site, Xanga. A few years later I discovered Blogger and shifted everything over, recording various adventures in different blogs.
Now, I'm switching again. At the behest of some, and the lure of better site tracking, (not to mention the fact that several of my heroes keep their blogs there), I'm scooting my trend-following butt over to Wordpress.

The fact that you "follow" my site and hopefully draw some sort of enjoyment from what I write, is why I do it, so feel free to check out my new site and like or follow or comment, or whatever it calls that kind of stuff:

See, I can't even figure out how to make the link turn blue and be underlined so you can just click on it. Or maybe Blogger is mad at me for turn-coating. I'm sorry Blogger, you've been good to me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Into the arms of Love

This morning Syd gave me a booklet of quotes she had collected. In purple marker she titled the booklet, "Words of Wisdom For You while catalogue shopping." One of the quotes reads, "She wasn't where she had been. She wasn't where she was going...but she was on her way."

Rather abruptly. I found myself in downtown Vancouver. Suddenly the only people who would make eye contact were the kind of folk with whom you don't necessarily want to be making eye contact. My familiar trail dirt was replaced by the skeezy scum of public places in a big city. A hooker leered at me from across the top of the cop car against which she was pressed while being cuffed. Men hooted at me in a variety of languages. China Town in Vancouver. Great. I quickly found an economy hotel with two locks on the door, no window and a small TV. I locked myself in and wondered. Where was I? Who was I? The identity which I had spent so many miles building; The confidence which I had earned. It felt like I was trading on a bunk currency.
The next day I jumped on the bus to Seattle. I was both frightened and in mourning. The palpable life of my PCT journey was over.

When I arrived at the Amtrack station in Seattle, Dan and Edward were waiting. As they wrapped their arms around me, the spaces of my self which had shrunk away, welled back up and I felt whole. I felt comforted. I felt loved. They had brought balloons and flowers and doted in a way which simultaneously made me blush and made my chest puff up.
Allow me to back track: through the end of the bad weather days, when my appetite was ravenous, and even through the final wonderful weather days on the trail when food fantasies were prevalent, I often ventured back to this All You Can Eat Mongolian restaurant where Dan and Edward had taken my family when we visited, some 5 years ago. I had eaten myself sick and when Anna came to check on me in the bathroom, she found me rejoicing at the realization that, having just emptied my stomach, I could eat all over again!
Flash forward, I was craving that restaurant again, but this time I had earned my merit and would hold my own. I had not yet worked myself up to asking the uncles to take me there. On our ride back to Renton, Uncle Dan glanced over at me and he casually suggested that they wanted to take me out to eat and there was this Mongolian place down the road from their house. It seems my stomach had been pulling some strings in the cosmic connections department!
The next day I found out that Rif-Raf and Shannon had just caught a bus down to Seattle as well. Now, here's the deal, we are used to coordinating rendezvous in tiny towns; places where crossing paths is all but inevitable. Our skill set was not gauged to Seattle caliber. However, with a great deal of patience and commitment from Uncle Dan, we met the boys at the bus station. From there he dropped us all off at Pike Street Market where we randomly encountered Princess and Lip and her parents. We chatted on the corner; a small huddle of familiarity in the midst of bustling indifference and sound pollution. The girls headed off, we bid our final set of goodbyes.
Then, as coordinated by cell phone contact, Frog and Nancy found us. It was so wonderful to see their faces again. Well, Nancy's face at least. I really only saw about half of Frog's, as he was sporting a beard which would put a Russian to shame (but I was very happy to see the half which I did=P). Seriously; the thing was epic. We ate and shared stories, as we had been separated from Frog for the final leg of the trail. I watched each of their faces, trying to memorize them. For a while I was incredibly aware as our time together grew shorter. Then I thought, "Fidgit, get off your little 3rd person observer could and BE with your people." As soon as I committed to that, time became irrelevant, but flew by anyway. Suddenly, our time was up and the uncles were there to take me home. Rif-Raf had a plane to catch. The others had hotels to find. It happened just like that. The family disbanded, already on our ways to being stories and cherished memories. Each moving into unrealized futures.
While the uncles were open to my spending more time in their home, I ran. The conclusion of a long trail was a new experience for me. I have arrived at and subsequently left many places, both physical and mental, many times but I don't know that I will ever become accustomed to it. I have, however, become familiar with the process and know that abrupt periods of sedation are open pockets for depression to ooze in and fester. Terrified, I scuttled on to a plane to Duluth, Minnesota.
Again, the voyage cast me adrift anonymous, but I moved with less trepidation this time. Well, actually I was just really distracted. See, I had taken an orange for the airport and decided to eat it while waiting for my flight. Now, Rif-Raf can attest that even when armed with my pocket knife all I end up with is a gore of pulp and juice running over my hands. Factor in airport security and my trying to peel this thing by hand and, well...having been so fixated on peeling the darn thing it wasn't until I was trying to tilt my head to approach the massacred corpse of orange at such an angle as to minimize the dribble on my chin that I noticed several other passengers watching, aghast. I hustled off the the restroom to wipe juice off my arms, elbows, chin, neck, etc. and just barely made last call onto the plane for which I had been "waiting" for over an hour.
So, yeah, if you're ever trying to escape from fear, a messy job of an orange is a good place to hide.

Syd and grandpa were waiting for me at the nearest point possible. Again I was ensconced in love. Again I was treated to all you can eat; Olive Garden soup, bread sticks, and salad. Heavenly. Grandpa insisted on informing everyone who came within 10 feet of us that I was his granddaughter who had just hiked 2500 miles. Again and again I blushed. I have never been one to shy from credit for my own accomplishments but I just don't know how to fill this one.
I have spent a week up at Syd's beautiful home on the lake. I sleep a lot; I meander out onto their many trails to walk, run, or bike. Sometimes Ruff and Ready (their two, tiny dogs) escort me, sometimes I go alone. Each day we are blessed with marvelous temperatures and blue skies. I have purchased a car, gotten my hair cut, and glasses; tools I will need to move into this next place/phase. At night I dream that I am still on the trail and wake up surprised to find myself in a bed contained within solid walls. Using a toilet has been an adjustment. Each evening I have to empty my pockets as I am still in the habit of keeping trash there. I am embarrassed at what a challenge it is to pedal a bike. I have to keep track of how much I eat. I have plenty of time for yoga and a beautiful stretch of flat, green grass looking out over a lake on which to practice. I get and give hugs and kisses several times every day. Syd and I sit up talking into the wee hours of the morning. Grandpa explains more about my car than I can hope to process in a single spell. He warns me of serial killing truck drivers and reminds me to wear my seat belt on the drive home. I head for Kansas City tomorrow.

I have been congratulated on my accomplishment. Certainly I am proud and fulfilled. I feel better connected to the source of my own strength and while moments can certainly still overwhelm and make me feel far from it, I am certain that strength come from within. Not defined by others' opinions or assessment, I recognize the infinite source of my own worth. Infinite, and in constant need of being fed and nurtured, allowed to breathe; open to helping and being helped, as that exchange is integral to healthy growth.
Yet, as I prepare to return to my home, to my family and friends, I am faced with overwhelming Reality. Those same people who effusively congratulate me on hiking the trail are wrestling with challenges a thousand times more difficult. Matters out here are complicated by so many factors. On the trail, my direction was always clear. The path was not necessarily always evident, but I could make an educated guess based on the lay of the land. Out here, in 'the real world', it seems like struggles are more akin to my experience on the 'knife's edge', being lost in fog. Some situations seem to stand with no real path, no resolution in sight, all we can do is fortify ourselves to push on through. Words of comfort fall, hollow and asinine before being spoken. I can only promise to stand close at hand and offer support, even as I have been given so much love and support throughout my life. If nothing else, together we can sustain ourselves and know that time will continue to do as it always has; we just have to survive long enough to be there for it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

...and then...

The weather gods smiled on us and beamed generous blessings on our endeavour. We awoke each morning to blue jay skies and hiked through crisp, autumnal air. The days would warm as we contoured along the valley walls. Climbing through the turning leaves of huckleberry and blueberry shrubs. Beneath the yellow pine needles of the larch against the evergreens.
It has been an incredible gift to move through such a wide variety of ecosystems through three seasons. The words for the colors in desert spring: red, orange, yellow; are the same colors present in a Washington fall. Yet, creating such a very different atmosphere. For weeks now the awareness of changing season has been upon us. Fortunately the weather remained moderate but days grew noticeably shorter at a quick pace. It remained dark and chilly later into the morning and the sun left us earlier and earlier each evening. As we propelled ourselves toward wintering quarters, so too did the animals prepare themselves. The mice had a growing desperation to seek and gather food; so strong an inclination that it outweighed their fear of being swatted. They became more aggressive in their advances on our food. Of Rif-Raf, Shannon, and I, all three of us ended up with holes in our tents. My visitor fortunately just came in to make a few laps and as too courteous to gnaw into my food. However, he was also too prim to use his entrance door as an exit and so chewed a second doorway less than an inch away.
Shannon seemed to be engaged in battle the most. One night he awoke to hear a visitor taking a tour of his tent and so, as an act of defense, he ate his entire 'crack bag' (a ziplock bag filled with an assortment of hand picked candies) because, well, better him than the mouse. In the morning we all approved of this as very sound logic.
Rif-Raf was our most aggressive warrior; even going so far as taking the life of a rodent nemesis. Again, while the rest of us certainly cold sympathize with his justification, Shannon and I were more likely to attempt to lure them away or buy them off, offering up peanuts, dirty pots and other tidbits to try to distract them rather than to engage in direct combat.
The bears also have been preparing for winter. On one particular, drizzly difficult day Shannon and Rif-Raf and I were stopped for a break, trying to figure out how we could catch up with Frog who was some 12-20 miles ahead of us. As the prospect of the mileage we would have to push weighed upon our weary minds and bodies, I felt drained. Maxed out. But my boys were there and spoke gently and encouraged me with their own sense of determination, so onward and upward we trudged. Up into the hanging meadow bowls above the trees. Into fields of ripe and overripe berries. There we quickly came upon a momma black bear and her cub. They were a safe distance up the hill so we moved slowly and deliberately, speaking to them and snapping pictures. Not but five minutes later, just as we began to regain speed, there appeared another berry field patchworked in the brightest shades of fall and dotted by three large, black, moving spots. As we came closer, the features on the bears stood out. Judging by their sizes and behavior it was a large momma and cub, while the third figure seemed to be a single male. When they became aware of our presence and made an initial pretense of running away, their heavy coats shambled around their bodies, the black catching in the sun, giving off tints of red and brown. Quickly exhausted by the effort to run, we could hear them huffing heavily. Quizzical, long faces watched us warily; even as we did the same to them.
The next morning we continued through the high bowls (which were actually only at 5000-6000 feet but feeling much the same as 10,000 feet would in the Sierras). We passed through an area densely populated by unafraid, silver backed marmots. As we began to traverse down, we passed a young single female, not more than 3 years old, foraging on her own. Within 12 hours we had each more than doubled our bear sighting counts. It was spectacular.

As we came within days of the border, our motivation changed. Every day we gave thanks for the blessing of the weather; how could such a gift not be construed as heavenly approval of our efforts? A reward. A goodbye kiss. With all the same passion and melancholy. I paused often, looking backward and forward. Rotating slowly, attempting to infuse myself in that place and moment thereby allowing it to emblazon on my soul. I do this often throughout my life, in special moments. It never sticks as thickly as I would like but it does leave an imprint.
Then, at 8:07 pm on October 1st, there we were. Just as night fell we began down a small group of switchbacks. While our eyes had adjusted to the dim and we were not wearing our headlamps yet, a bright light shone around from below us. We wondered whether it might be a border patrol of some sort. But no, it was just little Miss Pony, our friendly local pyro. She had just accidentally thrown her pen into her campfire and returned to the monument to dig another out of the receptacle there. The marker which stands at the northern terminus is identical to that at the southern. The only difference being that rather than standing in an open desert near barbed wire and a 15 foot tall corrugated fence, this one is placed in the middle of a road wide strip cut out of the thick trees, running up and across the hills; the only demarcation of a border at all.
For just a fraction of an instant was I able to taste the reality. Tears welled up and I laughed. So this is what I had been working so hard for all of these months. For this, I had risked my life. It was just exactly right. Just that tiny hint of comprehension and then it was gone and I was standing in the forest at night with my friends celebrating an accomplishment which we had all admitted was beyond our comprehension.
That night, as we sat around the campfire I looked at those around me and gave such a deep thanks. I was incredibly honored to be finishing the trail with three individuals who now had two thru-hikes under their boots. To be one of them and to share this with each and all.
The next day was another 8 miles to the nearest civilized establishment, Manning Park Canada. It, as with the following couple of days, was anticlimactic at best. In Manning Park we encountered other hikers and sort of moved around, purposeless. Who were we now? Why bother to tell our story to the tourists passing through? They didn't seem to believe and even when they did, their congratulations felt almost innocuous.
Shannon explained it best when he spoke of each hike as being a life in and of its own. The idea is born and, with time, gives way to action. The experience of investing in its life. The blessings and tribulations. Gaining from each. We grow and learn within it and are defined by it. It matures and we gain confidence, it becomes routine and we are good at it. Then we recognize that it is not infinite, that soon this too shall pass and so we seek to hold on to the moments. Then. It's over. And we mourn. And we celebrate. And we gather ourselves together and each of us asks, "where to from here?"

Monday, October 4, 2010

In the same way that dismal weather can make the distance between yourself and hope seem like an eternal expanse, a single day of sun obliterates the drear. To elucidate this difference, I must go back a bit and re-itterate some matter which I have covered in a previous post.

I had pushed through weeks of rain and loneliness, my first respite came in catching up to the boys. It had been a day of constant overcast and drizzling misery. I did not want to stop to fill my water bottles because, well, who wants to drink cold water when being drenched in it. Furthermore, my Aquamira solution needs five minutes to mix and sitting in the rain, waiting for that did not appal to me either. Against my better judgement, I just pushed on. Trudging through the pools of mud on the trail. It was really a crap-shoot whether to just walk right through the puddles on the trail or to tiptoe through the sopping grass and shrub on either side. I climbed, I dropped; I climbed, I dropped.
Going on five hours of hiking without a break, without drinking, trying to convince myself that the power bars I was eating were enough. I began ranting out loud; airing frustrations I had with middle school nemesis's, re-creating mighty feuds in which I was the only contender. These were not amoung my proudest moments on the trail, but they were very real and present and powerful. I learned that there are moments when you have to take the joy and power of your spirit and hug her small and tight into the deepest spot in your bosom and allow the storm to rage around it, so long as the winds of that storm are blowing you forward, maintaining momentum. Knowing that soon they will pass and your true self will take the helm again. I was absolutely focused on forward momentum because I knew I needed my family if I was going to make it these last couple hundred miles. Because I know I am not crazy but sometimes it feels better just to let yourself act that way, I did. I laughed defiantly at the skies, I got the joke and was not amused.
Yet another climb and I was looking down at the trail in front of me. Suddenly between my feet was a note in a plastic bag, it said "Fidget camped here." I was livid, there was another Fidget on the trail? What was she doing camped here. I looked over and the offending character even had the exact same tent as me. Wait, Shannon had the same tent as well. Wouldn't that make more sense? Reason began to seep back in to my thoughts. I hurried over and sure enough, Shannon's head popped out and smiled up at me. I grinned back and informed him that I had gone mad temporarily but as soon as I drank a liter of water I would be much better. He allowed me that space and quickly I brought myself back to a level of lucidity wherein I could rejoice at having caught up.
There is a reason these people are called trail family. It is something which goes beyond what words could ever hope to explain. They are your sanity when you just can't hold on. They are your motivation when you have lost sight. They are your sense of humor when you've gone flat. Because of them you are not alone. Because of them you know it is okay to struggle, because we all struggle and we all band together to pull ourselves through. Over these final weeks we have often discussed a truth which has become abundantly evident to us; that humans are social creatures. We band together and generate a strength greater than that which any individual could.
In fact, the weather gods smiled on Shannon and I's rejoining and we awoke the next morning to clear blue skies. By early that afternoon, we caught up to Frog and Rif-Raf along a beautiful ridge, looking across at the mighty Northern Cascades, mountains which struck a chord in each of us. A chord which ran as deep as the valleys themselves. From the forested gutter where the trees grew and the rivers ran, up the talused bowls carved out so many years ago (yet quite young in a geological sense) to the peaks which comprised the horizon. The range across the valley ran like the graph of a heart monitor.
We dropped down into the bottom of the valley and followed along the river down to a connecting road where we were able to get into Skykomish. There we rested at the Dinsmore's. I got to see LaDeana and the girls. We ate at the welcoming little cafe in the minuscule, once upon a time logging town, and hid from more dreary weather.
On the morning we had planned to set out, the boys were all packed and went to the cafe for breakfast; I felt uneasy and stayed at the Dinsmore's. All the other hikers were out and about so I had the garage space which was our turf to myself. I began to clean and it made me feel better. I also felt the tired weighing down. When Rif-Raf came back to see if I was ready to go, I informed him that I was not, that I would try to make it out that afternoon and catch them but I just couldn't bring myself to move. He left and then returned with Shannon. They had decided to stay with me. Frog pushed on, aiming to make his set finishing date and meet up with Nancy.
Shannon, Rif-Raf and I made it out the next day. We sat under a tree in a mountain meadow peering morosely out at drab skies. The will to push on was waning. The weary was heavy on us all but forward we pushed. As we never seemed able to make it out of camp before 7:03 am (no matter how early we awoke), we pushed late, often hiking into darkness.
It was difficult but there was such strength in being together.
The terrain continued to be challenging, especially as we came into a valley which had been washed out by a mud slide recently. While Yogi's guide waned us of hundreds of massive blow downs and no bridges, it seemed the forest service folk had been hard at work and the trail was mostly cleared and rebuilt, the only challenge was the Suiattle River, as there was still no bridge. I crossed quickly on a large log which swayed underfoot, Rif-Raf and Shannon thought more carefully and chose a log further upstream. I watched from the far bank as they meandered up along the water; I came to appreciate how minuscule we truly are as they passed behind massive trees which had been uprooted and thrown downriver like matchsticks in the flood which had passed.
During one of these days we sat high up along the mountain ridges, in the wind and again under threatening skies. We all felt beat up and tired. We took a miserable break in a little wind tunnel area of the trail and then moved on again, coming around into mountain bowls, patchworked with fall colors and berry bushes. As we came into the first, I looked uphill and saw a momma black bear and her cub. Five minutes later we passed above another field where three bears grazed lazily. It was such an affirmation of our efforts. A gift, encouraging us forward in our efforts.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September in Washington

The rain keeps tumbling down. Some days ago I was hiking with Sneezes and Hot Mess. As we traversed the ridges of the cascade mountains through swirling fog and spattering rain, they informed me of the hiker coalition which they have formed. It is called T.H.A.W. Thru-Hikers Against Walking. A school of indoctrination which encourages hikers to walk as little as possible. i.e.- Never go off trail for water.
Never go more than 50 feet off the trail to camp.
When in town, acquire centrally located accommodations which minimize the amount of town walking, as those miles don't count.

Truly what is getting most of us through these last hundreds of miles is allowing ourselves these sardonic ruminations. Taking comfort in that we are all in the same boat. (With the amount of water running down the trail, we may as well be in boats. Inner tubes at the very least.
The terrain has again become difficult, making a 25 mile day a challenge to cover, but we do it. At this point in the game, with the aid of power bars, I can walk 4-5 hours without stopping. I do this because stopping means getting cold and even more wet. Once I start walking again, it takes at least 45 minutes to get myself thawed enough to be able to use my extremities. String cheese wrappers are the bane of my frigid fingers. Whoever is the fellow who labels things 'easy open', well, I would like to bring him up here for about a month, just to get a taste. Let him try to work buttons and buckles with numb, weak fingers. No matter how many times or how much you focus on sending the commands to your digits, they just won't work. Let that guy try to open a wrapper or packet of hot chocolate. Then, may he spend the rest of his life trying to peel shrink wrap off of CDs.
Despite the daily challenges, or perhaps in light of them, I am keenly aware of the tremendous blessings. A few days ago I caught up with my trail family. Rif-Raf, Shannon, and Frog were three faces which brought sunshine to my heart when I caught them. Other dear trail-friends as well, such as Princess, are moving in the vicinity as well. Recollections of encountering the people around me, thousands of miles ago lends a certain strength to our bond. This is made even stronger by the fact that we are all fighting our way through the same conditions. I cannot emphasize the power of community enough. Certainly without them I would not be at this point today.
Another major blessing are my blood family. The night I rolled in, LaDeana and the girls came up to see me. Having already had a full day, they loaded up into the car and drove well over an hour to bring me cheer, and love, and food. We chatted over pizza and I drank in their beautiful and brilliant faces. Listening to the girls' laughs and seeing how they are growing into such kind, polite, generous human beings. I am honored to be a member of such an astounding family.
A final source of strength for me, is you all. Knowing that you stand behind me, encouraging, hoping, supporting. I cannot begin to explain how many times my thoughts wander to those back home and around the world who are rooting for me, and at the moments when I cannot find the strength in myself to push on, well, I draw on you.
I head out under cloudy skies and banks of fog, beginning the final push. I am terrified and elated. Nervous and hopeful. Sometimes all at once. While I know I have walked 2475 miles to get to this point, I cannot wrap my mind around it as a unified concept. I know I have done it. I have been getting up and walking as far as I can every day for 5 months. It makes sense, but that does not necessarily lend any conceptual grasp. So I suppose I will just push on and make of it what I can. Wish me strength. I'm going to need it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Last week I made my way down out of the clouds and into the town of Packwood. Once a major lumber center, the industry has all but died off and the mills all shut down about fifteen years ago. With a population standing at less than a third of what it once was, there was an almost dismal feeling to the place. I was, however thrilled to find a room at the Hotel Packwood for a great price. The owner was an incredibly kind woman who took my laundry and gave me a pair of loaner clothes so everything could get washed. I expected Andy to arrive that next morning and so went to bed by eight.
At 12:30 that night there was a knock on my door.
"House keeping," the voice called.
I stumbled to the door and cracked it slightly. There stood Andy!
The next morning he somewhat timidly reported that he had sprained his ankle some three days before, but hastened to report that it was feeling a lot better and was healing quickly. We took the rest of the day in town, buying food, going over his gear, and testing out his ankle.
The next morning we headed up to Chinook Pass. With him, Andy had brought good weather; clear blue skies and ideal temperatures blessed us. Also, the terrain was quite forgiving and the floor of peet was easy under our feet. By 5:30 we arrived in camp. We built a fire and roasted brauts and then had hot apple cider. The next day we tried a few more miles and again, all went well. We arrived at a beautiful cabin, open to back country wanderers at a spot called Government Meadow. Inside we found a five gallon bucket with all the fixings for pancakes. The next morning we built a fire. As we tried to get the wood dry enough to burn a bow hunter and his son appeared out of the trees. Aside from other hikers, these were the only other significant group of folk I have seen out here. Always moving quietly, camouflaged, and knowledgeable about the trail and thru-hikers, they were exceptionally pleasant folk to chat with. This gentleman in particular was clearly very familiar with the area. He spoke of 'patterning' the animals and was clearly a very responsible steward of the earth. I was proud to get to spend the morning chatting with he and his boy. As they prepared to leave, he gave us a few chocolate bars and snacks. Yummy.
Not having taken a trail zero day in some time, we decided to enjoy a day of lounging and to make sure Andy's ankle healed up well. A few other hikers moved through and I began to sense our community banding together, encouraging each other through these final stretches. Truly, no matter how the time has been spent, anyone who started the trail at the beginning of the summer and is still out here, has some serious gumption in them and we are all celebrating that.
The next day, the Washington weather was back and Andy pushed his first 20 mile day (over much more challenging terrain than we had yet encountered. He persevered like a champ.
The next morning we climbed again, with only 8 miles left to the pass. A few miles before we stopped at a road crossing at windy gap and a buddy from Philmont years past, Also Andy, and his wonderful lady, Leda, and their ever charismatic dog, Hobbes, rolled up and did trail magic for the afternoon. Feeding hungry hikers is no easy task! Not only are most of our road crossings rather remote, but the weather is not always ideal. Yet, here they were, all smiles and hugs. As my hiker friends moved past I began to feel so saturated with good people. Truly, my friends and family are the most wonderful people and to think of how much support and love they have given. Well, it is overwhelming to say the least.
As Leda put it, she and Also Andy kidnapped Andy and I, bringing us down to their house and feeding us some of the biggest, juiciest, most delicious burgers I have ever encountered. Today we ate an incredible breakfast scramble and they gave Andy a ride to the airport. I have been sitting at their computer for some hours now working on the posts and other business.
It is difficult to conceive but I must come to terms with the fact that I will be finishing the trail in less than two weeks at this point. I am beginning to work on some of the details of homewardness, etc. and that is actually what I am going to do right now.

The Sky is Falling

Into Washington I wandered; under the stereotypical cloud cover. A high ceiling which periodically misted or spat rain but largely just maintained a damp environment. The trees, lichens, and mosses reflected this nature. Fallen trees in varying states of decay, being reclaimed by the forest floor; coated with a frosting of thick, green moss. Fall colors appeared on the trees around me. Hues of red and orange carpeted the foliage around my feet and along the trail. By the second day the clouds had dropped and I moved through a fog. I can say that I know a very narrow swath of southern Washington. Due to private land issues the trail made its way up and then promptly back down mountain sides.

I was pushing miles to try to meet Andy up in Packwood and so, as the ground was taking longer to cover, I found myself walking late into the evenings. Where I used to be able to walk without a headlamp until about 9 pm, the shorter days made themselves felt. By 8:30 I was in total darkness. While I had always enjoyed night-hiking with my trail family, it was a very different thing when hiking alone. In particular, one night I was pushing to the top of a mountain and came across a sign labeling the area into which I was head an 'Experimental Forest', the 'Cougar Creek Branch'. Certainly an innocuous enough sign but under cover of night my mind wandered to the island of Dr. Moreau. Suddenly I couldn't move fast enough and setting up my tent was a race against fantastical creatures. The next day I came across a couple of trail angels who did trail work in the area and we were able to laugh about it.

Having been out here this long I am coming to know my own physical and mental limitations. Somewhere in southern Oregon, my will was tested to its limit. About 5 miles out of Ashland I sat down on the trail side and began to cry; nothing specifically was getting to me, it was just everything. Rif-Raf sat with me and explained that this was a challenge which we all faced at that phase in the trail. Somehow, knowing that this was not something particular to me made it more manageable. Over the next couple weeks I spoke freely of the difficulties I was dealing with and began to cast them in a light of humor. Almost every member of my trail neighborhood were in the same boat. Knowing this was something we were all facing gave me strength.

By Washington, it was my resolve being tested. After a week of moving through constant fog; having circled Mt. Adams without a single view, I began to wonder why I was doing this. Why push on through all of the wet and cold and heavy. Why, why, why. I came up with a variety of reasons and responses but the mantra which it came down to was, "because it matters to me." Because I now know this is something I can do; it is just a matter of proving it to myself.
At one point I was headed through the Goat Lakes Wilderness, a reputedly gorgeous area (of which I had seen nothing). I had been pushing long miles for a week without my trail family around and it was beginning to wear on me.

I began on an extended uphill late one afternoon and felt the full weight of it. Days of pushing through brush which had soaked all my clothes and were scratching and grabbing at my legs. Bleak weather and physical, emotional, and mental wear. I needed to know someone Up There was on my team. I called out and asked for some sign of support. Anything. I trudged on for a mile; disillusioned and alone. The second mile I was choking back tears. At the end of the third mile I came up into a pass at about 7000 feet. There, an entire herd of mountain goats waited for me. The kids cavorted, young bucks wrestled, mothers protected, and then there was Billy. He lay atop a high rock and watched the herd; eyeing me. For just a moment the clouds broke and the colors of sunset reached across the valley below me. I felt refreshed. I felt strong. I knew my way was blessed.