A dream for another year
At fourteen years old, I first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail. I had aspirations to hike it with my dad before high school was over, even though my dad and I had never gone backpacking before nor would it be feasible to squeeze it into a summer break. This year isn’t the year.
In my mid twenties, I hiked in Yosemite on three separate occasions with coworkers, a mini annual tradition. Every so often, our route would join the PCT and there would be an intangible sense of elevated wonder and pride that would noticeably come and go as the trail we were on merged and parted with the Big One. At the divergence I would stand and stare to the north, wondering when I would continue on the other path. This year isn’t the year.
In the rest of my twenties and thirties, there were similar experiences in my local Cascade Mountains stomping grounds, occasionally brushing elbows with the Trail. I’ve got a new job. I’m in a long term relationship. I’m a soccer referee with aspirations of making it to the pros. I just bought a house. This year isn’t the year.
I’m forty three years old. I just bought a house this year with a long term partner and then we realized that we were trying too hard to make it work and have called it quits. I own a remodeling and handyman business with ten employees, and maybe they can make it work without me for six months. My referee career has plateaued short of ever seeing a professional match. Fires seem to be worse every year, and for how many more years will the trail be fully passable? I’m in good shape but I’m getting older. I’m so used to having reasons and excuses to not hike the Pacific Crest Trail, that when I had the realization that the opposite was coalescing, the goosebumps came rushing in. The obstacles just aren’t here this time. The reasons are clear. This year is the year.
The cartoon devil that looks like me (but with horns!) on one shoulder
You’ve never gone on a trek longer than six nights. You get blisters, you get sore, you have dry ears that need ointment. You start things and don’t finish them…how many books have you written eight pages of? How many ideas do you have that you never follow through on? How will your business survive? You’ve spent seven years building it up, you know. You shiver when you walk to the car in the cold rain, you know it’s going to be cold and wet for uncomfortably long stretches. When you finish, you’ll have such withdrawals and culture shock that you’ll ask yourself if it would have been better to keep the trek a fantasy and carry on in the real world. This cat on your lap that’s purring contently won’t remember you and you should probably never move any of these dry and warm muscles and just stay right here. That would be the easiest thing to do.
The angel on the other shoulder prevails
I decided that 2023 would be my year a few weeks before I told anyone. I first wanted to do a test run around Mt. Hood to make sure I still even liked backpacking, as it’s been a few years since I’ve gone solo. Three nights, forty miles.
The first day was a bit hard on my out-of-practice body, but as I made camp I had a great satisfaction in the accomplishment and a sense of peace knowing I was out of cell phone range and of all the ping ping PING of the hustling world keeping me sucked in. I decided to sleep in my hammock as the dusk set in. Well, what do you think? I think I feel decent, but this is hard. Can I really do this for five or six months? If I have a hard time doing twelve miles, can I do twenty five miles over and over? Maybe it’s too hard.
The forest was bright in the moonlight, and suddenly a line from John F. Kennedy’s moon speech slapped me awake. (I think I literally got out of my hammock and stood by the creek staring up at the night sky with a tear running down my cheek, no joke!) Yes, it’s hard. I’m going to the moon. I choose to go to the moon. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
Peace and preparation
It’s an amazing feeling to know that it’s happening. Traffic jams are less frustrating. Things go wrong at work, and there’s a Zen sense that, well things sometimes go wrong and sometimes they go right, and you know what, in six months I’ll be on the Trail. Heartache from this last relationship and house-purchase-fracturing cuts less sharply. For thirty years I’ve been hustling, trying to plant roots in anything, and the more I hustle the more there’s always one more thing. One next step or one misstep.
The Trail calls. And while it’s tempting to succumb to the thought that hiking it will answer all of my questions and solve my challenges, I’ve spent so much time dreaming of this that I don’t want to disrespect the Trail by asking that of it. Over the winter, besides training physically and planning logistically, I am working hard to know myself. When I set out in April, I want it to be a celebration of my intentionally created inner peace and my hard work, and not a journey to find those things.
When I was hiking around Mt. Hood a couple of months ago, there were ups and downs in the terrain. There were also ups and downs in my thoughts. There was a moment I was happy in the pouring rain struggling down a steep descent with soaking feet. There was a moment I was feeling down when the sun was out and I was resting on a rock. As I walked those forty miles, I began to think that the secret for overall happiness, for me at least, is noticing those happy moments and cherishing them, and leveraging the down moments into the positive by knowing that things always get better.
So let’s take a hike. Let’s prepare like never before. Let’s go to the moon.
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