You don't asks anymore why I walk the distance. Maybe, you don't ask, because you haven’t done it. Maybe you imagine sleeping on the ground (I sleep in a hammock, which may sound even more uncomfortable), maybe you imagine carrying weight and sweating, and tell me it is not for you.
Can you imagine the feeling of endlessness stretching out in front of you, the new sights around the bend, over the pass, like a life unknown? All you have to do is step into it, put one foot in front of the other. Do you refuse to start your day because you don’t know where it leads? Of course not, and yes, you do try to control what happens by scheduling, planning events. All I try to plan on the trail is the uphill part in the early part of the day.
It is that clear simplicity of not knowing what is to come, putting one foot in front of the other, that draws me to the long trail. When I put the pack on my back with the minimal belongings that will give me comfort and keep me alive, and take my first fifty steps, my heart opens, my breath becomes a sigh of relief. I am free, the trail is pushing me forward to an ever expanding mix of trees, rocks and sky.
In the cool freshness of the early morning, my energy full and anticipatory, I am like a child, boundless, inquisitive, a butterfly moving from delightful aroma to delightful sight. In the late afternoon, my limbs moving out of sheer habit, my heart melancholic with the drawing near of the end of the day, the need to rest, the bother of setting up camp for the night, I am an old woman burdened by the physicality of living. Each day on the trail I am born new and I reach the end of a life. Each day I experience the powerful cycle of living and dying in a visceral way, as it courses through my body, leaving me to ponder life’s purpose.
Walking the trail, is living life in a nutshell, devoid of the trappings of making money, acquiring things, and finding pleasurable entertainment. The purity of living that the trail provides is magnetic, honest and invigorating. For the young ones on the trail, the ones who go fast, who eat the miles by the twenties and thirties a day, the trail is a goal to seeing the end. The few mid-lifers on the trail are there to reset their life, drop out of the rat race they were in, find a new take on things. For me, the old one on the trail, it is an opportunity to live once more, to stretch the time to the end out a bit. I don’t want to see the end, I don’t need to reset my life. I want to enjoy the last stretch of living.
The PCT is a long trail, 2600 miles long. Life can be long. I have been picking the sections that call to me, like life called me to different places, different careers. I don’t know how long I will be walking the trail, I don’t know if I will walk all 2600 miles. Life doesn’t tell you how long you have and how far you’ll go. For now I walk, without hurry to finish, letting the days on the trail gather me up and expand my awareness into the expanse of nature, the vastness of terrain, the wildness of things.
I get a little glimpse of eternity, and I become a little more adept at letting myself slide into the great unknown. From the moment we are born we are on our way to our death. Not that we think so, not that we want that. I believe that when I walk the trail I am a little more conscious of the arc of life and hope that my transition into the other realm will be eased. Maybe, walking the trail is a way to learn to walk to my death with lightness of heart.