The last month of my summer travel took me to the Pacific Crest trail, a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada, 2660 miles long. I completed a 350 mile section of that long trail in the state of Washington. It was a month long hike up and down through woods and meadows, over passes, through rivers and snow.
A young German woman finished the whole trail from Mexico to the Canadian border at the same time I finished my section. She had been on the trail for 4 months, hiking day in, day out, up and down, through desert and snow, through woods and over lava beds. “I don’t want to stop”, she said smiling, “I want to keep walking”. She turned back at the border to walk another 30 miles south to Hart’s pass where she could connect with a trail that runs east-west to the Pacific Ocean.
“What comes after?” I asked.
My visa will be up, I will meet a friend in Toronto, and hike a bit there, winter will come and I will have to go back to Germany. She reminded me of the woman I was in my mid-twenties. On the road for a year, moving around with the season until the money ran out, until the weather changed, until, until…., there was another journey to go on.
Life is the journey. The month long walking trip was a slice of my life, stripped of its daily distractions, void of its daily social obligations, filled with vast nature, and a simple regime, walk, climb, breathe, eat, rest and do it all over again, day in, day out. Attention on the path to avoid injury, mind becoming empty as the hours pass with an almost monastic schedule of waking, eating, walking and resting. When the trail is the focus, the mind becomes one pointed, the effort stirs unresolved life issues and they emerge for contemplation and letting go.
How to describe the experience of a month on the trail?
I walked, breathing hard on the steep uphills, my aging body calling my attention. I learned to stop instead of push to get to the top, where I surveyed the distance, the snowy peaks, the glacial river thundering deep down below. I tasted the berries on the brush covered sections of trail, the nectar lingering on my tongue, as the sweat dripped down my back. The pack, a bundle of needs and comfort I chose to carry, hugged my hips, my shoulders, weighing down on my aging knees and feet with bunions and callouses in the wrong places, remnants of vanity shoe-wear in my youth. I descended into the deep stillness of moss covered logs under old growth trees, towering above me in their 500-800 year wisdom of being still, their limbs moved by wind, rain, and snow, sprinkled with sunlight as I passed through. As I climbed to a pass, where cold wind blew from distant snowy peaks, carpets of wild flowers, pink, white, and blue spread out in front of me, making my heart leap in that far distance of mountain ridge after mountain ridge. The endlessness of things was presented to me again and again.
I chose the summer to experience the wildness, to comfort me with sunshine and long days, but as I walked, I imagined the cold winter, snow deep, trees creaking and breaking, animals starving. I imagined the shadow side of life which cycles inevitably in its seasonal motion. Three days of rain and low, dripping clouds gave me a taste of my vulnerability, hypothermia just around the corner. I had no fur to keep me dry, I could only hole up in a shelter covered by a light weight tarp, hoping my down bag wouldn’t get wet through. When the sun came out again I stripped out of my wet clothing, laid everything out to dry on soft heather and jumped naked in the silky, clear water of an emerald mountain lake. I was embraced by its clarity, its buoyancy. I yelled out the chill biting my skin, my voice echoing against the snowy cirque above. I became part of the natural world and I thanked the universe for letting me be alive.
This journey ended. The journey changed me. Another one will emerge out of this experience. I completed an arbitrary goal I set to challenge the forces of indulgence and sloth that lurk in the shadows of the easy life at home and try to kill my connection with wholeness. I have returned to my comfortable home. My summer nomadic season is coming to a close. I’m carrying stories from people, especially women, from all over the world inside me. Stories I hope to share with you in time. I feel whole and complete.
Fall and winter are around the corner. They will bring their own journey.