Today marks 6 months off the Pacific Crest Trail. A lot has happened, as you’re probably aware if you’ve been watching my Twitter or Instagram.
6 Months in a Nutshell
I spent most of October and November slowly recuperating from a trail-worn, decrepit state. I was staying with my mother on her vintage trawler (she’s a liveaboard) on the Columbia River. I gotta tell you, those ladders and ramps almost killed me. I got easily teary-eyed thinking of the trail. I still slept outside in my sleeping bag on the deck of the boat. PCT withdrawal was a bitch! In late November I was asked on a date by a nice guy named Gabriel (that turned into a uniquely adventurous but brief romance) and threw down all my savings on a 1983½ gas Volkswagen Westfalia. I named the van “Chief Pete” after one of my best friends. On January 1st, I packed into my van and moved to the Oregon/California border, next to the ocean. The past several months have been filled with travel thanks to Gabe’s adventurous restlessness — all over Oregon from the California border (where I am currently staying) to The Dalles to Hager Mountain in the south-central dry lands. I am so thankful to him for keeping me busy and outdoors during this particularly delicate portion of time. Otherwise I might have lost my marbles.
Just as I did on the trail, I still get by on very little money, spending it only on the van and food. I spend a lot of time gazing at wind blowing through the trees. For the past couple months I’ve spent every morning on the California beach, staring at the waves and studying the wood cones, rocks, and tides. Every day I marvel at my new lifestyle. I think I like it! (I’ve written about this somewhat-off-the-grid lifestyle in a previous blog entry.)
Operation Reintegration: Failed
You see, I never “re-integrated.” I am still the itinerant little beast that crawled 2660 miles over the mountains and through the forest from Mexico to Canada. I could probably count the number of times I’ve slept in a bed in the past year, and that’s only slightly outnumbered by times I’ve gotten to use an actual toilet. It might still take some time before I feel comfortable in the city. Or maybe I never will again. Deciding to hike the trail was part of a progression away from my interest in the city. I was no longer that interested in the rat race: the politics, the news, the fashion, or the fanciest coffee and beer. I was no longer infatuated with Portland. I had decided to move out.
I sold almost all my things, shuttered my cycling cap business*, and moved out. And then I found myself at the trailhead on the Mexican border. Everything fell into place. Of over a thousand people who hiked the PCT in 2013, I was one of only a few hundred who stayed on the trail for the long haul, and it was because I was totally at home. It felt completely natural. Extremely painful (blisters, a sprained ankle, two foot fractures, and shin splints that would make Daddy Shin Splint cry mercy), but natural, happy. Something clicked. I was where I was supposed to be. The trail confirmed for me that I am happiest in nature, just like that little beast of a girl who grew up in Alaska’s deep forest backyards. Nature, where there is definitely more chaos (less civilization), but much less bullshit.
A Long Trek Through Chaos
Anyone who chooses to go on a long trek might have a stated reason for doing so. If you watched the movie "The Way" with Emilio Estevez and his father Martin Sheen, you probably remember one character was grieving his son, one character wanted to lose weight, and another was supposedly trying to quit smoking cigarettes. All three characters failed their quest miserably and yet came to another entirely different, unexpected peace. Particularly the woman who would not be able to quit smoking: she learned that she didn’t WANT to quit smoking. And she had a ton of adventure while figuring that out. There you have it. You cannot even begin to guess what the trail will hand you. It’s a surprise every day. You’ll surprise yourself. For me, a trek like this is one of the most important experiences a person can have — right up there with making love, birthing children (if that’s your gig), and dying. It’s being integrated and fully aware of it, in whatever capacity one has, in crucial moments.
And I cannot quite put in words what the trail did for me, but it was huge. Probably so huge I cannot even begin to perceive its shape. Basically, it put everything in an entirely different perspective.
So, again to the people who helped me achieve my hike last summer, thank you. Thank you so much.
2014 Summer Plans
In a couple weeks I will be driving Chief Pete south to the border for a PCT hiker reunion. It’s the only time I’ve ever been so excited for a reunion in my life. People who understand! (Yes, I’m sorry, if you’ve never thru-hiked, you are missing something.) My goal this summer is to enjoy the California sun, camping along the trail in my van, trolling for hikers who need help.
I Want to Be a Trail Angel!
Yes, my resources are very limited but I feel like giving back and helping the PCT class of 2014 achieve their hike. I can’t wait to meet these amazing, outgoing people who are willingly throwing themselves into such an uncomfortable, insane, and ineffably incredible project as a thru-hike. I can’t wait to feed off their happy vibes and feed them terrible things like Select soda and hot dogs.
Have you ever seen anyone TRULY enjoy something? Watch a filthy thru-hiker suck down a Select soda and eat a hot dog in one bite. Or give them a sandwich, or better yet a beer. Give them a chair to sit in or a shower — OMFG. You will see what you have sometimes come to take for granted: real enjoyment of the simpler pleasures such as food and water.
Think I’m kidding? Check back.
I plan to take lots of pictures and share them on my Instagram account, like I did last year while hiking.
Would you like to help me buy these kids cheap eats? I have set up a tip jar for my PCT trail angel summer gig. Money from the tip jar goes directly to hikers.
Again, money from GitTip goes directly to 2014 PCT hiker treats. I have separate budgets for my van and personal food. This summer is all about helping and living vicariously through other people on life-altering treks. I want to give back. And you will see photographic evidence of your benefactorship. I’m really excited about it.
Just as I had no backup plan for when I hiked the PCT, and nowhere to run (I had no job or home to return to), I have no backup plan for this summer. Granted, I don’t really have a plan, either (e.g. itinerary or map). But the gist of it is to be in my van, along the trail, soothing hikers with cold beverages, snacks, and aid when needed. And maybe chairs and solar showers…
If you know anyone who has hiked the PCT, is interested in thru-hiking, or who knows someone who is thru-hiking this year, please pass this along so they can get in touch. If you are a trail angel or know a trail angel who needs help, please contact me. I am not on Facebook (and I know in the PCT world this is a handicap), so I need extra help linking in. I already have quite the PCT phonebook, but please contact me if you aren’t sure you’re in it. I’d like to send out update emails as the summer moves along, and stay connected.
Oh yeah, and I just finished illustrating the cover of a small book by Elly Blue, I got written about on The Hairpin (hint: I'm "the girl" who growled at a cougar), I've signed a contract to write a book on health self-care for Microcosm Publishing, I might be getting a puppy (squee!), and I'm still dabbling with lots of internet coding: HTML, PHP, CSS, WordPress and this and that. So if any of you still need web help, I might be too busy (but I might not!). It's going to be a wild ride of a year!
Take care my friend.
*Sorry, there are still no plans in motion to get sewing caps again. But if you really like the way I make them, I've shared exactly how in my sewing patterns.