The end of The Trail – 7 October 2014
One year ago today on October 7, 2013, I completed my 2,663-mile hike from the border of Mexico and California, to Canada – along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve come to realise over the past year that there is no real ‘end’ to the trail; as it continues to remind me of the lessons I learned, and teach me about who I am, well beyond the day I said goodbye to the monument at the Northern Terminus.
I refer to the PCT as ‘The Trail’. For me, there has been no other pathway through life quite the same. Like many who spend close to six months living in the wilderness with nothing but a backpack, the trail changed me. Not in a way that is visible from the outside (although I continue to wear my bandana and hiking clothes in the civilised world); not necessarily noticeable in my personality, (because yes, I’m still wandering the world looking for answers to life’s big questions); but it changed something deep in the core of my being, in the way I see the world and the people within it, that will always stay with me.
One of the hardest parts about getting to the end of The Trail is saying goodbye. You’re not just saying goodbye to the extraordinary wilderness, mountains, forests and deserts that were once your home; the community of people that became your family; or the generosity of the individuals who helped you along the way. You’re saying goodbye to the person who you were before the trail. The person who once had a dream of walking the entire length of the United States from South to North. That person no longer exists, and it’s the beginning of a new life, with the person who did just spend six months in the wilderness, walking all those miles.
Day 1 on the PCT:
Day 174 completing the PCT:
What I miss about The Trail is not just the environment, the freedom, the beauty or the mystery. It’s not the independence, the solitude, the energy or the unknown. What I miss the most is the feeling of accomplishment – the realisation that for 174 days I was achieving something exceptional. I was pushing the boundaries of what I thought possible. I was proving to myself what I was capable of, and I was growing stronger with every step.
Re-entry into mainstream life after the trail:
It’s an inevitable transition for life to go from extraordinary back to ordinary after realising your dream; and I really struggled with this when life went back to ‘normal’ after the trail (post from January 5, 2014, about reminiscing). But there’s a common saying amongst thru-hikers that ‘the trail will provide’. When you hit the bottom and were at your lowest, the trail would always come through with a little bit of magic. I also believe this to be true with the roller coaster ride we call life; and that like the trail, everyday we move a step closer to achieving our dreams (even if we don’t know what they are yet).
The trail provided me with countless gifts, and many of those are ones that will last a lifetime: an unprecedented appreciation for nature; an understanding that when you live with less, you live more; an introduction to the best of the human spirit, and to the most inspiring of people; and the belief that if you want something bad enough, you’re the only person who’s going to stand in your way.
I want to thank the trail for all it has given me, the people who shared the experience and became like family, and the support network that helped carry me (many of whom still travel along with me today).
What about Washington? – 11 November 2013
A recap of the final 500 miles…
Up, up and away – 29 October 2013
I spent the first four hours of my flight to Abu Dhabi via Amsterdam today editing a video of my Oregon experience. There were many other items on my to do list for this flight: review documents for my 5 week event contract starting Wednesday, complete my Australian tax return, update my gear list and respond to emails. But I was looking at trail photos as I usually do in my most nostalgic moods, and thought if I made a video for California, I couldn’t forget the two other states!
It’s been a whirlwind of activity since I landed in LA five days ago. First were the school visits and presentations, second were the interviews with Leigh and Min, third was reconnecting with trail life (south bounders, Terry Anderson and Donna Saufley), then it was south to San Diego to visit Don and Donna who delivered me safely to the Mexican border just over 6 months ago. They also had a box full of gear I’d sent back from the trail waiting for me to sort through.
I can’t tell you how strange it was to be back in that house with all my gear, knowing this time around I wasn’t preparing to walk 2663 miles to Canada. No wilderness first aid course, no last minute gear purchases, no debating if I was going to take a stun gun or if I’d run into illegal immigrants at the border. Just a lot of storytelling of the events which took place from that day they left me standing at the southern terminus. They told me they were worried sick leaving me that day in the middle of nowhere completely alone.
I was shattered on Friday evening after the presentations were over. Leigh had hoped to ask me a few more questions for her interview but I was so brain dead I couldn’t even find the words to describe a trail angel. All four of us (Judi, Leigh, Min and I) were in a delirious state. I thought I’d fall asleep immediately, but lay awake until 2am in an overtired state with too many coffees and Red Bulls swimming through my system. I was up again at 8am, preparing for the arrival of Jamie, a trail angel who shouted me dinner and breakfast at Drakesbad Guest Ranch. She lives four blocks from Donna and offered to pick me up and drive me back there! Amazing! After my final interview with Leigh, Jamie and I headed towards Agua Dulce to make a quick stop at the Saufley’s and visit Vasquez Rocks, which I only saw in the dark when I hiked through there with Pac Man and a roaming cougar.
We popped into the bakery on the main street through Agua Dulce, as I’d spent many hours there blogging and eating many months ago. Dominique the owner recognised me and when I told him excitedly that I’d finished the trail he said “of course you did, otherwise you wouldn’t be here!” He asked about Pac Man who had wheeled about 5 gallons of water to the bakery in a shopping trolly the day we hiked out. I don’t think he’d ever seen a hiker ‘buy’ water, nor had he seen anyone carry as much water as Pac Man did!
I grabbed a bottle of wine before heading to the Saufley’s to say a quick thank you for everything they do. We passed Puppeteer on the way there who laughed when he saw me again! “Just doing the rounds”, I told him. I didn’t envy his heavy looking pack and the heat he was heading into. Donna and her son JAG were home with a few of the herd who were still getting ready to hike out. It was incredible to see how organised everything still was. Most of the hiker gear like spare clothes were packed away neatly in labelled tubs in the garage, ready for next year’s class of thru hikers. Donna estimated she had about 750 hikers through this year. That was the official number from Ziggy and the Bear further south who keep a detailed record of everyone who arrives. I couldn’t believe how relaxed she seemed about the whole operation; like it was no big deal having 750 complete strangers come in and stay at your house. Unbelievable!
Jamie and I made a quick circle around Vasquez Rocks but by this time I was so completely exhausted I couldn’t even manage a short hike in the heat. Instead we sat in the car and ate grapes and peanut butter sandwiches while looking at the rocks through the windshield. I didn’t even take a single photograph of the rocks as I was hit with the odd feeling that this wasn’t my place anymore. I also had that sick empty ‘it’s over’ feeling swelling in my belly so I knew it was time to go.
We broke up the drive with a quick lunch in the outskirts of LA, and arrived at Don and Donna’s in the early evening; just in time for dinner and story time. I actually felt at home as soon as I walked through the door. Donna even had a cup in the bathroom with my name on it, identical to the one she’d put there 6 months ago.
The next day included sorting, shopping for business attire, packing and preparing for departure. Jamie took me to the consignment store and acted as my own personal shopping consultant, brining me bundles of clothing which I churned through in the fitting room. I found a few suitable outfits factoring in the extreme temperatures of the Middle East, hot outside, freezing inside, then headed back to Donna’s for the final pack.
Donna and her sister Sue drove me back to LAX this morning where I had a few hours to kill before boarding the plane. I made one final phone call to Fuller before calling AT&T to disconnect my phone. I’m looking forward to that $500 deposit finding it’s way back to me one day. Then it was onto the plane and up, up and away. Goodbye trail, goodbye USA, until next time…
Back to school – 28 October 2013
“When you got to the Canadian border, did you have to walk all the way back?”
Out of all the questions I was asked in my presentations, this was my absolute favourite! It was asked by a student during the grade 7 & 8 assembly at Del Sur School on Friday. The hall was packed with 300 students plus teachers, so there was a buzz of excitement in the room. The kids were waving at me and giggling when I waved back. Judi hushed the room and introduced me, ‘after weeks of waiting she’s finally here!’ I felt like some kind of super star celebrity they’d been counting down to see. Insane!!
I had a 45 minute slot and asked the students in the front row what class they had afterwards. The answer was math so I told them I’d try and blab on for as long as possible. It was either their reluctance to get to their next class or their genuine interest in my presentation, but the principle said to Judi she’d never seen the kids sit so still for that long. They let me go the full hour which was obviously popular with the kids as they came up to me afterwards wanting photographs and hugs!
Leigh (the woman from Wagga who interviewed me at Red’s Meadow on the trail) and Min were also there to shoot some video of the presentation and conduct a follow up interview afterwards. I’ve never talked so much in a single day, and needed to reenergise for my final presentation at Anaverde Hills School by visiting my first ever In-N-Out Burger joint. Not ALL the burgers below were for me!
My final presentation started with a few technical hiccups and a last minute relocation but we soon got back in the swing of things. At the end of the presentation, a girl named Mo handed me a painting of all the student’s fingerprints and names on it. I was so overwhelmed I think I said ‘wow’ about 400 times. It was a beautiful gesture and I ended up speaking to her and a group of students for another half an hour after the school bell rang and they chose not to go home. Before Mo left she gave me a huge bear hug, lifting me well off the ground so my feet were dangling in the air.
Leigh noticed that one of the students named Brian was particularly articulate, and handed him the microphone to ask me a few questions. He was a natural, and actually had me stumped on a few… ‘Who was the weirdest hiker you ever met on the trail?’ Hmmm… good question! It was amazing to see the energy and excitement bubbling from these kids, I actually felt like I was back in high school again. Thank you so much Judi for giving me this amazing opportunity to visit your schools!
Presenting at Leona Valley – 26 October 2013
A quick look at my first presentation to the grade 7 & 8 students at Leona Valley School on Thursday 25 Oct 2013…
Sharing the story – 25 October 2013
I found it hard to sleep last night. I kept imagining myself in the classroom telling my stories. You know these stories Rozanne, go to sleep, you’ll be fine! At 10am Judi picked me up and we headed to our first stop, Leona Valley School. The students were year 7 and 8 combined, 12 – 14 year olds. When we walked into the classroom to set up the laptop I was greeted with a huge welcome sign made by the children with drawings of Crater Lake, rain and mountains, and other pictures from the videos they had previously been shown in Judi’s character education lessons on goal setting.
Not long afterwards the students filtered into the room. Some waved, some stared, some said hi. I had a table at the front, set up with some of my equipment and a box of books that weighed 45 pounds. It had ten 4.5 pound math books inside, to demonstrate to the children the maximum weight of my pack. The presentation was great fun! They giggled watching me spit cheese into my tortilla when making lunch, they gasped when they saw images of me popping my blisters, they laughed when I stumbled upon trail magic and pulled out random items of food from a cooler, and they were silent when they watched me cry.
They had some great questions at the end: How did you become so determined? What was your favourite part of the trail? Were the animals similar to those in Australia? Then at the end for girls only, what did you do during ‘those’ times of the month? I realised I didn’t quite have the language to describe how a Diva Cup works to 14 year olds, but I think my actions were enough to get the general gist across! As we were packing up one of the girls came over to me and said, ‘if I ever choose to do something like this in my life, I want you to know it was you who inspired me’. Judi had a tear in her eye when she turned to me and said, ‘this is what it’s all about’. I couldn’t agree more!
After the presentation we had some time to kill and decided to head to the trail head on the road leading to the Anderson’s. We saw a group of hikers sitting in the shade just off trail and Judi stopped and said, “they must be south bounders!” I didn’t think it was possible until we jumped out and I recognised Bobcat amongst the group! ‘What are you doing here!?’ We both had the exact same pressing question! Bobcat was the first south bounder I had met in NorCal, who I heard had finished well before me. He had come back to join his fellow south bounders for a few days! I met the others and was hugging them all when suddenly Tom from New Zealand comes down the trail. I almost fell over. I met him at Crater Lake and was finally able to thank him for the Arnica cream he had given me that day (and tell him I found my half eaten trail magic at the water cache beyond the highway he had told me about!)
I was in complete shock that we had literally bumped into the ‘herd’ of south bounders, by accident, at this exact location. The magic and power of the trail continues to affect and blow me away! Judi had to drag me away as I was wrapped in their stories about waist deep snow and frozen clothes in the Sierras and the helicopter that tried rescuing Tom from the top of Mt Whitney. I agreed to meet them all at the Anderson’s tonight before jumping in the car and heading to my next presentation to teachers and parents at the district school offices.
The adults had an even better reaction to the tortilla making film than the kids. The talk seemed to have an incredibly positive impact on the room with an audience varying from people who dreamed of hiking the PCT to others who never even knew it existed in their backyard. Once our school duties were completed, we headed to the Cold Stone Ice Cream store where I picked up three tubs of ice cream and 15 waffle cones. Then after grabbing a case of beer we headed to the Anderson’s for a surprise visit! It was time to provide some trail magic of my own.
I couldn’t exactly remember the way there so we asked a local at the gas station who questioned ‘why do you want to go there, are you going to kill them?’ Once I assured him I wasn’t an international sniper he led us to the infamous Casa de Luna! I spotted the yellow house, bright lights and portable toilets a mile away! It was a little different to May when I was there. Instead of the chaos of people wearing Hawaiian shirts in the front yard, everyone was sitting quite civilly in the lounge room. Terry gave me a massive hug and seemed excited to have the house full of stinky hiker trash again. Nine compared to their biggest night of 82 people seemed a little more manageable however. The room consisted of Titty Cakes, Sugar Side Down, Jane, Nat, Bobcat, Puppeteer, Special Ops Tom, Marie and Ryan (Horny Toad).
In an insane way I wish I could hike back to the Mexican border with them. I think 5 miles in I may have changed my mind, but I was suddenly filled with envy that their trail experience wasn’t over, and they were heading into my favourite towns and parts of the trail… Baden Powell, Big Bear, San Jacinto and Idyllwild. I looked at the sheet at the front of their house which I had signed many months before and looked at all of the names of 2013 thru hikers on there. Many I recognised who I hadn’t met until much later on the trail. My picture of Muk Muk was still there, although a little faded, he’ll always be a part of the Casa de Luna 2013 story.
Time for takeoff – 24 October 2013
Two weeks and two days since the end of the trail and my head is still spinning with the rapid pace of the world. Airports are the worst for activity overload. Checkin, security, customs. All simple activities but combine kids, strollers, flustered executives, school excursions, novice travellers, dogs and ponies and you have yourself a circus! I must say all ran pretty smooth except when the guy at customs asked where I lived. I rarely know how to answer this question honestly, and I felt like a phoney when I finally said Australia.
It takes 2.5 hours to fly to LA. It’s insanity comparing that to walking.
I heard from Karen who I met at Ravensong’s that Midnight Rider, her horse and the crew are still trying to make it through the last parts of Washington. I really hope they get there! Apparently the snow’s so hard they broke their shovel trying to get through. Looking out over the snowcapped mountains from the aircraft, I got shivers thinking about that final section and my last day on trail. I felt a little sad though and a little empty being so far above that world now. It honestly surprises me how much I long to be out there again. I almost left my backpack in Vancouver thinking I wouldn’t need it over the next couple of months. Then last minute I realised I couldn’t leave it behind. My pack has become the symbol of freedom, excitement, adventure and challenge I craved at the end of last year. I think I need it with me.
I remember one of my favourite things on trail was seeing airplanes flying over. It was sometimes the only real sign of off trail civilisation for days. I always wondered where they were going, if anyone was looking down at the world below, and if they ever thought people were down there, walking all the way from Mexico to Canada for months on end. It’s such a difficult concept to comprehend. I still can’t comprehend it myself. I’m not sure I ever will.
I had my first burger and fries since the trail today. My diet has consisted of mainly turkey and sushi over the last couple of weeks. No complaints from me! It’s been heaven cutting couscous, oatmeal and carnation breakfast from my daily meals. I can’t say my nutrition has improved that much in comparison to the dehydrated foods and granola bars I was consuming, but my taste buds are certainly more satisfied these days. When I saw they were selling beef jerky onboard the flight I almost gagged. People were actually buying it, out of choice. I would have picked the turkey sandwich over beef jerky any day!
I sat next to a couple of women who asked if I’d been to the US before. I considered saving my storytelling for the students to avoid burning myself out before landing in LA. When they pointed out we were flying over Mt Rainier my eyes lit up. I never really got to see it after White Pass during those misty, drizzly days. The hostess saw me staring at the mountain and told me we’d soon be flying over Oregon where I’ll be able to see Mt Hood and the Three Sisters. It brought back a flood of feelings both happy and sad. Similar to arriving at the northern terminus, it’s hard to distinguish between the two emotions sometimes while they’re still so raw.
When I arrived at the baggage claim Judi was holding an orange sign made by one of her students Jessica which said ‘Muk Muk’. I ran over and gave her a huge hug, then grabbed my pack from the carousel before we headed into the streets of LA. It was my first time in this city although I’ve transferred through here many times. I felt like a kid in a candy store travelling down Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Blvd and Hollywood Blvd past the Hard Rock Cafe, El Capitan Theatre and Madame Tussaud’s. We had a quick meal while rush hour played havoc on the I5, then headed back to Judi’s place about 14 miles north of Agua Dulce in Palmdale. We crossed over the tunnel Pac Man and I had walked under on the way to the Saufley’s the night he saw a cougar and we walked through the canyon in the dark. I’m hoping to see that part of the trail during the day after our school visits on Friday!
Tomorrow I’ve got two presentations scheduled. One in a classroom of around 20-30 students and the other to parents and staff. It’s going to be a riot these next two days. I’ve got my hiking clothes laid out for tomorrow and in some sick way I’m actually looking forward to putting them on again!
Live update from the lounge room – 19 October 2013
Doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘live trail update’, but hey, if you’re still watching then why not? 🙂
This busy world is making me sleepy – 17 October 2013
People may think that walking 25 miles a day over 5 months is tough. I’ve just come back from half a day of running errands and I’m pooped. Whether you’re working a 9-5, going to school, or simply tidying the house, my hat goes off to YOU! All I can say is, this new world is exhausting.
My hustle bustle tolerance has definitely dropped over the last 6 months. And in the midst of dodging traffic, people and lamp posts on the busy streets of Vancouver, this guy with a clipboard asked me if I had a minute. Oh no! Anyone standing still on a sidewalk holding a clip board sets my ‘avoid at all costs’ alarm ringing! They can always pick the unemployed dawdlers walking without any real purpose. I decided to be completely honest with the guy. “I do have a minute but I just REALLY don’t feel like having a conversation right now.” He let me off on the condition I give him a high five, then I was free to set off again on my merry way.
During my search for a new notebook I walked down the greeting card aisle, and discovered they’ve come up with a new birthday card category I’ve never seen before, ‘romantic birthday’. It used to simply be ‘his’ or ‘her’ birthday. Now they’re delving into specifics. Next there’ll be a ‘friend who you haven’t been in contact with for ages but should probably send a card to’ birthday category. I might need a few of those!
When I did eventually hit the note books I was surprised by the variety available. Since when did note book producers become so witty? I really wanted to buy the ‘I’m going to die’ journal, but thought my subject matter would be contradictory to the title.
On the way home I crossed over the Burrard Bridge and was reminded of my crossing of the infamous Bridge of the Gods connecting OR and WA. This crossing didn’t quite have the same euphoria. The most interesting thing I witnessed was a girl jogging with a large leaf in her hand. The fact I even had time to ponder why she was running with leaf goes to show I have too much time on my hands!
I ended up skipping the first three items on my ‘to do’ list when I got home and went straight to number 4 ‘eat something’. I rummaged around the kitchen until I stumbled upon my absolutely most desired snack of all time, peanut butter toast!
Back over the border – 17 October 2013
I dipped my toes back into the USA today for just under three hours! Almost 6 months ago Ladybug and I were driving the same route down to Bellingham, WA, firstly to post my resupply boxes, then to the airport to fly to San Diego. Here we were again, heading across the border to the post office, this time to post a pair of snow shoes and ski poles which had seen me successfully complete the final sections of the PCT.
I bid farewell to BJ and Mrs Brown this morning to begin my third friend hop from North Delta back to Vancouver. But first Bellingham, WA! The signs for the border crossing wait times said 80 minutes, and when we saw the line of commercial trucks snaking for miles our hearts sank. Luckily in a crafty but legal way, we ended up crossing as pedestrians, Ladybug sorted out her Nexus renewal, I continued on over the border, and she snapped me up in the car on her way back through.
The custom agents were all looking typically glum, including the guy that served us. This was until he swiped my passport, looked up at me, and asked, “is there anything you want to tell me before I submit this?” Both Ladybug and I must have had similar blank and somewhat fearful expressions because the guy burst into laughter and said, “almost had you!” He and his co-worker continued to giggle about our expressions until we left. He’d granted me another 6 months in the states so I wasn’t complaining!
Trader Joe’s was our first stop! Memories starting flooding back and I couldn’t help but stare at the mountains of cookies which I have no excuse eating anymore. I also walked past the granola and Cliff Bar isle which almost made me gag. I don’t think you could pay me enough money to eat another Cliff Bar in this lifetime. Ok, maybe if it was a white chocolate macadamia one, but otherwise no way hosay!
Not only did we go to the same post office, but the same man that served us 6 months ago served us again today, and he remembered us! This time we had an obscurely shaped package wrapped in bubble wrap, slightly easier than 14 boxes of all shapes and sizes. I have to say the snow shoe rental from Winthrop Mountain Sports was an incredible deal!! I only paid $5 for each day I used them, then another $15 to post them back (including the bubble wrap and tape!) When I called them to say their shoes were on their way home, the woman said she was so impressed I’d made it all the way to Canada. She said they were all so proud of the hikers who didn’t give up because of the snow. It was really nice to hear!
In under three hours we had returned over the border into Canada and I was soon back strolling the streets of Vancouver looking for a Starbucks. I don’t even like the coffee here but the guaranteed wifi is a major draw card. Today I became ‘Rizelle’. Do I not pronounce my name clearly enough? I may try out a new name each day until I find a suitable new Starbucks persona! 🙂
How did I get here? – 15 October 2013
I stare a lot these days. Sometimes with deep profound thoughts swimming through my mind, more often with not much going on at all. In one of my staring moments today, I thought about what brought me to this point. How did I get to be in Vancouver, having walked for almost 6 months through a country and environment that was completely foreign to me.
As I wrote at the beginning, the seed for this adventure was planted back in September last year. Not many people decide to hike 2663 miles because it sounds like a fun thing to do. Most people I met throughout this journey either seek a change in their life, a change in themselves, or simply change. Something different. Something that would challenge them so intensely it would help them grow, learn, experience and feel. It would teach them about who they are, how they react, cope, enjoy and survive; and above all, who they want to be.
We get from our trail experience what we put in, same as in life. If we walked with blinkers on, expecting the trail to share these answers with us blindly, we’d never find them. If we open ourselves up to the world, listen to nature, ourselves and the people we meet along the way, we will have a much richer experience.
Yesterday I discovered the journal I had kept while travelling through Malta in September last year. I’d had a tough year. The direction I was heading in changed dramatically, and I’d found myself floating in the world without direction or purpose. I was completely alone, in a new country where everyone and everything was different. But I kind of liked it. I walked a lot, and went on a new adventure everyday. On September 30 I took the bus to Xlendi, a tiny town on the island of Gozo, and went for a long walk through the countryside alongside its steep cliffs. I spotted a rock overhanging the cliffs above the sea. ‘That’s where I need to go’, I thought to myself, ‘all the way up there’.
The wind and sound of the crashing waves beneath me was magnificent. I’d never felt so free. I started thinking about what my next move in life was going to be. All I felt like doing was buying a backpack and a tent, and wandering the world completely independent of anyone or anything. As these thoughts flooded my mind I was reminded of the trail my friend Sarah had walked from Mexico to Canada back in 2004. Maybe I could do that? Maybe I could get a dog and do that? At least I’d have some company out there.
I sat on the rock contemplating this idea for over an hour, then returned to the town I was staying in and jumped on my laptop. I searched for ‘trail from Mexico to Canada’ and up popped the PCT. The rest is history. I was however disappointed that I couldn’t do it straight away. Apparently there’s this white stuff called snow that falls in the winter and covers the trail. There was also a huge logistical component to consider, researching, buying gear, preparing food, booking travel, and obtaining visas and permits. And this was just the beginning. To think I could simply fly to the US and start hiking (with a dog for that matter), with no previous backpacking experience was ludicrous. Once I got into the full swing of planning I was thankful I had until April to prepare. It was almost a full time job planning as a newbie for the hike.
The reason I’m telling this story is not just to reminisce, but to remind myself of some of the reasons I set out on this journey. Freedom, excitement, challenge and adventure. This experience has surpassed all of those aspirations. ‘Inspiring those around me to dream big and dare to succeed’. You have all helped me fulfil this dream, in a way I never could have imagined. I hope to be able to assist others in their planning through this blog, like so many people assisted me along the way. I have just set up a Q & A page on the blog (good suggestion Sarah) for people’s questions so the responses and information is housed in one location. I look forward to sharing my trail wisdom (for what it’s worth), with you all! 🙂
If you can decipher the incredibly bad handwriting, here were the thoughts I scribbled back on that rock in Xlendi on September 30, 2012.
Get out of bed – 14 October 2013
I’ve discovered that the most dangerous and destructive place after a thru hike is lying in bed thinking. Mostly in the mornings when you’re facing another day of, ‘what am I going to do today, tomorrow, next week, next year’ style questions. I always find the longer I stay in bed before facing the day, the worse my headspace becomes.
Today I woke with that hollow pain inside my stomach that I think every post thru hiker can relate to. Not hunger, but emptiness. We spent 5-6 months being stimulated by natures beauty, endorphins and adrenalin, the kindness of strangers, and the rare connections we made with our fellow hiking family.
I remember reading that hikers find the most comfort in talking to one another after the trail. It is difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced a thru hike to understand the emotions of re-entry. I’ve been lucky to have had Ladybug, who hiked the trail in 2004, to share some of these feelings with.
I figured the end of the trail would be similar to the end of a large exciting project, in which you work with people who then disperse once the job is done. For me I can relate it to the end of a torch relay. A project you put your heart and soul into planning, an experience you share with a team that becomes your family, and an experience so magical that others find it hard to relate to.
I was motivated to write this morning after hearing from Fuller, who has just completed the small segment of trail he missed between Etna and Seiad Valley. He was able to complete it with his son Michael, the last of his four sons to accompany him on his journey. What an incredible experience he’s had. He wrote to me and said my blog posts and videos have been his salvation, now that the trail is really over for him. This made me realise two things:
1. I’m definitely not the only one lying in bed each morning with a feeling of emptiness. Perhaps I can help other post and future thru hikers by sharing my experience.
2. The blog is also my salvation. The therapy of writing and the words from my followers have motivated and supported me for the past 6 months. I need this as much as anyone.
So what’s on the agenda for today? My tent is already sitting in the backyard after finally hosing it down yesterday. At some point last night I actually thought it would be fun to sleep outside in it. Maybe it was the Thanksgiving celebrations and overload of turkey clouding my judgement. I also emptied my pack completely and put it in the sink to soak. I think it will take a long time to lose that distinctive thru hike smell. Maybe it never really goes away. Maybe it never should.
I’m going to continue writing my gear review and sort through the hundreds of ridiculous items I sent home to myself. I emptied the box onto my bed yesterday and stood in awe of how much I had learned along the way. These are the lessons I’m looking forward to sharing.
The clean up begins – 13 October 2013
I honestly thought my most recent post might have been my last. How long should I really drag this on for? I’ve already said goodbye, is this the final encore? Is the applause still going or is the theatre almost empty? Hello?? Are you still out there?
I guess it’s fair to say I’m going to miss the blog as much as my keenest readers. I’ve had very mixed emotions about continuing it past the end of the trail. I’ve been thinking about starting up a new blog, but when I mused about the theme, it really came back to ‘post trail life’. Do people really want to watch and read about someone finding their way in life after walking 2663 miles across the USA? Possibly???…
My other thought, if I’m completely honest, is that I’m dealing with so many emotions from the past couple of weeks, that I’m unable to differentiate what I’m actually feeling having completed the trail. Like my days on the PCT, highs and lows are still incredibly magnified, and shift without warning. Uncertainty about the future, dependence on others, lack of routine and purpose all contribute to a feeling I call ‘blerrrh’, which reoccurs from time to time when I start thinking too far ahead. Remember what you learned on the trail Muk? One day at a time? Don’t focus on the finish line, focus on your next step, as each one will bring you closer to your goal.
It’s funny how you can feel more lonely in a big city surrounded by hundreds of people, than on a trail in the middle of the wilderness by yourself. Yesterday I experienced this whilst hiding out in the corner of a Starbucks while using their wifi. I’ve already spent an excruciating amount of money on coffee for the privilege of their slow at best wifi services, and wasn’t prepared to fork out anymore. As I sat there reading some of the final comments that had come through, I started sinking into an empty place. Someone even mentioned I lacked the glow of the trail in this new city setting. I pondered this as I stared out the window at the pigeons pecking crumbs off the pavement. Maybe I should let it go… all good things come to an end right? Hang on, that sounds very conventional, since when have I followed convention?
I left Starbucks with three hours to kill before catching up with friends. Hmmm what to do? I guess I could go for a walk? I’m happy to report I’m averaging about 5 miles a day just walking around the city. If there’s anything that’s going to make me feel good it’s the outdoors and exercise. Why do you think the trail is such a euphoric experience for people? Multiply walking and being outside by 5-6 months and you have your answer.
Today I finally felt ready to tackle the beginning of the clean up. First up was my pack, which had been siting on the floor of my room since I arrived on Monday night.
Other than throwing away most of my half eaten food, I simply relocated my still rancid pack this afternoon, from the floor of Ladybug’s spare bedroom, to BJ’s backyard. We actually decided to put it up on the outdoor furniture with its 101 different smells so that the dog wouldn’t pee on it.
Next up was going through the six packages I had sent myself home from the trail. What exciting goodies would lie in these? What did I spend my hard earned dollars shipping internationally back to Canada? I began pulling items out one by one after locating three missing packages tucked in my suitcase…
So far the transition back into ‘this’ world has been a gradual one. My toiletries are still contained in a ziplock bag, I’m still drinking water from my Gatorade bottle, I discovered my appetite is still the same after the 7 pieces of French toast I ate this morning, and I’m still making videos of my day to day activities. Old habits die hard!
As the dust settles – 11 October 2013
It’s been a hard slog pumping out the last week on trail and reliving the experience again back in the ‘real world’. I think in some ways it’s been therapeutic, and has eased me back into life with a feeling of purpose and routine. It’s also meant holding onto the people who have been with me every step of the way through the blog. Most of whom I’ve never met, but feel a great connection with despite that.
I guess it will take a while for true re-entry to take effect. When my arrival celebrations concluded in Manning Park on Monday and I finally entered the world of wifi again, I realised firstly that SPOT hadn’t worked since 11am that day, and that speculations of my whereabouts were running rampant. I quickly informed my parents that I was in fact still alive and then sat in bed until 3:30am reading through the mass of comments that had accumulated since I last had connection. It was wild!
I woke to an empty house later that morning, hobbled downstairs, and made coffee. No stove, no HEET, no Trader Joe’s packets required. I sat there thinking, ‘now what?’ All I could think to do was make a video, who else was I going to talk to?
When I finally left the house and walked the 3.5 miles into downtown Vancouver I realised not all that much had changed…
I was still finding water sources along the way:
I was still eating lunch outdoors:
And I was still surrounded by other people walking (my favourite being this woman behind me with hiking poles. I wanted to borrow them for the uphills!):
What had changed was that I wasn’t wearing smart wool, rain pants and gaiters. I’d borrowed some ‘real world’ clothing from my dear friend Lady Bug, which I’ve been wearing the last three days. I obviously haven’t kicked the wearing the same clothes everyday habit just yet.
What was also different was that people don’t acknowledge one another when they pass you on the street. I said hi to so many people who just looked at me blankly. No exchange of names, where did you start out today, or where are you heading type questions.
The obvious one was also the lack of bathroom facilities; but the plethora of Starbucks locations made up for that. The only difference was not having to carry wet wipes and hand sanitizer around with me. The other difference was the necessary change of name back to Rozanne. “One tall iced coffee for… errgh… Muk Muk??”
I wasn’t and am not sure if I will continue to update the blog except for a review of my gear and any updates required on the pre-existing pages. Like the trail I think I need to give this online experience some time to sink in.
For now I am taking on the advice of others; getting plenty of good food, rest, and surrounding myself with great people. The future has many new adventures in store, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to share another epic tale like the one I’ve just lived.
Thank you again for living and sharing this one with me!