Chapter 15  Shoes finally and a summary of emotions

Chapter 16  A rush to hot springs and another 30+ mile day

Chapter 17  Another hot day, a fellow PCTer gets into trouble

Chapter 18  The day I decided to leave the trail… for good

Chapter 19  Back to Civilization

 

Chapter 15  Shoes finally and a summary of emotions

Men are not known for being in touch with their emotions which is especially true of me.  Jade and I were talking with a fellow hiker who asked what feelings I have been having so far on the trail.  I didn’t really know what to say, I stumbled around for a while in the question, guessing at different answers till one seemed to fit.  Here is what I have gathered after further reflection.  The trail scares me.  Fear may not be an emotion, but more of a reaction or a mental state.  But this fear comes from the emotions I have.  There have been many nights where I have felt a panic and dread I haven’t felt since I was a kid.  When I was young, somewhere around ten, I would constantly battle with feelings of dread.  They bordered on panic attacks.  All day long I would have this overwhelming fear of an impending death.  That I was going to die that day.  I couldn’t distract myself from it, all day it would be in front of me.  Sometimes it would even present with physical manifestations, I would start to get blurred vision, racing heartbeat, rapid breathing.  To this day I don’t know why it would happen or what made it stop.  On the trail, usually at night, the same feeling would come creeping.  Talking about it with Jade I realized it had a lot to do with a isolating feeling the trail brings.  It’s so quiet out here.  There is so much open space.  There are so many ways you are not in control.  So many things that can kill you.  And here we are walking through it all.  Then it starts to get dark and the isolation becomes suffocating.  The open space becomes empty space.  The world moves from very big to what’s right in front of you, what you can see with your headlamp.  Shadows move and make you a little bit more insecure.  You know they are just shadows, your mind is playing tricks on you, but it slowly wears on you.  Water smoothing over a rock.  And then there is the task of reaching your mile goal.  It pulls you onward despite the feelings and doubts and worries.  It pulls in a confrontational way, “you must get here”.  The lack of control creates doubts, “was this a mistake”, “what if something happens to the dogs”, “what if something happens to someone we love and we weren’t there for them”, “what are we missing out on by being here”.  All this happens as you feel the air getting colder, the shadows getting longer and darker, the miles between you and the rest of the world stretching further and further.  

Remoteness,

Aloneness,

Flimsiness,

Weakness,

Insignificance.

The stars remind you how small, how meaningless you are.  You grab for significance but there is only air, you wouldn’t survive for a minute without the air.  So feeble.  

The trail doesn’t care who you thought you where, it takes you, dissects you, and makes you part of its order.  

While on the trail my emotions have been mostly anger and sadness.

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We did finally get Jade’s shoes and started the trail by midday.  Today we hiked 9 miles

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Chapter 16  A rush to hot springs and another 30+ mile day

If we hike 33 miles we would reach a remote hot springs by night and be able to soak our wounds and aches.  Or we could get there in the morning when the sun will start making things uncomfortable.  The terrain was mostly flat and we were going about 3 mph with Jade’s new shoes.  Again we packed too much food and the weight was uncomfortable, but we were managing.  The day was spent hiking through beautiful scenery.  We hiked around a lake, under huge coniferous trees, with many wildflowers dotting the forest floor.  The first half of the day there wasn’t much water but by three we came to a small stream that slowly became a river.  By dusk we were hiking above a canyon with the river flowing far below.  The canyon was was steep and mostly made up of rock adding some discomfort as we hiked in the dark.  One wrong step, one slip and who knows where we would land.  When nightfall finally did arrive it was much harder to stay motivated to get to the hotspring.  The encouragement of the lovely landscape had faded with the light and every campsite we came to seemed like the most comfortable place in the world.  The many miles we had hiked also began to take its toll on our joints and we were doing a lot of ups and downs now.  When we finally made it to the hot springs our reward was immediate.  The hot springs was a lithium based spring which apparently helps relax you.  In the coolness of the night it was incredibly refreshing.  The springs included some six pools of different temperatures and depths.  The river that we followed ran alongside the hotsprings and was a cool temperature.  There were bullfrogs of some sort, filling the night with strange noises resembling a motorcycle starting up but pleasant to hear.  After soaking, we made our beds in the sand fell asleep.  Today we hiked 33 miles

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Chapter 17  Another hot day, a fellow PCTer gets into trouble

Not only had we made it to the hot springs but we had caught up to our group.  Jade chatted with everyone while I explored the spring pools and river.  We stayed for a couple hours enjoying everything and then we headed to our new destination:  A campground that was close enough to the road to order pizza.  After climbing up out of the canyon and away from the trees the heat again started.  Soon we were moving away from the river and the landscape was turning to the all familiar yellow and black.  Everywhere in the desert there are signs of fire.  Trees that were burnt twenty years ago but have not yet turned to dirt.  The desert is a history lesson.  It carries all it’s stories right in front, to be seen by all.  We walked through another fire area today, this one had been more recent, still no growth.  Most of the day was spent in the yellow and black.  It was really hot and really dry.  One of the members in our group passed out and had to get a ride into the next town.  He was a normal guy, our age, who had no problems until this point.  Another reminder.  The last five miles were spent walking around a beautiful lake.  It has been very hard for me to see things like lakes and rock and rivers and not explore them, staying on the trail to meet quota.  I am not that person in real life.  Even on road trips we keep our schedules flexible just in case we come across something.  It took me three days to get from California to Michigan because I stopped so many times and went on so many hikes.  Today we hiked 21 miles.

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Chapter 18  The day I decided to leave the trail… for good

Let me describe my daily routine since starting this hike.  I wake up, so far there have only been three nights where I have slept.  All the other nights I have been bothered by uncomfortable ground, uneven ground, ants, mosquitoes, or just my imagination.  So if the night was a good one, I wake up and don’t want the leave the rare sleep.  If the night was a bad one i’m tired and still don’t want to get up.  When finally I do get up, I’m reminded that today will be like yesterday, walking a lot and not stopping enough.  Thru life is not my life.  Thru life is concerned with quantity and not quality.  It says you can look but don’t touch.  Many times I have wanted to check something out, swim in a lake, climb a rock but there is no time, stay on the trail.  Usually we have a mile goal set the night before, a place to get to.  My mind focuses on the goal and figures out how long we will be walking, what pace we will need to keep, and what time we will get there.  At the start of the walk I look at my wristwatch, I will repeat this at least 5 times every hour.  Counting down the miles and counting down the time.  The motivation is the destination, the promise that at some point I will be able to put down this heavy bag and stop walking.  There will be no time for exploring or enjoying.  It will be dinner time and then the sun will be gone.  Throughout the hike I try to talk with Jade, learn about her.  She is the most fascinating thing in the world, but despite that it is still very hard to talk at times.  Those conversations and discoveries fill in the time gaps, help move the second hand a little faster, but not by very much.  I have not once thought about giving up, not once thought about anything but the completion of the trail… Until today.  I don’t know what it was about today, it was the same hot, boring day as always.  All of the sudden I was telling Jade we needed to talk about what to do if I got off the trail.  We spent the next three hours talking about it.  The longer I talked the more I realized this was it, I was done.  I hated this trail and hated thru hiking.  I wouldn’t miss it, I wouldn’t regret it.  This had been Jade’s thing and I had tried to make it my thing, tried and failed.  Ultimately we decided she should stay on the trail, she had grown in her confidence the last few weeks and we had found a great trail family to hike with.  She was very sad at the thought of hiking without me but was also sad at the thought of getting off the trail.  I didn’t want to be the cause of her getting off the trail but I didn’t think I could stay on the trail and help her complete it.  It was mostly me being selfish, another admirable attribute shown to me by the trail.  Never had we been in this place before in our marriage.  Never before had we come to a wall without compromise.  I was unwilling to continue on the trail and she was unwilling to quite.  The plan was for me to return to Michigan and support her as she continued the hike.  We were also underprepared financially and this would give me an opportunity to keep us out of any problems.  It all made a lot of sense to both of us.  That night I got a ride into the next town, still a days hike away, and she stayed on the trail.  She only got 5 miles in when she called me and cried she didn’t want to do it without me.  I got a ride, picked her up and we stayed in town together.

The next day I convinced her she had to try, I didn’t want her quitting this hike to be on my conscience.  Talking with other members of our hiking party, everyone seemed to understand and be supportive of our plan.  When it all came down to it, maybe I could have struggled through the rest of the trail but I debated in my mind that the mental anguish would drive me crazy.  That to continue to put up with this hike would make me a worse person than I was coming to realize myself to already be.  I couldn’t do it, I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t do it.  

She would hike to the next town, 5 days away, I would wait for her in Simi Valley and we would reevaluate what to do next.  I really hoped she would be able to keep hiking without me.  We celebrated our seven year wedding anniversary and I left the next day.  I hiked 12 miles she hiked 17.

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Chapter 19  Back to Civilization

I was so sure leaving the trail was the right thing for me, I was so sure that I wouldn’t miss any of it, that there would be no regrets.  I was more sure of these things than anything and I am not a very confident person.  When someone asks me how sure I am of something I never say 100%.  I was 100% percent sure about this.  That changed very quickly, as I drove out of the mountains, that sureness melted away, suddenly I was looking around and wondering who it was that wasn’t enjoying the hike and all the beauty it delivered and what was wrong with them.  I imagined the view from the trail as we sped down the mountains into the valley.  I said in my mind, this is wrong, I need to stay on the trail.  I realized I wasn’t willing to let Jade do this alone.  I wanted to be part of this adventure with her no matter how hard it would be for me.  One of the girls we were hiking with told me, “When Jade gets back from the trail she will have all these stories and memories, she will want to share them with you but she won’t be able to really share them, because, you weren’t there”.  I wanted to be there.  

I gave myself the day to think about it and I kept going back and forth.  I wanted to be with Jade on the trail, but I also wanted to take care of our finances and wanted to take care of our pets and wanted to see my brother be a father for the first time and wanted to relieve my mom of the burdens we had placed on her (she was watching our two dogs and two cats and sending us resupply packages).  In the end, after all the debating in my mind, I knew Jade was my priority.  If I did wrong by everyone else to do right by Jade, that would be the best decision.  This must be an obvious decision for many of you, I have ready many books and shook my head at a turning point in the book but was a simple decision for me.  Now I am making the same simple decision as if it was the very hardest thing I ever had to work out.  I doubt I will ever get things right the first try.  Now here is the new plan:  Jade doesn’t know I have decided to rejoin her, she recently text me and said she is doing really good on the trail but doesn’t know if she wants to keep going without me.  I don’t think it’s torture to not tell her I’m going to rejoin her because right now she is learning that she can do this without me, she can navigate the trail without me, set up camp without me, sleep surrounded by all the dark things in the night without me, cook food without me.  I’m going to meet her a days hike away from the next town (Aqua Dulce) and let her know I’m going to keep going.  The finances are still shaky but never again will we have this opportunity.  I don’t know if I will make it, I don’t know if we will make it or she will make it or anything.  I know I have to try at least one more time.

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