I sit and write this after a month away from this blog, feeling guilty that I haven’t been more consistent, feeling determined to catch up one way or another. The two and a half months I’ve been tackling this PCT adventure of mine have been full of literal and figurative detours, both positive and negative, that have put me in a place I didn’t expect. I’m hoping that all these detours have led me to a better point to tackle the next four months, but to be entirely honest, I have no idea what to expect between now and the end of the journey.
I initially started the Pacific Crest Trail with a grand goal of crafting a documentary about the experience of through-hiking from Mexico to Canada, filled with interviews of other hikers and footage of beautiful mountainscapes, flowers blowing in the wind, rain pattering on mountain lakes, and animals frolicking in glades and meadows. It was beautiful as I’d laid it out in my head, almost dreamlike, and as it turns out, more dream than reality. The rigors of the trail, the amount of time and energy I was investing into simply walking from point A to point B was alone too much to accommodate the kind of shooting I’d hoped to do, and the amount of solitude I was encountering, and eventually embracing, proved equally detrimental, if not more so. I was not shooting a documentary, after a while, I was merely hiking, and taking photos, and enjoying every minute of doing so. I figured this out early in the hike, but never admitted it to myself, and particularly not to anyone else, beyond expressing the most basic doubts that it would come together.
What I found instead of the documentary was a sense of discovering some primal side of myself that I relished. Through the deserts of Southern California and into the lower Sierras, my basic needs became distilled to the simple act of moving and staying alive. I developed a routine, simple though it was, of waking up with the sunrise, packing my tent, and walking 15-20 miles every day. I would plot out my water needs, calculate how much I would have to carry between water sources, how much food I would need to eat and in what time frames, and figure out how to listen to my body, to rest before I was too tired, to understand what the aches and pains meant, and how to relieve them. In one of the last stretches of the Mojave Desert, I came to understand dehydration and its affects, in the southern mountains of the High Sierra, I pushed my body further physically than I ever had before, as I stumbled into Kennedy Meadows, I came face to face with heat stroke and calorie deficiency, and overcame it. I was learning to survive, in the most basic sense of the word, and I was loving it.
My first week in the Sierras was a disaster, pure and simple. I had more go wrong for me in those seven or eight days than on the entire trail up to that point, and it wore on me. I had pushed hard to get to Kennedy Meadows, around 250 miles in two weeks without a rest day, and was beaten down, mentally, physically, emotionally. I was motivated only by the goal of getting to Mt. Whitney by the 6th of June, to see Susan, to finally get out of the desert and into a place where I wouldn’t have to carry 10-12 lbs of water with me every day. I had lost 20 lbs, my legs and back were consistently sore, my feet a painful ruin. I’d developed an infection in my right big toe, and my heels were blistered and cracked, in some cases blistered beneath the cracks of quarter inch calluses. I was a wreck, and I knew it, yet I pressed on.
I will get into the details of my first week in the Sierras eventually, it’s a story for another time, but the end result was an injury that was brought about by my ignoring the very things I had learned to listen to in the months prior, the tell-tale aches, the need for rest, the need for consistent hydration and food intake. I wore myself down, plain and simple, and suffered a minor stress fracture as a result. My hike was now over, for a time at least, and I was left wondering what the next step was.
I find this has been a running pattern in my life up to this point. I reach an impasse and have to pivot in another direction, completely separating from one direction in favor of another. I’ve done it time and time again in the face of adversity, or restlessness, or unhappiness. When I was struggling to feel useful my first year at the University of Iowa, I ran to New York and attended the NY Film Academy to get a fresh start and perspective. When I finished my undergraduate studies at the Iowa and was stagnating in my career and my life, I moved to New Zealand, literally half the world away, in order to start over. When I left New Zealand and a life I loved, but couldn’t afford, I went to Los Angeles and enrolled in graduate school, then started working constantly to the detriment of my personal life. When relationships unraveled and work wore me down, I embraced loneliness and started hiking and exploring the southwestern US. When I got so sick of my job I could barely stand an hour of it, let alone 18, I decided to pack my life up and run away to the PCT under the auspices of making a documentary, but really just to escape. It’s a consistent pattern I’ve come to understand in my life, and one I need to break out of, somehow.
It’s hard for me to admit, but I struggle seeing things through, and I have a fear, some sort of innate self-destruct button, that keeps me from finishing things. I’m a dreamer, always have been, but the reality of tackling those dreams often eludes me. As I was thankfully reminded during that first week in the mountains, though at the time it hurt deeply, I am directionless, planless, drifting aimlessly and constantly running. I don’t like this side of me, I don’t want to run away anymore, and I don’t want to quit before I’m done. It’s time to see things through.
It’s the morning of my 35th birthday, and I sit in Olympia, Washington writing this instead of exploring the Yosemite back country as I’d hoped to be doing. I feel old, I feel tired, I feel like I’ve lived a life filled with mistakes and missteps. I’m ready for a change, but first, I have to finish what I’ve started. The Sierras beat me two weeks ago, but I feel stronger in mind and body than I have since before Kennedy Meadows, and my leg has no sign of the pain that drove me from the Trail in the first place.
I’m ready to start over, this time with a new direction, literally and figuratively. Starting from the Canadian border, I will hike south, ending my journey at Tuolomne Meadows, where I was supposed to wake up this morning. The Sierras, depending on weather and trail conditions, may have to wait until next year, but I will beat them. I’m going to complete this hike, and in so doing, I’m going to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with my life. I will develop a plan, and I’ll see it through for once, and I’ll put myself on a path to living a happy and fulfilling life. I’m tired of starting over, hopefully this will be the last time.