We wake up on Nick’s floor, next to Pacman, snoozing on the couch. Back in town. So many chores, decisions. The detritus of town-living.
Being in the city is still overwhelming, even after being on the highway for weeks. A city is funny place to transition back to the trail, but that’s the plan. I’ve been texting with 3D, and she’s in Portland too, which is crazy and amazing.
Wait a minute, you say. What DID happen with 3D? Last that Team Whiskers saw her, she was riding away, alone, to find her way back to the PCT. Short story is she pedaled north into the blistering Central California heat to the small town of Weed, fortuitously caught a bus to Ashland, OR, and found her way back to the PCT, then hiked Oregon. (The longer story can be found on her blog, HERE.) She sent us texts of hiker parties and rainbow kitty unicorn butterflies and Crater Lake. We sent her pictures of redwoods and the sea. She was the instigator of this crazy bicycle detour, and then left us to ride it out her own way, on a parallel journey, ending up here, now, same as us.
I have all these mixed, conflicting feelings about the PCT, and being a thru-hiker, and seeing other hikers. J and I have had an on-going discussion/argument about what, exactly, does it MEAN to be a thru-hiker, and we continue it. It’s a good question. I’ve been thinking about it since my very first day on the trail, when I had to decide if I was going to call myself a thru-hiker or not. Can you be a thru-hiker when you haven’t gone thru anything (or hiked a single step yet)? What if you only go part way thru? What if, just for example, you bicycle thru, just for a part of it?
The other question, for me at least, is just how much all of this internal questioning is motivated by what I think my peers will think about it, about me. So much of “cool” crowd in the PCT/long-distance hiking world seems centered around the glorification of those who hike faster, longer, farther than anyone else. Competition seems so firmly ground into our psyches that most of us have no idea how to deal with having dozens of other people around us having parallel experiences. It doesn’t make any sense to think this way – your first 25 mile day is not negated by your friend hiking their first 26. In fact, no one’s achievement is in any way affected by any other’s. The PCT is not a race. It’s a place, 2660 miles long, and one mile wide. Seeing all of it in one year, in one trip, in one go, to see it thru – that’s something special. But it doesn’t have a thing to do with your worth as a person.
Or so I tell myself. The things I know consciously, I am striving to learn to understand unconsciously. A lifetime of living in the ratrace is hard to shake. I know that getting off the trail and onto the bicycles has saved my PCT trip. My feet, after a month of not hiking, have finally stopped hurting. (The shooting heel pain struck as recently as last week.) My body is strong again. My spirits are high again. More importantly – most importantly – my soul-destroying, neurotic obsession with an “orthodox” thru-hike, at the exclusion of finding meaning, hope, or joy in my journey, has faded and left. I would not have relinquished it voluntarily, but the fires took it from me. Gave my heart back to me. A gift.
This is something I will have to think about some more.
Speaking of the ratrace, I’m going to go into the office today. (It weirds me out just to write this sentence.) I was lucky enough to get a leave of absence for this summer, and I didn’t have to quit my job like so many others. However, my work email password expired in… May… so I don’t actually know if I really still have a job. They could have laid me off two months ago for all I know. I can’t update my password unless I’m on the company network. I tried to update my password in Reno, as my friend Jule, who was hosting me, works for the same company, but the network was down that day. So, I’ll try again today, at the office in Portland.
I borrow Nick’s car, and navigate his standard through Portland traffic and a maze of freeway interchanges and through the suburbs – all terrifying. I’m out of practice at this sort of civilized thing. Wearing my hiking pants and the shirt without any holes, I walk in and convince the admins to let me borrow a computer, and I catch up on my email.
Can’t say I’ve missed it.
I still have a job, and I’m relieved/disappointed to have real life waiting for me, just around the corner. You have to pay for adventures somehow, I guess.
I haven’t managed to take care of any trail chores – resupply, etc, – but those can wait till tomorrow. J and I relocate from Nick’s place to J’s brother’s, and say goodbye to Pacman, who we leave to his own devices. Then, biking down the streets of Portland, we run into Chris and Sarah, fellow thru-hikers who were stranded by the fires in the town of Chester with us. The PCT! It’s almost here. PCT, PCT, PCT I chant to myself, pedaling across town. PCT. PCT.