The honeymoon is over, but my love for the trail remains. In fact I think it grows daily. I had my fist serious blister (the kind that turns into a small geyser when pierced), I had my first downpour (the kind that gets all your maps soaking wet and unreadable). As the first-miles rose-goggles fell off, I had my first sad day on the trail, my first cold day, my first getting lost day. I also found that the adage my friend wrote on the last ressuply box is true: “Wherever you go, there you are” and that off-trail drama resurfaces in one’s mind with the miles. I am glad that it does.I like to think that it is bubbling up to be released into the wild, and I would much rather have it get released than buried and festering behind a veneer of joy. The trail provides and lovingly accomodates all my needs without judgement.
Trail magic usually refers to finding unsuspected gifts along the way (like on day one, when I found a crisp $20 bill laying on the trail), but I think it goes beyond that. When thoughts of my off-trail life and its complicated relationships bubbled up, the lovely Moss appeared, a willing ear and understanding trail sister. When a small wave of sadness set in, the trail provided me with a very tall granite boulder overlooking an amphitheatre of a valley and an hour hiatus from any other hikers in which I could channel that sadness into harmonica tunes, and slowly get back to a place of joy. The trail also knows when my attention is elsewhere. It places bright flowers along the way when I need a presence reminder, PCT signs when I’m about to get lost (or when my map falls out of my pocket), shade when I am tired or hungry and friends when I can use the company, even when I don’t know I need company. My energy is definitely less exuberant than it was the first week, but my love for the trail gets deeper with each mile, born of a deepening sense of trust and belonging. The trail does not belong to me; I belong on it, yet know that I am always here by choice. This is ultimate freedom and I do not take it for granted. There is nowhere I would rather be than right where I am.
I went to the kickoff party. After the week of solitude, the KO was a bit of a shock to my system. Can you picture 680 smelly hikers in line for a burrito? It looks massive. I was glad I went though. I met wonderful like-minded people there – many of them! I was also able to sell my tent to a thru-hiking friend and buy another tent much more to my liking. I weathered the first downpour by hitching a ride into Julian where Mom’s Pie Shop provides free pies and coffee to all thru-hikers. We really are a spoiled bunch. I have met only a handfull of Trail Angels so far, but they spoil us from the goodlness of their heart without ever expecting anything in return. They should be issued wings, for sure. I will count my friend Ana and Cynthia, the Campo post office lady in that lot, the combination of which got me new maps to replace my wet unreadable ones overnight, delivered in hand at the kickoff. My gratitude also to Trail Angel Mike and all the other ones I will never meet but whose water caches in the desert are life-saving, literally. Little Brown also deserves mention for rescuing us from a 3-hour failed attempt at hitching a ride out of Warner Springs (and letting me ride in the back of his truck, which was so fun it should be illegal – oh, wait, it is!) and taking us to pies and second breakfast, and then back to the trail. And there is Tom, from Kennedy Meadows, whose full time job right now seems to be shuttling smelly hikers to and fro, and delivering pizza when the paradise Cafe is closed. He says that since hikers are not at Kennedy Meadows yet, he’ll just hang around and help out down here until the bulk of us get into the San Jacinto mountains.
Oooooh, the San jacinto mountains!!! Holy Smokes that was beautiful!! The trail follows vertiginous cliffs, 8000 feet or so above the flat desert floor below, where the sprawling town of Palm Springs seems like a lego set. Last night, the wind was howling. Long lenticulars rolled in and wrapped themself on the jagged peaks we spent all day climbing up and down. Then the sun set, and the whole gorgeousness turned pink and orange. It is so easy to become accustomed to mind-blowing beauty when you live in it daily. Last night for example, when the sunset took on such epic proportions, I sent my friend Luna off with my camera to take photos of the sunset because I was much more interested in a hot meal at that point.
I have been hiking alone, but my solo nights have mostly come to an end. This early on the trail, hikers are still too bunched up to really be avoided. The first trail family in which I was adopted was composed of a solo viking-looking Minnesotan and a father and son, LB (Last on Bus), Pepper and Chilli. Chilli is only 13, but he’s seen more than most 25 years old I know. LB was my first trail friend. Last I heard he set camp one hour north of Warner Springs … I’m already two days ahead, I might not see him again for a while. I was slightly faster than that group, so I ended up in step with a second trail family. Beating the trail odds for male-female ratio, we are three girls (Moss, Luna and me – Luna was maya, then was Focus, she might still change name before the ordeal is over), and three guys, a duo of super-human fast hikers collectively refered to as “the Cousins”, and Opus. We also occasionally have Joe with us. He doesn’t have a trail name yet. That group is overall faster than me, but they are so fun that I have been pulling daily fast 20-milers to stay with them. That was unwise. I bruised the bottom of my feet. I am now in town for a zero day, a rest day, to recover. My gang might or might not hike on, no judgement, no expectations. This is ultimate freedom. If I lose these, there are more trail families out there, more wonderful people to meet, more solitude to be enjoyed. Every encounter is a little gift, as is the lack of encounters. I am glad I learned the lesson about not following other people’s pace early on. I am back to selfishely listening to my body. I am grateful that the trail provided me with a great little town for a zero day when I needed one. The trail provides anything and everything I might ever want or need. In fact, the trail friggin’ SPOILS me!!
Some select quotes of the week:
Legion (laying in the shade after 9 miles): “Our motto is ‘don’t over do it'”.
Snapper: “I didn’t think we had enough energy to come up with mottos”.
Legion: “You’re right, our motto is meh …”
Greyjay (Cousin 1): “Moss is fast – you can tell because the scratches on her legs are horizontal”
LB: “The trail provides” (which he says as one would say “the dude abides”).
Love to you all. Life is good here!
XOX – The Bobcat.