This week is my birthday week. I will be 42 in two days … I’ve been milking it for all it’s worth. My arrival at the Timberline Lodge, on beautiful Mount Hood, coincided with Labor Day weekend, so I decided to take a zero (0 miles, rest day) in Portland to rest my feet and eat something else than Ramen.
Seeing my friend Ana walk up the paved trail that joins up to the PCT was surreal. Here she was, hair done, perfect makeup, perfect fashionable outfit, perfect high heel shoes, a vision out of a magazine, smelling delicious, but unlike anything you’d smell in the woods. and here I was a happy thru-hiker. Of all my ratted hair, torn pants, tapped pack and other hiking side-effects, the smell was what offended her most about me. She lovingly insisted that “we need to get you cleaned up. You can’t go out in public like this.” I actually don’t smell as bad as some of the other hikers. My pack does a bit. The foam’s acquired a bit of a funk in the muggy heat of the early Oregon days (it’s in the wash as I type this). Her insistence to have me “cleaned up” and more conformable to society’s standards bothered me a bit. We all get attached to our self-image sometimes. I love the trail, and I love who I am on the trail. Melissa is pretty cool, but the Bobcat is free-er, wilder, greater. I like that I smell like dirt, twigs and sweat. I like that my feet’s calluses are permanently black, with encrusted dirt that cannot be washed away. I love that my life weighs less than 20 Lbs and comes with a different scenery everyday. I love the people who live in my world, and the fact that I feel like a super-hero, and have been treated as such for the past 5 and a half month … but I’ll get to this.
So, I got cleaned up, and Ana and I went out to some of the best restaurants in Portland. Hanging out with one of my best friends was like a dream. The whole scene was like a dream. People looked so clean that they seemed fake. It’s not so much that I didn’t fit in as much as I wasn’t in. If you watch fancy people on the red carpet of the Oscars night on TV, it really doesn’t matter that you are laying on your couch at home in sweat pants. That’s how I felt. My dirty trail shoes and unwashed hair were absolutely irrelevant to the scene at hand. I wasn’t there, but I was fascinated and probably staring more than was appropriate. The strangest part was the sudden anonymity. Even in trail towns, I am still a hiker in a town. People either know, guess or are curious about thru-hikers. Then come the questions. Where are you hiking from? WOAH! Mexico – what!?? You’re going how far!? Canada! – that’s amazing! Congratulations! Those who know usually have an envious awe. “I’ve always wanted to, but now <insert excuse>”. Those who look at us in disbelief at first, but since we look the part, they must in the end expand their mind to accommodate the new information that there are pretty normal looking people out there who can walk from Mexico to Canada. You get used to being a super-hero really fast. But there I was in Portland, wearing jeans and without a pack, completely unspectacular. On one hand, I didn’t like being anonymous, but on the other hand, there is a strange internal strength that comes from knowing you can do exceptional things, even when nobody else can tell. I think that’s how Clark Kent and Peter Parker cope with it.
Truth is, I actually don’t feel that exceptional. I walked over 2000 miles. So? I have girlfriends fire-fighters, ultra-marathon runners, single moms and full time workers. Those are the people who deserve the super-hero capes. Me, I am mostly indulging in the most open-space unbridled freedom I have ever experienced. That really doesn’t require any special skill or extra fortitude. I’m at the point now where I have seen many friends leave the trail. I wouldn’t be one of them. I feel too much joy out there. As Maddog said, there are days when your Serotonine is through the roof. I like to think of it as perfect alignment with my higher Self. In either case, for those of us for whom the trail provides the greatest joy we have ever experienced, quitting would be challenging; walking 2650 miles is the easy path. There are, of course, some things about the off-trail world I miss, and getting a taste of civilization for 30-some hours brought them back to mind. I miss sleeping. I’m just really tired these days. I just want to get off trail and sleep for a month, and not walk anywhere. I miss driving, mochas, earrings, movies, flush toilets, friends you can visit, food that isn’t cooked with just hot water, fresh fish, beds long enough for your body including feet and head (I sleep on a very comfy pad, but it’s a small, and I’m taller than a small). Huh … That’s actually it.
On my second day in town, my friends Dacia and Matt treated Weathercarrot (who is off-trail in Portland) and me to an amazing four-course meal that included steak, two different kinds of raw fish dishes, fresh-made pina colada and other wonderfulnesses. In one fell swoop that covered almost all the things I had been craving, including time with off-trail friends. Dacia released me to the wild the next morning, right where Ana had picked me up. I felt like I had gone home. There are even more things about the on-trail world I will miss when this is all over, like freedom, open skies, mind-boggling vistas, quirky instant random trail friendships, fresh water straight out of streams, the smell of dirt and pine trees and flowers, the comfort of knowing what today’s task is (walking!). I will miss having my entire life in a pack and knowing I have all I need, nothing more, nothing less. I will miss peace.
Yesterday, I took the Eagle Creek alternate route, which features waterfalls every 5 minutes – funny, just the day before Panama Red was telling me he felt there weren’t many waterfalls on the PCT. Well, I hope he took the alternate. There is even one with a tunnel, so you can walk underneath the waterfall. So cool! – where was I? Oh yeah. At one of the waterfalls, I sat down for a snack. Since it’s my birthday week, I treated myself to a resupply at Trader Joe’s. My food bag is ri-di-cu-lous! It is unnecessarily heavy for a three-day section, which I ended up doing in two days anyways. I’ve got dried pineapples, pumpernickel pretzels, sugar lemon cookies, heavy Indian pre-cooked meals, and more. Mmmh mmmh mmmh. I sat with my ridiculous delicious food bag for a while and was amazed that I was even there. The green all around me was so vibrant, the water so clear and refreshing, the silence so pervasive. If there is an image of peace, I think I was sitting in it. These are the moments on the trail that I will likely never adequately be able to share with you, not with words, nor with photos. They just need to be experienced. I often feel a state of euphoric joy when I first leave town. I think it stems from a combination of proper nutrition and a sense of returning home. This time, the section was so short that it was carried over from Portland to Cascade Locks. I have it right now. It’s like internal heaven.
Another reason for my state of euphoria is all those volcanoes. Oh, volcanoes everywhere!! The Jefferson wilderness and the Sisters were some of the most scenic sections of the trail. I loved California, but Oregon I must say takes the cake for mountain vistas … and I haven’t even gotten to the big volcanoes I know and love. Washington might yet prove to be where my mind explodes from too much beauty. Already, yesterday I could see Adams, Rainier and St. Helens in one vista, right before entering the Columbia River Gorge, and that is after two days of being on or in plain sight of Mt. Hood. I just love the Cascades so much. I am definitely a Pacific Northwest girl. The vegetation has been morphing to the lush greens of my Bellingham home and the weather is turning to a crisp cold in the morning. If you are on Facebook, you’ve seen the photos. Fall is definitely approaching fast, if not here already.
Less than 500 miles to go, one more season (fall), a handful of volcanoes, and still friends to meet and surprises in store. One month of walking left. I am not ready for the trail to end yet. I might never be ready …
May you all follow your dreams and find yourself with dirt under your nails occasionally – except you Ana, you wouldn’t like it 🙂
XOX – TheBobcat.