Date: June 29
PCT miles: no
I get up early and ride a loaner bicycle to the grocery store. Well, first I go for a mile in the wrong direction, but I genuinely don’t mind because riding bikes is fun and the weather is perfect.
When I get back I have to try to pack my bear can which is comical. We’re carrying 10 days of food, the biggest carry on the trail, and I have to use both my bear can and my opsack to fit it all.
I go get breakfast and go to the gear store where I get some new shoes. Karma and Soulshine get my attention by banging on a window as I walk by. “Did you get my text?” She asks me. No. She says she’s hiking with a group and I can go with them. But that group is close with the one that just left me, and I don’t want to hold Karma back. I tell her about my plans to hike with Denied but our itineraries sound similar so we’ll likely see each other anyway.
I go to the post office and ship myself some food to VVR, our next resupply stop. I grab lunch with Denied and then we catch a ride back to the trail with Santa’s Helper.
I am hiking up the mountain and feeling a heavy weight in my chest. It’s just the post-town blues, I am trying to tell myself.
We get to one of the camping options for the night, a mile and a half in, and some hikers who were close with my group are camping there. Denied wants to camp there and they say it’s okay, but before our tents are set up they have all gone to bed. It’s early, 8. Am I imagining things, or are they avoiding me? I can’t tell.
I crawl in my own tent and try to go to sleep, but suddenly it’s like my body has forgotten how to breathe. I take a deep, calming breath and then choke on the following breaths. Too shallow ones that make my lungs tingle, like they’re collapsing. Is this altitude sickness? I wonder. I try to run through all the symptoms I know of, but this feeling feels familiar – it feels like a panic attack.
It’s then that I notice my brain is racing. I’m imagining climbing up over Kearsarge, Glen, Mather, Muir with this bubble of people watching me, waiting for me to freak out, waiting for me to fail. I’m imagining them hiking purposefully ahead of me so that I can’t follow their paths. I’m imagining Denied, young and unsure and trying to find his own way up the mountain, trying to help me out of my fears entirely on his own. In this bubble, I am a burden, my brain believes. That is too heavy a thought to carry through these mountains.
And this feeling isn’t new. Before starting the PCT I read on and in about trail families, how they are some of the best friendships you’ll ever have. But that isn’t what I’ve found out here, though I’ve truly wanted to. In the desert, it wasn’t a problem. The casual friendships were enough, and hiking in my own was safe. I thought a family would happen organically. But it didn’t. And for the last section of the Sierra, I’ve been left feeling lost. The trail has been perfect and enlivening and humbling. But the community, not so much. It feels like a taboo to say, really. Everyone says the people are what make the trail. But so often, for me, they are what is unmaking it.
I send Mark a series of text messages about how I’m feeling, knowing he is asleep. In the flurry of sending them I have a moment of clarity: what I need is to by myself, so I can rebuild my confidence as a hiker. I don’t like how desperate I have felt for friendship, how small i was willing tinned in order to have people near me. But the PCT – the Sierra, NorCal, Oregon, Washington – they are all too full of snow for me to feel comfortable on my own right now.
And then I remember photos from a friend’s recent hike of the OCT, that many former PCT hikers have headed there, and I feel a sense of relief.
That relief, of course, quickly turns into desperation to plan. I make notes to myself about gear. I call my friend in Washington and talk to her about the possibility, how she might hike with me for a few days. I like the idea of being around people who like me, who I’m not constantly trying to endear myself to. She tells me some friends of a friend quit the trail because they weren’t loving the culture, too.
You didn’t really go out there because you needed to be a thruhiker, she says. So what does it matter what trail you’re on?
And she’s right. What I wanted was to spend 5-6 months hiking, learning about myself, learning how to take care of myself. Thruhiking was the simplest way to do that. I can still do that. I can southbound the OCT and then hike north to Canada from the Oregon/California border on the PCT once the snow has melted.
I am still sad that I’m not able to test myself more in the Sierra. The trail itself has been such an incredible comfort to me. I crave it’s neutrality. But I haven’t been able to figure out how to live with people out here, or I suppose how to live without them. Maybe it’s time I do that, somewhere a little more safe.