The winter months have always been hard for me. The extreme cold, the snow, the lack of sunlight, the lack of fresh air, and especially the holidays, reminding me that I have no family, take their toll on me. The winter of 2011-2012 was an especially difficult one, both emotionally and physically. In November, the person I loved told me he did not want to be in a relationship with me and suggested we take a long break from communicating. I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday alone -again. In January, I became sick with repeated sinus infections (on top of the one that I live with every day as a result of a mishap in the jaw surgery I had in 2006). In addition, my right Eustachian tube closed and would not open for months. I tried both traditional medicine approaches as well as holistic ones, but neither brought any relief. Something was very wrong and I didn’t know what to do about it. My body was also unraveling. I had torn my right groin practicing yoga nearly a year ago and sought the help of a deep tissue body worker to try to heal the muscle. However, this work not only did not help my problem, but caused a series of old and new injuries to appear in the same side of my body, culminating in a swollen, blown-up knee. I was beside myself. I couldn’t find a single positive though to grasp onto. These were the months after I completed my yoga teacher training, and the tears and pain that were opened and released in those weeks continued to flow nearly every day. When would the sadness subside?
In April, with the thought of wanting to backpack a 500 mile trail in Colorado during the summer in the back of my head, I found myself on a physical therapist’s table, her metal tool scraping my injured knee. How would I be able to hike 20 mile days with a thirty-something pound backpack up and down mountains when I couldn’t even walk down the street without pain? I found my way to a chiropractor and he began to gently work on my injuries, my crooked spine, and my nervous system.
In June, the manager of my lab decided to quit her job and my boss took the opportunity to downsize the number of his employees due to constant budget issues. Instead of having a technician, he would only have one employee working for him, other than the graduate students and post doctorate fellows. He offered me the position of lab manager with the stipulation that I would have to work longer and stricter hours with virtually no compensation in pay. I had been having a difficult time in the lab for many, many years, and this “offer” felt more like a prison sentence to me than anything else. My body was giving me clear signals that I needed to leave. While it felt scary to lose the security of a paycheck and benefits, this loss also opened up the door for me to go on the backpacking trips that had been in my mind since I hiked the Appalachian Trail. If I took over the lab manager position in early July, I’m sure my boss would not appreciate me leaving the lab for 5 weeks, and I am certain that he would not let me take six months off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I had to leave. I needed to be in nature again. I needed to go where my heart was happy.
Despite the forest fires that were engulfing several areas of the state, despite not having trained in any capacity for hiking up and down mountains with a heavy pack, despite not having anyone to hike with to provide safety while hitchhiking or traversing the open summits with daily threats of lightening, I bought some food for my journey, a new stove that met the fire regulation requirements, a tent that I would test out for the PCT, packed up 8 resupply boxes, and flew out to Denver.
Over the course of the next five weeks, I would come to understand that hiking this trail wasn’t just something that I had wanted to do for the past three years. It was something that I needed to do. I needed to find out who I really was again. I needed to re-set myself and find my inner strength. I needed to get myself out of a place of fear. I was reminded that what you need is always out there, waiting for you. I was reminded that when you stay true to yourself and your purpose, and step through the struggles in your path, you will set yourself free. I was reminded to believe in the goodness of people. And I was reminded to keep my heart open and trust.
The following entries are some of my stories from my time on the Colorado Trail.