Waking up in Durango the following morning, having completed a goal that had been in my mind for the past three years, felt wonderful. For the next two days, I had nothing to do but sleep, eat, and relax! There have been so few days in my life in which I’ve felt this way. I hung out at the Steaming Bean and enjoyed a latte and a bagel sandwich with tomato and avocado, wrote a few notes, caught up with a few people back at home, and headed back to my room. I let myself sleep as much as I needed. I weighed myself on the scale in the motel gym and found that I weighed only 117 pounds! I hadn’t weighed that little since high school! Although I had lost a lot of weight and muscle, I still felt good. And after a day of resting, it was clear that my body was ready to start moving again!
I find the contrasts between my regular life and my thu-hiking life to be incredible. At home, I could sleep all day long and never feel like I am well-rested and ready to get up. I eat a lot of junk food because it often seems that sweets and coffee are the only things that boost my mood and energy, even if only in the few moments after, and I eat often throughout the day. I only physically exert myself during my yoga practices, and my energy level fades easily. My spirit feels small and contained and unfulfilled.
When I thru-hike, however, the extra weight quickly disappears from my body, just as the pressures from life release from my mind. I become strong, grounded, centered, and full of possibility. Life opens up around me. Fear dissipates. I work much harder than I do at home, and I make visible daily progress towards a goal that I have set for myself. All of my energy is given to this singular goal. I am not torn in several directions. I have a purpose. Every day is unique and special. Every day holds distinct memories. I breathe fresh air, live with the rhythms of nature, rising with the sun, and lying down with nightfall. I make the most of each day. I am inspired by the beauty that I see all around me.
Carrying everything that you need to survive for days on your back, allows you to quickly realize what is truly important in life. Certainly, the physical body needs air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and clothes and shelter to keep warm, but it is clear to me that the ability to express one’s self, as well as positive energy from others are equally necessary for the spirit to thrive. A kind word or smile from a stranger can do wonders to boost the spirit of another. And the ability to talk about how one is feeling or what they are going through can bring incredible relief, as well as the acknowledgement of being seen. We all want to be seen. When any of these essential pieces of life are missing, incredible happiness is felt when found again. Happiness is so easily attained.
As physically alone as I was for most of the hike, an endeavor such as this is not possible without the help of others. Thru-hikers rely on the kindness of strangers to give us rides into town in order for us to rest, re-supply, and recharge. People at home are needed to send us our re-supply packages and be there to pick up left-over pieces of life back home. A warm attitude goes a long way towards easing the difficulty and struggles in a journey such as this and notes of encouragement become especially uplifting. I was lucky to have someone who was looking after me at various times throughout my journey. No one person was constantly there, but there was always someone I could communicate with. And the best cheerleader award goes to my chiropractor, Dr. Maalouf, who always had something encouraging and uplifting to say to me!
When I set forth on that hot, sunny day at Waterton Canyon, I was unaccustomed to the heavy pack on my back, completely out of synch with the rhythms of backpacking, feeling out of place amidst the throng of runners and cyclists on the path, and bogged down with the confusing anger, criticisms, and blame from my “friend” back home. There were no other thru-hikers around, unlike my start on the Appalachian Trail, no excitement about heading to Durango, and no big, expansive views as I had expected to see in Colorado. My days and nights were filled with incredible discomfort from the weight of my pack on my shoulders, the burning sun, the effort of moving and breathing at high altitude (I hadn’t known that it takes the body three weeks to become acclimated), and the hardness of sleeping on the ground without a proper sleeping pad. There was no one around to provide positive energy or humor, and at times, I wondered what I was doing out here. But as I continued to walk, I began to shed excess layers and pounds, leaving all things unnecessary behind. I learned to release my fear around things such as hitchhiking alone, and being struck by lightning on long, exposed high altitude ridges. I clearly saw how everything I had done before had prepared me for this hike, just as this hike was preparing me for the next. I met people who reflected qualities that I don’t often acknowledge about myself back to me. I reflected on the timing of such meetings (Chrisselda in Fairplay who brought me to the yoga class with her, the man at the restaurant who I shared a table with and who drove me all the way back to the trail, Chad and his stories of spirituality and awareness, Mel who brought wine to my tent on a cold, stormy night…) and realized that the choices I had made allowed me to meet those particular people at those particular times. But, I also felt that there was a higher alignment at work. Something much greater than myself was looking after me and keeping me protected and these people appeared exactly when they were most needed. I learned to trust and to remain open.
It took me a couple of weeks to get adjusted to this new rhythm of living, and by then, I realized that my hike was nearly half over already! I looked forward to hiking a longer trail and living this lifestyle for months at a time again on the PCT. Five weeks is too short of a hike.
But there were several things about this hike that made it more enjoyable than my AT hike. The first was that there were far fewer people on the trail, which for me meant far fewer problems during my hike. I had many people problems on the AT, and it was such a relief not to be bothered by anyone out here. It was also more relaxing to not have the pressure of keeping a public journal. I had been harassed by an AT hiker at the end of my hike, who often signed into my guestbook as various made-up names and wrote made-up slanderous things about me. He continued this behavior for several months after my hike. I didn’t want to have to deal with those kinds of problems again, so I didn’t write an online journal and only wrote down things for myself when I had leftover energy at night. No one was expecting anything from me, and I wasn’t letting anyone down. And no one was judging what I had to say about my experience, or harassing me. This hike was more for me, and even though I was exhausted most days, it felt more relaxing because I didn’t have a second job of writing for other people. The trail, itself, was also much gentler on the body than the AT. The altitude was very challenging and something that I didn’t experience on the AT, but the tread was mostly dirt, which allowed for greater daily miles. I loved the open exposed terrain once I finally got to those parts, but the other side of the beauty was the danger that went along with it. I always felt in a race to get through those parts to beat the impending storms, and never got to linger or enjoy them. Overall,though, this hike was a wonderful experience.
When I returned home, some of my yoga friends commented on how different I looked. I thought it was because I had lost weight, but one of my teachers told me that my face looked different, as well- that it looked more open. Several people also asked me if I had grown! I was worried that all of the work my chiropractor had done would be erased and that my shoulders would slump forward again from the weight of my pack. But it turned out that just the opposite had occurred! My rhomboids had strengthened from having to work against the weight of the pack, and my posture had actually improved!
My worry now was how could I keep these effects. How could I remain open and happy while returning to work? That was the big challenge! After my AT hike, it took only 5 days at work for my spirit to feel crushed and imprisoned. I rapidly grew depressed and put on more weight than I ever had before. When I expressed my concerns after my Colorado hike to my yoga teacher, Jacqui, she said, “Just keep stepping over the obstacles in your path like you stepped over the rocks on the trail!” She’s a smart one, that Jacqui! I really liked that advice. Sometimes, I would look down at my feet and pick them up, remembering that I can just step over the things in my way!
When I saw her again a couple of weeks later, she asked, “How’s the trail?… I mean this one!”
I remained as strong as I could for as long as possible, making it through this past winter the best I ever have with the help of my yoga practice. I’m proud of how far I have come. But the effects of the hike just couldn’t be sustained. My energy levels greatly faded, and the extra weight came back on… My purpose was gone.
The time has now come for me to take another long journey. It’s time for me to really live again.