Six weeks post-finish update

It has been six weeks since I finished the PCT. In general, I am doing well, and I am doing much, much better than I was at this time after my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Partly this is due to not having to return to the same job that was not good for me in the first place, partly because the PCT is not as hard on the body as the AT is, and largely because I now have yoga to help heal my body and keep my mind strong. I feel like I gained even more inner fortitude after this last hike and can see that I am less affected by other people’s behavior than before I started the hike. I am also not eating as much sugar as I did after the AT and thus not gaining as much weight! Some feeling is already beginning to return to bits of my toes and the balls of my feet (at first- it’s not a good feeling!). I’ve even gone for a few jogs, although I know it’s not good for my body. I really, really wish I could run because I love it so much. But my twisted spine and twisted hip don’t agree, unfortunately.
What remains very difficult is the loneliness that I feel in the non-hiking world. I did not have a celebration after the AT, so I really, really looked forward to having one after the PCT. When I was hurting the most in the Sierras, thoughts of a finish celebration with chocolate cake, champagne, and lots of fruit helped keep me going. But, it turns out that no such thing has happened, and this greatly saddens me. Forty-five minutes of driving from the city to my apartment is too much for most people, or they are too busy with other things. While no one can be blamed for being busy and needing to earn a living, the fact that only one couple came to visit me for dinner and two others hung out with me for an hour in the six weeks that I have been home is deeply disappointing to me. I came back from a five-month long journey of challenges and experiences, full of life, and wanting to share what I had gone through. As much as I understand how hard it is for anyone who has not had a similar experience to relate, it is still difficult to comprehend why no one has time to even try to listen or spend any quality time with me.
What is perhaps even more disappointing is a similar disconnection from my fellow thru-hikers. I really hoped that we would be there for each other in the recovery process, but as soon as we are no longer in the same physical space, it seems hard for people to communicate in any way other than general postings on Facebook. I talked to Muk Muk once since we finished the trail and it was the best thing to find out that she was also finding it nearly impossible to get out of bed before 11! (And especially when she was such an early riser on the trail!). I looked forward to regular calls and hoped we could team up or at least inspire each other on creating a new path in life, but that has not happened (yet, anyway).

And so, I’ve had to come to terms with the reality of this isolated world and instead, just try to motivate myself to get working on things I need to do, like writing up my PCT story and trying to find a new path for myself.

Yoga and the Trail

I ran into a man that attended at least one of the yoga sessions I lead at kick-off one day in the Sierras. He had abandoned the idea of a thru-hike and was doing a section of the Sierras southbound instead. He recognized me and asked me if I was doing yoga along the trail. When I replied no, he scoffed at me as if I were a hypocrite. I had a similar encounter with another man in Washington (who also was only hiking parts of the trail). I knew before I ever set foot on the PCT that I would not be attempting to keep up my physical yoga practice, just as I knew I would not be able to keep up a journal during this hike. Hiking over 2,700 miles in five months is an extremely intense physical and mental endeavor and I only have so much energy. Every bit of it was used to get myself to Canada.

However, I realized some time after the first encounter, that walking 12-13 hours every day and living in nature for five months WAS my yoga. The meaning of the word ‘yoga’ is to yolk, bind, or unite. The practice (and there are many different ways to practice yoga) seeks to unite the practitioner with his or her true self- the part that is always whole and peaceful and content. It seeks to strip the masks we wear when we think we need to be something other than we are, as well as the chains we often feel that hold us back from achieving our true potential. There are many branches of yoga (karmic yoga, devotional yoga) and many different ways to practice yoga. The physical practice of yoga is only one part of it. There aren’t many ways to hide while walking this trail. People see you for who you are. It is also hard not to be living in the moment out there.  There is also ample time to practice letting go and surrendering on these long hikes. It is easy to see that we only have so much control over our lives, and that when you stop gripping and allow, things begin to happen for you without any strain. I applaud anyone who is able to maintain a regular stretching routine while hiking one of these long trails, just as I applaud anyone who is able to keep a regular journal. (They have much more energy than I do!).

While I now have a lot of stretching and physical recovering to do (my entire body is extremely tight and parts are inflamed), I feel that I have received the benefits of 5 months of full-time yoga on the trail! I was able to move my body for most of the day, freeing myself of extra weight and burdens from life in society and of working for others. And while my body is far from able to do the backbends and other postures I was regularly doing before this hike, it has given me the chance to look at and feel the physical practice of yoga through a beginner’s eye which will be invaluable for teaching those new to yoga when I eventually do go back to teaching. It is so easy to get caught up in the progression of more and more advanced postures, which I realize can be extremely intimidating to those new to the practice and are just looking for some gentle stretching. For these beginner eyes, I am grateful.

My long hike has left me feeling extremely peaceful and happy with myself, as well as feeling excited about new challenges and possibilities for my future. (Thru- hikes have the effect of pressing a re-set button on oneself!)   I am happy that I now have some time to devote to writing about the PCT and I have already ordered a copy of the guidebook for the Continental Divide Trail!

(However, I still need to figure out a way to fund this writing…)

Day 105: Oregon!!

Day 105
August 1
mile 1670 – about 1699.2
29.2 miles

When I awoke, I looked out on a completely new landscape- one that looked more like the sea than the sky! White clouds hung below the tops of the mountains, making them appear to be floating. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
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After I ate my breakfast and shifted around, I noticed a huge squished bug that looked like a giant tick on my groundcloth that I had apparently rolled over on during the night. Sometimes, it’s best not to wonder about what is crawling around your head while you try to sleep…
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I headed out, continually looking at the horizon and the unbelievable views that the low clouds were creating. It was stunning!
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After a mile or so, I came upon Rabbit Stix staring at his map at an intersection. The trail was actually marked here, but I waited for him to confirm our direction and then headed on. As I climbed, I looked back to see another hiker approaching. I couldn’t tell who it was. I began to heat up in my layers and decided it was time to strip. While I was doing so, the other hiker caught up. It was Band Leader, who I hadn’t seen since Echo Lake! He said that I had caught him going to the bathroom, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. Apparently, he was up on the ridge and saw me coming. He said that I was keeping my eyes on the trail and he thought he was going to go unseen, but at the last second, my eyes turned up to where he was! I told him that I didn’t see him at all! I was just looking at the amazing views!
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The next water source was a questionable one in a marshy area. Rabbit Stix decided to check it out and I turned off the trail to follow. I wished I hadn’t because only a pump would work with the small puddle that existed. Another hiker left the area shouting. Something had clearly gotten him worked up!
I headed back to the trail and ended up stopping to take a pack break right before the next potential water source. The frustrated hiker came along and asked if there was any water here. I had no idea! It turned out to be only a faint dribble. We headed on through the woods and then coming back out to a ridge. The air was extremely smoky and all of the views had now disappeared. I wondered how close we were to a fire and if we were safe.
As we descended to a dirt road that lead to a spring, I saw a large tent set up, along with a grill and some gallons of water. I wondered if someone was offering trail magic. A woman with a stern face then emerged from the tent and glared at me. I guess not… I asked her if the spring was that way and she answered in an unfriendly manner. I started down the path and then decided to wait instead and hope for water at the next spring that was closer to the trail.
No officials were waiting at this road to tell us to get off the trail, so I assumed it was safe to keep walking. I passed by Band Leader taking a break. He wanted to know where his friend Sky Eyes was. I told him that he needed to stop to get water at the last spring and would be along shortly.
I ended up taking a break further ahead and Band Leader said he wished he had waited to take his break there when he passed by.
Several miles later, when I reached Bear Dog spring, I found Band Leader and a hiker I did not know, named Wight sitting on a log, eating their lunch. Runs with Elk was sitting above them in a grove of trees. The guys told me the spring was dried up and then, when they admitted they were kidding, said it was a quarter mile downhill. “No, it’s not!”. Unfortunately, it was only a puddle, so they said I needed to scoop out the water with. I told them that, luckily, I had a wide-mouthed smart water bottle for that purpose. Wight said that wouldn’t be good enough and lent me his mug.
I joined them to eat my own lunch and filter my water. Wight had only eaten a Cliff bar and was ready to head out again. Band Leader complained about having too much food on him and asked me if I wanted anything. I also had too much! Runs With Elk was interested, however, and came down to look through the offerings. The only thing that had looked good to me was some pastel colored eggs. Finally, Band Leader asked if I wanted any. “Yes, please!” I felt so happy just staring at them in my hand!
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Runs with Elk asked me if I had ever made a nest on a hike to leave some chocolate eggs in. She said she had done that a couple of times. Band Leader thought that sounded like a fun idea and asked if they could build a nest now! He went off and started gathering pretty leaves and flowers and quickly turned them into a beautiful nest and placed it on a log with some of the candies in the center.
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Sky Eyes came along and when the nest was pointed out to him, first thought it was real, and then that it had taken someone a long time to make!
I headed out into the hot afternoon and after about twenty minutes, decided that an ice coffee sounded good. I figured I had better make it now before my water got too hot. The boys passed by and made fun of me for stopping so soon after my last break. We were all excited about reaching the Oregon border, which we were shooting for tonight “Remember when it used to take us all day to hike 20 miles?” I asked Band Leader. “Yeah. And now we can easily hike 30. I think we’re getting the hang of this thing, Wendy!”.
I was excited to have people in my vicinity and hoped I could keep up so that someone could take my picture at this monumental point!
I hiked at a strong pace by myself for the next several miles and was glad to come across Band Leader and Sky Eyes sitting down taking a break. “We only have ten miles until the border!”. We talked about the wedding I was trying to make it to and Band Leader joked that I should wear my current outfit to it. He said I should arrive late, apologizing profusely, and then ask, “Is there any food around here?”. In a normal thru-hiker state, that would make sense, but I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to eat at the wedding!
I continued on, watching hawks fly overhead, and then had to sit down to take my break as the boys pressed on. I soon caught up to Band Leader and Wight and hiked with them to the last water source of the day.
Our guidebook made it seem like it would be difficult to find and easy to miss, but that was actually far from the case! We found Cookie leaving the source and could hear it from a distance! The water was so cold that my hands hurt trying to filter it. Wight spread out his groundcloth and decided to make some hot chocolate and perhaps stay there for the night. I headed on. I soon caught up to Cookie, who said she didn’t know if she was going to try for the border tonight. (How could you not know that?). I hiked as hard as I could, wanting to stay ahead of everyone to make sure there was someone to take my picture. Still, I had to take my little pack breaks.
My energy remained fairly strong until I hit the last mile. Cookie had caught back up to me and was obviously going to reach the border, as well. I struggled to keep my pace and kept looking at my GPS as I walked. Where was this thing? As I got closer and closer, I wanted to stay in the lead, even though I knew it didn’t matter who got there first. I felt like I had worked really hard and wanted to see the sign appear in front of me, rather than another person reaching the sign.
At last, there it was. Cookie let out a yelp behind me and I let out nothing. No emotions arose within me. I was just there.
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I asked Cookie if she would take a couple of pictures of me and then I did the same for her.
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As we read through the register, the boys came along with much more excitement. Sky Eyes fell to the ground, so happy to be in his home state of Oregon, and Band Leader tumbled on top of him. Sky Eyes said that he had been waiting for this moment for an entire week- and that his reason had to do with Band Leader. Cookie and I looked at each other. Then, Sky Eyes pulled out a joint. Band Leader promised he would smoke with him when they arrived at the border and now it was time to make due on his promise. I was offered some but said no. Sky Eyes understood. He said that for people who naturally laugh a lot, marijuana just makes them very sleepy. It was now very cold out and the haze from the smoke of the forest fires caused our surroundings to look a lot like one would expect Oregon to look like.
I thought the boys were planning to sleep at the border, but we all ended up putting our packs on and heading out. Cookie lead and pulled over when she saw a spot without saying anything. I continued walking and once I crossed a dirt road, noticed a patch of dirt beside a tree. I decided I would stop right there. There were a couple of beer cans around, and sleeping by a road is never the most comfortable thing, but I was dead tired and this place offered me my own little space. I set up my cowboy camp, cooked dinner, washed up, layered up, and went to sleep.
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