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re: [pct-l] Does anyone miss the trail?



Ryan,

  Do I miss the PCT and life on the trail?  I guess my subscibing to this list
is all the answer needed.  It has been (let's see now...) 22 years since I did
my hike and though most of it has been stored in a neglected vault buried
somewhere in the back of my mind, certain moments from the trail are brighter
than some of the thoughts I had just yesterday (which isn't saying much).  I
have never been one to live in the past: I find myself surronded by people who
seem to think that the best years of their lives (or warmest moments) were in
their youth, which seems to be anywhere from 3 to 25, but I am very wary of
that attitude and like to think that everyday is another adventure, another
oppurtunity to discover something new.  I like to think of my PCT adventure as
a stepping stone in my life, a very important one, no doubt.  And when life
gets me down, I try to make the time to clear my mind and reflect where the
journey has carried me: an important part of this is seeing all the choices I
have made along the way, to honor those decisions for they have led me to where
I am now, which for me is a happy and content life.
  There is a saying in the climbing community which I paraphrase here: "You
cannot stay on top of the mountain, you must go down or perish".  It is no
mistake that most climbing deaths happen on the descent, not the ascent.  How
do we go on with our lives after an intense experience such as one might have
on the PCT?  Yes, I cried when I reached Canada.  The trail transformed me in a
way few things have, mostly because I was young (21 at the finish), wondering
where life would lead, trying to justify "dancing to the beat of a different
drum" and having proven to myself (and therefore, "others", those parts of our
psyches that continually spring out at us and challenge us to "be something")
that I could meet the challenge, wherever and whatever that might be.  Our
modern world lacks formal rites of passage into adulthood and meaning, so we
drift around looking for something: with good fortune, we find something
positive (like the PCT); if not, we drift around hopelessly lost, clutching at
straws, engaging in destructive behavior because anything is better than
nothing.
  I spent most of the next 5 years after the PCT engaged in wilderness travel
that became more and more extreme: mostly solo, very physically challenging
trips through terrain where humans had probably never been (this explains why I
still live in Alaska today).  I somehow maintained a level head and survived
everything in one piece.  I was looking for something that would equal my
experience of the PCT (I mean the mental changes here, not the physical) but
what I found was even more important: the limits of my solitude and my deep
desire to be a part of society, not a thing apart.  About this time, I had a
very profound dream: I was in the basement of a old house and was introduced to
a woman who seemed to be blind; she was not blind though but rather did not have
a mouth to talk and she desired to talk to me more than anything; we placed our
hands on each others face, found that we could communicate this way and were
each filled with a wonderful feeling which swept over us.  I took this to mean
that I was out of touch with my whole self, that it was time to take the next
step in life and that step was not in the direction of more wilderness seeking
but in the opposite direction, re-integration into the world of people.  I met
my future wife the very next night, and though it took a few years to turn
around and find the balance I needed in my life, I believe that I am a much
richer person today for having made the decisions I have.  This balancing act
is an everyday thing, it seems, parts of me are constantly demanding my
attention (not to mention all the demands my family and others put on me), 
and are never satisfied for long.  Joseph Campbell said that marriage is about
sacrifice, not love, and I know what he meant.  Yet if I die tomorrow, I die
feeling blessed, not just for the experience of hiking the trail but for all
the riches life has given to me.
  Every April 17 and September 16 (the start and end dates of my hike) I take a
few moments to silently honor the trail life and everything it gave to me.  It
would be very easy for me to slip into a woeful state of self-pity, become a
drunkard and lose everything I have in an attempt to get back on the trail
(like we middle-aged folks are supposed to do) if I did not conciously realize
that the things that surrond me now ARE what the trail gave to me.  I try to
find ways to give something back, and that does not necessarily mean working 
directly on the trail (or trails), though that is certainly a very good way. 
Your work for the National Park Service might fulfil that yearn for you,
you might find that more direct involvement is necessary or something out of
the blue might capture your imagination instead and take you to a place that
you have not yet dreamed of.  You are on a journey of which neither Mexico nor
Canada are the ends, merely landmarks along the way.  Have an unforgetable
trip!

Alan

P.S. My wife and I lived awhile on the Mendocino Coast which, as you might well
know, is very much like the Humboldt Coast, and you are right: you live in a
very beautiful location.
  
P.P.S. Even John Muir left his treasured Sierras to settle down and raise a
family, yet returned again and again to the wilderness.
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