Monday, November 17, 2014

Sept. 16, last day of freedom: onward into life...

Panda Selfie in White Pass

After a night of pretty hard beer drinking, some tears, some dancing, singing, and snuggling with a hiker boy in my one-man tent, it's all over.  My father, ever-ready for a long drive, arrives at the service station in White Pass at 11am, where I am mulling around the parking lot with about 10 thru-hikers.  Most of us are nursing hangovers and melancholy from the previous night.  The impromptu going away party that was held for me at Leech lake was fantastic.  Polar Bear, Snake Charmer, Blueberry, One Track, En Fuego, Doc and myself... we bought some amazing smoked salmon from the little store at White Pass, and Terry, who was working there, recognized our desire to cook real food and proceeded to hook us up with all kinds of veggies from her deli, aluminum foil, potatoes, spices, etc. so that we could cook some HoBo packs in style over our campfire.  We also purchased and consumed far too much alcohol, but that is apparently what is done on the PCT when the opportunity is nigh, and it was.

So after saying goodbye to everyone, I get into my Dad's car with Polar Bear in tow (he needed to get to Seattle to replace an ailing and failing backpack), and we leave White Pass.  I was immediately overcome with such powerful sadness that I could not stop crying.  I felt like I had just died, or lost a part of my soul, or life, or something horrible.  It was really, really hard to leave the trail, but that is what I had to do.  My finances were in dire straits and I couldn't ignore the mortgage, car payments and student loan debt that were now very imminently encroaching on my life.

We drove out of the mountains and I looked back towards Goat Rocks, wanting to invoke those same feelings of freedom, fear, excitement and love that I had been feeling just 2 fleeting days ago.  The landscape changed from sub-alpine to high-desert.  Being in a car was hard.  Things were moving too quickly and of course, I was getting car sick. The trees got bigger and the land got drier.  We arrived in Yakima and found a very silly Mexican restaurant and I had some kind of cheesy enchiladas or some such thing with a too-sweet margarita that I couldn't finish.  We dropped Polar Bear off at the Greyhound bus station and headed home.  For the next 4 hours of the drive back to Portland I intermittently slept, then woke about every 1 hour with an insatiable appetite.  The 5 or 6 previous days' calorie deficits were hitting me hard.  I just couldn't get enough food no matter how much I ate.  I implored my Dad to stop:  for ice cream, potato chips, snickers bars, orange juice, pastries...  It just didn't stop.

We arrived at my childhood home at about 7pm.  I could barely move I was so hungry, tired and sore.  I bathed quickly and enjoyed some delicious Lebanese food that Shara had brought home for us.  We watched a sappy movie and I was in bed and asleep by 9pm.

The days that followed were punctuated by the realization that I had inflicted upon myself a pretty serious case of plantar fasciitis and bilateral patellofemoral syndrome.  I could barely walk from my bed to the toilet in the morning, and going up and down stairs was out of the question unless there was a hand railing to hold on to.  I attempted to run, as I needed an outlet for all of the sadness that was accumulating from being  back in the real world, but the running only worsened my injuries (duh!) and I ultimately had to stop running entirely, and scratch from the Oregon Coast 50k, which was to be my very first ultra marathon.

In the coming month I would find a job, move to Bandon OR, and begin life all over again.  As I write this, in November, I can say that the PCT was the best thing I ever did for myself.  I "only" hiked 800 of the 2650 miles of it, but it was enough to hook me.  I don't know when I'll get back to that trail, but I know that I must through-hike the entire thing sometime in the future.  Hopefully, that future isn't too far away.  Until then, I will try to bask in the confidence I gained by being alone for so very long.  I will remember that, yes, I am very self-sufficient and capable, and I have done what very few people will ever do.

Perhaps the one down side to all of this, is that it is very hard to find people with whom I can share my stories or relate.  Only long-distance hikers understand what it is like to hike long distances over several months.  In this, I feel alone once again, though now I know where to find my people:  out in the woods, in the mountains, going on two feet for as far as their legs will carry them.  In the words of my dear trail friend Terese (En Fuego), "We will walk as long as we have to... "

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