Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trail Magic - Part I

How to put the magic of the Pacific Crest Trail into words?  It's challenging.

For me, much of the joy was in the simple act of submersing myself in nature and putting one foot in front of the other.  It's a simple and enjoyable life, really.  You know what you are doing every day:  walking along a trail through every changing scenery.  Every day is a new adventure:  where will the trail take me?  what will the scenery be like? what will I see?  It was exciting and fun to let each day unfold without really knowing what was around each corner.

Nature is magical!  I frequently reminded myself to keep my eyes wide open and look around and just take it all in.  Your senses really do awaken in nature. The sound of the world awakening at the crack of dawn is amazing:  the bird sounds, a stream flowing, a fish jumping in a lake, a twig snapping (bear!  deer! squirrel!).  The sound of silence at night was astounding.  That such a noisy, busy day could turn into a night so pitch black that you can't see your hand.  To experience complete calm, still, absolute silence.  My eyes were really wide open!  I found myself constantly scanning the trail, observing the nuances and changes of my daily environment and taking it all in.

Nature is always changing.  Observing the subtle and not-so-subtle daily changes on the trail was fascinating. This was one of the most enjoyable things about life on the trail.   Nature stimulates, delights and entertains. The constantly changing zones and Eco-systems were fascinating to me.  Some of it was obvious:  I remember things like where and when I saw my first lizard on the trail, the first place I saw an Oak tree, the exact place I heard a new bird noise or better yet saw a new bird.  New flowers, new plants, new trees - these things were constantly changing and entertaining as I walked along. Oddly enough, as my memory of my trip is already becoming blurry, it's these little details that I remember.  I often wished I could walk in the company of a biologist, a botanist or a geologist so I could ask all of my questions.  I wish I had more time to learn and discover more about these things along the way.

People are important.  As is a good meal.  The other half of life on the trail is the time I enjoyed in "civilization".  Re-supplying is the life blood of life on the trail:  you need to go to town to get more food so you can continue to walk down that trail.  My time off trail was essential to my well being and was also really, really enjoyable. As much as I enjoyed my time on the trail, I couldn't help but get excited when I got near a town:  the promise of tasty food, a bed, some extra sleep and some human contact were things I yearned for.  Because I was spending so much time on the trail all by my lonesome (read:  days and days without seeing another soul) the brief social interactions with people were so important to me.  I could do an entire blog entry on the kindness of strangers.  I could also do an entire blog entry on the meals that I ate and how much pleasure they gave me!  I also discovered that I didn't need to spend a lot of time in town, just a little bit of time to come up for breath, eat and socialize before continuing down the trail.  Town was sometimes so enjoyable, that I was afraid I just might stop for good.  So, I stuck to the theory that "an object in motion stays in motion".  Momentum was my friend.  As much as I enjoyed my time in town, I also had the need to get out of town as soon as possible.

It's simple:  I also enjoyed living life simply.  As well as the simplicity of putting one foot in front of another, there was a certain amount of pleasure in having everything you needed on your back.  Food, clothing and shelter all on your back?  How liberating!  What are you going to wear?  No choices!  Filthy and dirty?  Who cares!  I also didn't mind getting dirty, in fact I rather enjoyed it.  Being *filthy is part and parcel of life on the trail and you need to embrace it.  

Spending an extended period of time living and breathing on a trail, was a real natural thing for me. For a person who already spends a great deal of my leisure time outside, who delights in physical challenge, who loves traveling and seeing new and beautiful places and meeting new people this adventure was surprisingly easy and enjoyable.  That's not to say it was an easy hike - it was very physically and mentally challenging.  That's to say that I was as good match for the trail.  While trail life was certainly a different reality from my day to day existence in Banff , it came easily and I enjoyed it.  A big part of the reason for that is simple:  I am a simple creature and by nature a very happy, content human being.  This gets you a long way, on a long trail.  If you approach the trail with an open mind, a flexible plan, the ability to laugh and a joyful sense of adventure good things are bound to happen. 

The simple act of submersing yourself in nature and putting one foot in front of the other is also surprisingly meditative.  What did you think of out there?  Was your mind spinning circles?  Did you make yourself crazy?  Well, yes sometimes. But, most of the time I was just walking along with a big stupid smile on my face.  It seems I have something people are searching for:  the innate ability to just simply be. When you take away all that stuff that is swirling around your brain, what was leftover was joy and tranquility.  At least that's how it was for me.

It's all of these things combined that made my adventure so amazing.  When do you ever get to experience life like this?  Well, you don't. That's what makes hiking the Pacific Crest Trail so magical.

*With regards to being filthy:  big difference between filthy/dirty and unhygienic.  Hygiene is important!  Dirty salty skin and clothing is not. :)


Sara Montgomery said...

Beautiful thoughts, Leslie. I'm going to bookmark this to read when I need a lift or some inspiration.

Congratulations on your journey, all of it.

Kaz said...

I hear you - I love the simplicity and it is extremely meditative. Meals after the trail ALWAYS taste AMAZING!

Mary said...

Leslie, would you mind emailing me and letting me know what kind of pack that is? It is so small! I am getting so excited for my hike, even though it is only 1/10th of yours.

Olga said...

I love it, love it all, Leslie! I so want to do it one day, one day when my kid is out, my full time job is done, and my husband won't freak out...You've written it in very few words, but you've written enough.

Rod said...

Leslie. It was like sitting and listening to Jane to read your descriptions. She has the same thoughts about the Bibbulmun Track. The bush, the creatures, the rivers, the silence, the early morning mist and the occasional interaction with humankind. You certainly learn to survive and enjoy the simple things of life. Jane is going back for more.

Leslie said...

Hi Sara! I'm glad you enjoyed. What adventures to you have planned on the horizon? Hugs to D.

Hi Kaz! My trip rapidly turned into "it's all about the food." The level of food consumption in town was off the charts!

Hi Mary! There's a bunch of little "cottage companies" that make packs that are all almost identical. Mine is a Mountain Laurel Designs, most popular brand I saw was ULA. Six Moon designs has a nearly identical one and Z-Packs make something similar. They are all top loaders, with big mesh side pockets and a big mesh back pocket. They are simple and weigh nothing!

Leslie said...

Hi Rod! Great to hear from you! The Bib is still on my "wishlist" for future adventures. Yup, life on any trail is pretty simple and it really is a no brainer. You know exactly what you are doing every day! Living in nature is the bonus, getting to take in the sights and sounds every day. Your senses really do awaken - I can imagine this is 10-fold for someone who normally lives in a city. I'm lucky, I get to live in nature and experience this in my day to day lifestyle as well. Excited for Jane! When is she heading back on the trail? After the hot season?

Jill Homer said...

What an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing, Leslie. Perhaps someday you will return and invite a few of your friends? :)

Helen said...

Hi Leslie, I'm just in from my morning walk around suburbia. As I read todays post I continue to be astounded by your amazing journey. Am looking forward to more updates.

Not Dead Yet (David) said...

Leslie, I believe we met somewhere in Washington in August 2012. I was heading north on the 500 mile Washington section, you were heading south for the whole thing. Congratulations on completing the PCT N-S and in such a short time late in the season.
I am a much older fellow who lives in Calgary, but managed to complete the PCT over 2 seasons walking at about half your speed. I believe we both know an older runner, Mario F. Congratulations again, what's next?

Leslie said...

Hi Not Dead Yet!! I'm so glad you tracked me down. After I left you, I wished I'd gotten your contact information. I'd love to get together for a visit and share stories! How can I find you?

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