Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Trails - Lessons for a New Year

I'm not a deeply analytical person, but the trail has a way of teaching you the things that are really important.  At the top of the list was Gratitude:  to be thankful for what you have, thankful for what you are given and thankful for all things great and small.  It's about as good as a life lesson as you can get.  As well as Gratitude, the trail also taught me the importance of:

Question Asking
Sense of Wonder
Critical thinking

I've never been on an adventure that I regretted.  Mostly, what I have taken away from this experience is that Life is for Living. Yup, I'm a long time believer in that.  Create the life you want and then live the heck out of it, friends.  Happy New Year!

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. :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Endings

My last week on the trail could not have been more serendipitous.

From the moment I spontaneously hitchhiked into Julian, good things were set in motion. It all started with a fantastic lift from the local Sheriff who added a moment of comedy to my day.

For a girl who had spent 3 months in solitude on the trail,my last days on the trail were wonderfully, amazingly social. What a gift and what a happy ending to my most amazing journey.


 I truly enjoyed my time in Julian, hanging with my new friend Special Delivery.  He was the secret ingredient that turned everything into gold. It was so enjoyable to spend my days in good company, relaxing, eating and visiting.  We even did some sightseeing in the Cuyamaca mountains and the Mount Laguna area.  All thanks to Special D.  From a more practical perspective, it was a good thing I got off the trail.  As per the forecast, the weather raged pretty hard for 3 days.  It would have been terrible to be out there in that weather.  Instead, I got enjoy some well needed down time and some rest. 

After my most awesome 3 days, I finally got to hit the trail again.  It was the longest time off that I had on my entire journey.  Special D decided that I needed more special treatment and we came up with a new plan for my last 3 days.  He would take my pack down the trail and also provide me with support along the way - kind of like a roving "aid station"  just for me!

My first day back on the trail was sunny and beautiful and I felt so refreshed.  The day started early with Special D joining me for the first few miles, before leaving me on my own for the day. He met me half way with a massive picnic, and then further down the road with more snacks. What a treat!  It was so enjoyable to be out there on the trail with my tiny pack, I even got to bust out a run for a few miles. This was a real treat and I enjoyed every moment of my special day.  I also arranged to spend the night with another new friend - Dave Super at Laguna Mountain Sports.  He has a one-of-a-kind log cabin in the National Forest and it was truly awesome.  I arrived in the dark to a log cabin smelling of wood smoke and home made Pea Soup.  Happiness is a log cabin in the woods.

The second last day, I spent the day taking lots of photos, reflecting and enjoying my last time on the trail.  It started with a beautiful sunrise in Mount Laguna and finished at Lake Morena County Park.  There was a little bit of snow at the higher elevations, but mostly it had already melted. Again, Special D met me along the way with water and treats.  I really enjoyed this last section - the trails around the Cuyamaca Mountains are really diverse and incredible.  

At Lake Morena, Special D had set up the full car camping spread and brought the giant tent and the Coleman stove. It was so awesome!  We cooked up a feast and I got further spoiled with a fantastic dinner, complete with red wine and S'mores on the bonfire.  Seriously.  What a way to end my trip with such good times. :)

Special D joined me for my last day of hiking - 20 miles to the border.  The day flew by as we chattered along, another beautiful hot and sunny day.  I had no expectations for these last 78 miles, and the terrain was surprisingly mountainous, diverse and oh-so-beautiful right until the end.  But, it was the company that made these days really enjoyable.

Just 2 miles from the border, my friends Phil and Callie showed up to walk us to the border.  They brought with them, fresh homemade cookies and a bottle of Champagne to celebrate.  

I thought - how lucky am I to finish surrounded by such good people? 

In my mind, it was the perfect ending to my time spent on the trail.  My time on the trail has been full of stories of random acts of kindness from strangers.  How fitting is it that I finish my journey in the company of a stranger, turned into a friend?   My heart is full of gratitude.

Me and Special D

Special D, Phil and Callie

Happy Endings