… and I will walk 2155 more. Or at least try. Because I still have very serious doubts whether I will be able to finish the full length if this mammoth walk that takes me from glaciers to desert as it winds its way across the US of A. 4300km. That’s the distance from Paris to Afghanistan in case you wanted a geographical comparison. I’m happy, but humble, to have bagged the first 20% of the trail. And from the very beginning, I had my serious doubts of my chances for accomplishing it. It’s actually the very reason I am trying: because there are lessons to be learned when you expose yourself to challenges that you might not master and accept your own vulnerability. About the challenge and, maybe more importantly, about yourself. So I continue.
It was a tough start. I was out of shape and had very little hiking experience. I got seriously lost on my second day, all alone in the endless wilderness near the US-Canada border. But I found my way and my shape and picked myself up off the ground. At some point I started to believe that there actually was a possibility that I could walk the entire trail. That hope collapsed abruptly as my first injury hit me. Shin Splints, they said. I shiver just thinking about it. Sounds like my shin is fracturing into tiny splints and it sure did feel that way when I was walking. So I had to surrender my hopes and my proudness, and 100 dollars of my budget, and booked myself in to a roadside motel room after walking 3 days in the cold mountain rain to reach a lonely highway and ‘civilization’. That meant a gas station, a closed ski-lift and the lonely motel which reminded me of the hotel in “The Shining”. I, for sure, could’ve played my role, cause I was ready to die. Outside, it was raining and the clouds were grey. Inside, a depressed, injured and “amputated” adventurer with an identity crisis. I hated myself. Because I knew that The Walk could easily be larger than me, but I had never thought of a plan B. Now, all I could do was to hope that my Shin Splints got better. It was extra painful because I had finally started to feel like I belonged on the trail. Like I actually deserved to be there. The injury told me that I didn’t.
I took a rest day and, the day after,
decided to face my fears of failing. “You tried, with all you could. And it’s so much more graceful to attempt and fail, than never even attempting” I told myself, trying to be my own mom. I walked some short days. And the miracle happened: my shin was healing. I “compression taped” it and pitched my tent on a slope to elevate my legs while sleeping. Got mentally addicted to Ibuprofen for its anti-inflammatory properties. And 4 days later I was up and running again. Or walking I should say. Consistently clocking 35km per day. Loving, loving, loving life. And reminded myself to not take anything for granted on this walk or in this life. And be grateful for each mile I put behind me, each day that this beautiful life and planet has offered me.
Many people have mentioned the dramatic mental effects that this infinitely long trail will throw on you. I, arrogantly, had downplayed it, I thought I was immune to it after all my years of adventure. I just wanted to hike it for the beauty and the experience. I now fully understand that the PCT is not just a long trail. The mental journey of walking it could be longer than the physical trail itself. Out there, The World doesn’t exist. There is just the trail and the eternal properties that silent, grand nature holds. You’re home is your backpack and the only way is forward. I’ve held a god fearing respect for The Trail from the start. I am beginning to understand that the PCT is so much more than just a long beautiful hike. It turns the worst cynic of them all, me, into a philosophical wanderer. PCT really is made from the same material as dreams.
I saw another one. I turned a corner and instantly established eye contact with him. The split second felt like days as we both contemplated our immediate actions. The bear was fastest and he crashed through the woods in a hasty escape from me, a member of the notoriously aggressive and violent Homo Sapiens. I followed him with my eyes until his black fur merged with the trees and smiled as I walked on, apologizing for invading his territory, yet thanking him for the peaceful conclusion to our brief meeting.
Volcanoes, glaciers and carpets of violet wild flowers mix with soft creeks and dense, green old-growth forest. Toads, deer, squirrels and marmots abound. From a vantage point I catch the first glimpse of it: The Colombia River. That’s the border between Washington and Oregon and a spectacular old steel bridge spans the river: Bridge of The Gods, it’s called. I walked across it into Oregon and felt stronger, happier and more humble than ever. The Proclaimers were singing in my head and in my heart: “I would walk 500 miles”. Wow, I just did.
I don’t know who The Gods are. Maybe Nature. But I did feel the presence of them as I proudly crossed that aptly named bridge.