PCT Day 11, Junction at Dishpan Gap to Lake Janus, 20 miles

You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you. – Mary Tyler Moore

It was a rough night. Water drips from the ceiling of the alicoop so I placed my rain jacket over my sleeping bag to catch any condensation. I never had this problem in New Zealand, and not sure what’s going on. I am proud of myself I brought a liner – a bit bulky and heavy, but a lifesaver as it kept me dry and warm. The bag is still a bit clumpy damp, but I was toasty warm wrapped in all that gear even as the rain kept up all night and into the morning.

I am filthy dirty. Sweat and body odor, but also dirt and pine sap on everything.

Even though I toss and turn to find the most comfortable spot for my spasming muscles, I finally sleep before the sky gets light. But there’s no reason to lie in, so I go ahead and open the mattress valve, then slowly put on my cold, damp clothes. Once out, and having done my business, I make coffee and pack up a sodden tent. It sounds absolutely awful, but if I get going, everything kind of clicks into place and moves along smoothly. Besides, it’s not raining at the moment, just damp with mist. The sun peaks out a corner of the gray, lighting up the mountains and my spirit.

But it’s hard to trust myself. I feel confused about who I am, what’s in my essence, what makes me, me. If I’m not the woman you hear at 10 every morning, who am I? People tell me, “You aren’t your work.” Obviously. Of course. And yet…my voice was my voice. I put all of me in it. Now that it’s over, I’m just not clear how this whole dharma thing works.

As I round a bend, I see Myra or ‘Wonder.’ She chugs along slowly, but makes a whole day of it. Talk about a ‘full time pedestrian,’ Wonder starts at dawn and goes until nightfall, and she always seems solid and clear on her objectives. With a Southern drawl and easy smile she tells me she walks slow, so has to get an early start to make the miles.

I miss my colleagues from work. Only a few said a word to me since I came home. It’s like I vanished – or worse, like I never existed. This morning, Mother Nature reveals just enough of the Cascades for me to keep looking back as I climb onto a ridge. Eventually, the trail dives deep into the forest, dark from the mist. I am not certain if I’m on the right trail, trying in vain to find my location vis gps, pretty well a losing game under trees.

Hiking forces me to live in this moment. My thoughts wander back to my colleagues, trying to understand why we have no relationship whatsoever now that I’m gone, but I can’t ruminate for too long before I need to focus on 1. where to get water 2. avoiding slipping on the wet rocks 3. staying on the PCT and not taking a wrong turn at the junctions.

The trail works its way through a creek bed with a few camp spots, empty now, then it shoots me straight up, back on the ridge. Marmot’s squeaky toy hoot following my footsteps.

Years ago, when I could still play flute, I performed at a music festival in a stunningly beautiful place. I worked very hard and was one of the stars of the orchestra. Board members hoped I’d return the following summer, but it wasn’t meant to be. I discovered my job announced in the ‘help wanted’ section of the musicians union paper. It totally deflated me. I couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t invited back, nor why I had to find out in such a humiliating way. The work I do lends itself to subjective criticism. Taste, politics and timing all play a role in success and failure. Reasons I am chosen or rejected often seem arbitrary, even petty, but that’s the nature of the business whether performing on stage or on air.

The trail dips into the mist now and I sidle a steep mountainside meadow, thick with wildflowers. “Pole Cat” appears coming towards me. His hip only allows for short hikes, but that doesn’t keep him from meeting his friend “Gravity” with a bag of food. He tells me I look well and must be taking to the trail and having incredible eye opening experiences. I haven’t the heart to tell him I’m desperate to end this long, hard section. I’m tired and wet, but I still have to take each and every step of the thirty miles left to go.

It’s a weird head space. You keep going and going, even when tired, to get miles as you calculate how many days you want to spend on trail as well as off trail, when the post office closes (that’s holding your resupply) and if you want one more night of damp. It’s not possible for me to make it out today, though I really want to go. I’m trying to make peace with being here right now whatever the weather.

As I cross a pass and head down the other side to a land of massive boulders, I hear one of my favorite birds with a call that sounds like a hearing test. The sun comes out hot on the rocks. Hat goes on, but should I try to dry my wet tent? Just as I think that, the clouds move in bringing light rain. The dope smoking boys pass making their way to a lake. When I arrive, a priest is celebrating mass with a group of about ten men, using thermarest mats as kneelers. They chant and sing, saying the service in German. It turns out they are Eagle Scouts of the Catholic variety, backpacking in the mountains as well as lending a hand to some local churches. The priest carries the most of all of the scouts – gear for a service including candlesticks, bell and wafers, plus a guitar.

We say goodbye to these friendly men and head first down, then up one of the only mountain summits of the trail, Grizzly Peak. The view is fantastic and I pull out my tent to dry in the sun, which almost immediately jumps behind a cloud.

I somehow have in my mind that it’s all downhill from here and failed to fill my water bottles. It’s mostly down, but some up, and a grueling nearly five miles over waterless terrain. It’s a bad mistake and I regret it, feeling weak and light-headed as mosquitos swarm my face and my feet are rubbed raw by my soaking wet socks.

I cry most of the way, about being thirsty and hurting but also missing home and thinking maybe coming here to heal was a stupid idea considering I’m only beating myself to a pulp.

Eventually I arrive at a lovely lake. Mosquitos abound, but I have my bug burka. I fill up with water at the drainage, drinking a liter in no time flat. I set my tent and figure I’ll lick my wounds alone, but “Bog Witch” “Blondelle” and Wonder invite me to their site for a little camp fire. I make my dinner and let my pruney feet dry as we commiserate on how hard hiking is on all of us. Bog Witch tells me she arrived just after me at that splendid pass I loved so much yesterday. When she got there, it was pouring rain. It felt dangerous, but also depressing. Fortunately, she hiked with someone, but she confessed she cried – a lot. The others speak of pain and fatigue and uncertainty, and yet, while hiking they feel they are more the person they are meant to be. The clutter of the world clears away while they walk to some of the most beautiful and pristine places on earth.

My feet dry and look less angry. My belly is full and it’s time to cuddle into the alicoop. No, hiking is not blissful every moment, but it’s something I feel called to do and to use as my place to center. I was rejected and I feel hurt, bewildered, uncertain of my talents, but on the trail these last few days in tough conditions on tough terrain, I am coming to know myself better and learn what works for me and what I need to let go of. It was a long, hard day, but it ended with a support team of new friends.

And also an utterly flat tent site! Sweet dreams.

Reader Comments

  1. I am so sorry to hear that your former colleagues aren’t supporting you, Alison. We listen to Classical MPR virtually every waking moment that we aren’t otherwise occupied, and the on-air people have felt almost like family. But listening is no longer the blissful experience it used to be, with an undercurrent of anger over MPR’s treatment of you bubbling to the surface from time to time. I was under the apparent illusion that MPR was a happy family with progressive management that understood the need for their creative people to break out, do the extraordinary, and rejuvenate. Apparently not.

    I hope this post doesn’t feed your resentment but rather lets you know that there are folks out there who feel a fraction of your pain.

    1. I thought we were family too. A few have contacted me, but I think I must be ‘Typhoid Mary’ now. I am very sad still, but will eventually find my voice and life’s work elsewhere. Thanks for your kind words!!

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