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peeps of the PCT: Catholic scouts of the trail

Thank God I have seen an orange sky with purple clouds. How easy it is to forget that we have the privilege of living in God’s art gallery.

Erica Goros
The backpacking priest carries everything needed to celebrate the mass: his cassock, a chalice, the host, wine, a missal, candles, a bell – and his guitar!

It was a wet, chilled-to-the-bone day in the North Cascades, when I hopped down a spur trail towards a lake, looking for somewhere reasonably dry to eat my lunch. I came upon a group of men sharing this strip of land in the midst of celebrating a mass. They too felt the cold, I’m sure, but it didn’t stop their desire to commune with the spirit by making music and chanting blessed words together.

This week, my goal is to dig in and read every blog entry over the past year as well as sort through thousands of pictures. Yeah, I know, it’s a massive goal, but stay with me. The aim of this endeavor is to help create a coherent storyline for the many presentations I am being asked to give. Not surprising, it’s an enlightening experience – if not a touch bittersweet – to look back at all I accomplished, but maybe more important, to understand my state of mind and why I felt compelled to take this radical detour in my mid-fifties.

The overriding themes include listening to and following my inner truth, a voice that urged me to go and walk, right now, even if this call-to-action risked my life being turned upside down. I was brave. Brave physically for taking on something so monumentally challenging, but also brave emotionally in not shying away from or cheating myself of the deep work going on behind-the-scenes, in my mind and spirit. I opened myself to vulnerability, that’s for sure. But I also shared it publicly as each step – and many encounters, both good and bad – forced me to come to terms with my true self.

Rain was a constant companion through much of Northern Washington, until it wasn't.
Rain was a constant companion through much of Northern Washington, until it wasn’t.

As I crouched near that mountain lake shivering under a clump of firs, I didn’t dare join in the Catholic Scouts’ service afraid I’d just be disruptive. Afterwards, when I timidly approached, they were as gracious as could be, wondering why I hadn’t just barged in. They told me they sneaked in from Canada on the PCT then hitched into towns along the way, helping out in any way they could at local churches. Rain couldn’t possibly dampen their spirits, or their eagerness to play guitar and sing. I was floored by their ease in living.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously said What doesn’t kill youmakes you stronger. Maybe a bit gentler would be Exhale Mind Body Spa founder Fred deVito’s motivational words, If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. I walked through some of the most stunning scenery in the world – as well as some of the most challenging – and each step wrung out my soul.

As I read those last sentences, I think about what one of my backpacking friends said about me years ago when, in a moment of frustration, I burst into tears. He was taken aback because, as he sees it, I always appear confident and strong. My moment of authentic and fully exposed sensitivity was out of character. Walking two big trails this past year laid all of that façade bare. I was at times insecure, impatient, ambivalent, irritated and, more often than not, uncertain anything would ever work out, even when there was so much evidence to the contrary.

Now, on this new long-distance thru-hike of career number three, I wonder if the lessons learned will transfer. Will I see this new phase as a blessing, one that brings clarity to what I really want – and need – going forward? Will I bring with me the same discipline, method and organization I used to walk 5,000 miles when shaping the next phase of my life, taking one deliberate step at a time? Will I practice patience, trust, and mindfullness – and will I believe trail angels exist?!

My brother reminds me that if I can’t see the next day clearly, maybe I can see just the next hour. And if not the next hour, how about only the next minute. Every action I take and every thought I allow to crowd into my mind can be ones that propel me forward on the trail that I blaze towards an endpoint I envision.

"You are a builder," my brother Andrew tells me. "Not just of sound booths, but of feats. And masterful ones at that."
“You are a builder,” my brother Andrew tells me. “Not just of sound booths, but of feats. And masterful ones at that.”

A few days after I met the Catholic Scouts, I limped into Skykomish nearly at the end of my rope, soaked to the skin, my feet chafed from the constant damp. Showered and rested, friends caught up with me at the local brewery. When I mentioned meeting the Scouts on the trail, their eyes widened, a big smile appeared and they told me they had camped right next to them at the lake. “It was an absolute misery out there in all that rain, but those guys were as happy as could be, playing flute and guitar late into the night, and singing!”

My studio is almost built and every day I walk this fantastic, mysterious, and wonderfully all-mine trail of Career #3. Although I’m not entirely clear what’s around the bend and lots of days of rainy difficulty are surely ahead, I have the opportunity to choose patience in place of frustration, faith in place of fear, abundance in place of scarcity, and being present in place of regrets.

Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, Sing to the Lord a new song…praise her with tambourine and lyre – and maybe even guitar and flute, too.

7 Responses

  1. Alison, I hope to hear you speak about your experiences, first hand. I’d like to figure out how to get you up to Duluth! Many good wishes as you forge ahead!

  2. Alison….be mindful…at all times…remember your journey…as a means of ordering….life always has meaning for you….proceed with joy….Zola

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