O strange and stumbling journey!
I’m writing from home once again, recovering from minor injuries, securing new equipment, and wrangling with surprise administrative details. I came off the trail Sunday evening, wrung out and frustrated, knowing I needed a new plan for the whole hike or I would not survive with mind and heart intact. When I told my wife I needed to come home for a bit, my only fear was what to tell all the people who have been encouraging me and following along. It turns out to have been a fortuitous decision in several ways.
Since my last post, I hiked on for a couple of days, climbing near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell and then descending erratically and slowly toward the desert. The scenes shifted from shaded woodland to arid scree, and water sources were scarce (and much appreciated when they appeared). I saw few other thru-hikers on my trek, being so near the back of the pack (Little Ripper—who is much nicer than her name would suggest—and Dr. Extreme being the only ones I spoke to even briefly) and a number of day hikers, but usually had the trail to myself.
I will not equivocate: the days were rough, and by Sunday morning I was weary; by afternoon, I was frayed. I was facing a gaggle of problems:
Equipmental: My battery pack which energized from my solar charger was no longer holding a charge. I can’t use my phone directly with the solar cells, so I was constantly nursing the pack along, trying to keep 5-10% charge for checking my maps and the occasional message to the outside world (when I could get service). This also meant that posting here was right out, and I didn’t get to take many pictures. (I did capture several on my digital camera, though, so there’s a good reason for lugging that around.)
I also broke the buckle of the hip belt of my pack, so it was just badly tied together. Given my load, this was a problem.
Physical: While my ankle has been holding up well and my other traditional foot and leg problems have been absent, my little toe (the skinless one) has been suffering, poor thing, and I’d developed a blister on my left foot about the size of my fist that I seemed unable to effectively treat. In trying to avoid worsening it, I was altering my gait, which was starting to have negative effects on other bits. My body was adjusting to the rigors of the trail, but not enough to keep me moving at the pace needed. (I recognized the value of the advice not to be concerned with speed and distance, but on the thru-hike, these are paramount: there’s no way to avoid the constant need for evaluation and planning of how far one must go every day.) And while some suggest that you can “train as you go,” I suspect this advice is rather more applicable to college students in their 20s, and who perhaps get an earlier start.
Mental and Emotional: Admittedly, the other issues were secondary to these. Saturday was a hard day, ending with me ranting and weeping on a mountaintop. Sunday was a fairly good day, and even in that I recognized that I wasn’t enjoying myself. The moments of beauty I was experiencing were lasting just as long as it took to snap a picture from my digital camera and then tramp on; everything was in service to continuing to move. Starting at the last minute, I’m always pressed to push.
While having the title “thru-hiker” is appealing, I realized it wasn’t really the point of the journey. This was supposed to be about challenge, about pilgrimage and spiritual journey, about the experience of connecting to God through time in His creation. What it was becoming was a slog, a burden to be carried, a series of mileposts to be checked off. Standing at the crest of a high ridge watching the land fall away didn’t inspire awe; it was just a place to collapse for a few minutes before hefting up my gear and marching on.
There are many things wrapped up with all this, but the upshot is that I will be recovering for a time here, then setting out to pick up sections of the trail as possible through the end of the year. Things are still up in the air too much for me to have a solid plan yet, but I intend to do the Sierras at the least, and hopefully Oregon and Washington sections. By giving myself more time and not being ever followed by the monsters of deadline and schedule, I think I will find much more of what I set out to seek.
The timing of this pause ended up being providential: I returned to find several messages from the school about additional paperwork that needs to be completed (which, despite my asking months ago about what was required, was not mentioned) and a sabbatical leave bond that has to be secured (which I had no idea existed or was required), which will be both time-consuming and expensive. (This would have been good to know some time ago.) I will also need to make certain that these changes will still meet the requirements set out in my sabbatical agreement.
I will continue to post here and keep you updated on where my travels take me next. This blog has been a source of comfort and connection; keep your eyes on this space.