Emotions on the Pacific Crest Trail, Part 1
I had not even thought of writing about emotions. I tended to not spend much time looking deeply into them. Then an acquaintance asked me about my PCT experience, wanting to hear more about the array of emotions one may experience, so I dug a little deeper beyond the general mode of happiness, because, by the way, I truly was happy. My upbringing taught me that the only viable emotion possible was happiness. I grew up on Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking. Perhaps that is the way my mother managed seven children: “ Every day is a sunny day.” It proved quite beneficial for being on the Pacific Crest Trail, amidst adversity and the sacred. Amidst suffering there could be joy. In addition, we were both tough.
Pure unadulterated joy: This truly emerged after we realized, around mile one thousand five hundred, that we were physically and mentally capable of completing the whole trail. I experienced joy eating and sleeping in wildness, joy as I crossed over those high mountain passes. We hiked in the vicinity of the headwaters of several rivers. What an amazing joy, to be near the source!
Extreme fatigue and frustration: Each evening we’d finally lie down in the sleeping bag, thoroughly exhausted. We were quite aware of lack of libido. Sex was not in the cards. This was NOT due to our age. We got to know a young couple, so Sharky asked them if it was just with us older folks, or were they dealing with lack of libido, too…and YES, to our relief, they too, were just so damn exhausted daily that zero [non-hiking] days became necessities for resting, regrouping, cleaning up, and making love. Phew and yay for those zero days, although there were not enough.( Now, off the trail, we report that, in our sixties, all is well.)
Embarrassment: Being female, the hip belt of my pack sort of pressed on my bladder area. Several times I just could not get my hip belt unhooked, pants unsnapped and untied and down fast enough, plus removing the pack...and I simply found myself peeing in my pants, and oh yes, through the long underwear, down my legs, into my shoes and socks. Yes, I just stood there and cried, thinking “Oh no, I am so old.” After commiserating with several young women experiencing the same problem, two events changed that from occurring: I switched from pants to a skirt/skort that I could just pull down (no fasteners) and, instead of taking my pack off, I learned to do a half-squat with my pack on, and peed from that position. I just had to keep my legs spread wide enough to avoid peeing on the shoes or legs. I wore that damn (and cute) skort for the next fifteen hundred miles. I also experienced embarrassment when we were hitchhiking to get medication at a pharmacy forty-tive minutes away from where we were, and we looked like a meth couple (we were ultrathin due to giardia, my front teeth were chipped, my face was bruised and we were super dirty from head to toe, after being on a dusty stretch for eight days). No one stopped for us.
Scared shitless/to death: Danger existed (from my perspective). Profound danger because of natural phenomena appeared now and then. We had to be smart. Concentration often exhausted me. I felt this when fording several streams. I experienced fear of slipping on a log, and falling in, not because of getting wet but because of the possibility of injury. I must say that even Sharky, one time, crawled across a log because it was extremely narrow and so wet and slippery from rain. Due to immense snow melt, we faced treacherous streams, flowing hard, maybe thigh or waist-deep. On several occasions, Sharky hauled me out of streams or rivers by my backpack straps. I was scared postholing through snow areas with sheer drop offs on either side. After one stretch I recall falling into his welcoming arms, sobbing with relief that I had not slid down five hundred feet of steep terrain. Quite a few times I clearly said, “I’m scared to death!" Scary close lightning occurred numerous times. After one particularly long wait and no lightning for a long while, we headed out, and halfway across a wide-open section, whaml The lightning and thunder combo was right above us. We jumped and skedaddled.
Another time, we had been hiking in downpour rain for several days. After a night of camping, lying in the tent, aware that the rain continued, we heard a huge crash that sounded like it was right outside the tent. ln that split second I was ready to hightail out of there, certain that the whole forest was going to come crashing down. One huge tree had fallen nearby. I was not afraid of people or animals (well, maybe of rattlesnakes. We only saw three. Many hikers saw an abundance. One theory was that our trekking poles made vibrations, warning the snakes to move away). Several times non-hikers asked if we carried a gun for safety. That was a genuine question. We did not live in fear that way, on or off the trail.
Discomfort: How much were we willing to put up with? A lot, I realized. Both of us. Where do I begin? It was helpful to understand that discomfort was a given. It was helpful to accept that it was part of this whole deal, so get over it. Hunger was one tough example, as we hiked one hundred seventy miles of the John Muir Trail section (The PCT and JMT overlapped for a stretch) over passes above 10,000 feet in ten days and truly experienced hunger because we just did not pack enough food. Many fellow hikers suffered as we did. My stomach felt like it was eating itself. Another example was blisters. Many hikers, including me, would say “I never get blisters when I hike,” and then got blisters, especially in the first one hundred miles. I had several different bouts with them. These were not simple blisters. They were complex and messy and oh so painful. I hiked anyway. An abundance of suggested methods existed and each person had to find her or his own solution. Scarcity of water was a frequent discomfort. At one point, we had to hike down several thousand feet to a single water spigot on the edge of a five-mile desert stretch. For my first time, I experienced serious dehydration, having to stop frequently. Sharky was ready to bolt ahead to get water and bring it back, but I preferred he stay with me. At the spigot several of us tucked under a boulder out of the sun. Eventually, the two of us headed across those five desert miles in the middle of the afternoon with pounding heat, with our hats and clothing drenched, pouring our water on our heads more than in our mouths. Several times Sharky hiked down some gnarly off-trail places to bring back that ‘gold .’ He had some intemal water witching skill. During the desert stretch, we found ourselves often hiking in a westerly direction, into the sun, in the hot afternoon. That was just not fun. We had not yet purchased those nifty umbrellas. My crash and burn on lava rock caused multiple physical and emotional discomforts, including concern about how to keep my stitched lip clean, how to get sleep at night, along with having discomfort that I would not be able to ‘pull my weight’ with three busted ribs. Mostly I did not want to be a burden. Yes, I struggled with which was the wise choice: to stop or to continue the hike. Making the decision to continue was mine alone, as Sharky offered support, whichever way I detemined would be best and result in the least suffering. When we hiked in rain or snow, we often had wet clothing and shoes, even with those divine umbrellas. Drying clothes and shoes required a fire, which required us, usually Sharky, to find dry wood. Many a night we spent with wet clothes here and there in the tiny tent space. Oh, was it ever horrific in the morning to put on cold, some times frozen wet socks and shoes!
Disgust: Sharky’s motto for camping was “Our campsite has to be flat. I do not sleep on a side hill. That’s stupid.” Well, it was getting past six (the required hour to be setting up camp), and we were in ugly, shitty terrain, a logging area that went on and on and on. We were exhausted, disgusted with our predicament, and could just not continue. We were becoming grumpy and it was getting late. So I said, ‘Fuck it, let’s stop.” Our camping spot, the worst of the entire hike, was a fucking cat track with torn up dusty earth, branches tipped down and slash everywhere, as far as the eye could see. It was also flat.
Disappointment: Tough stuff for us to not have views, due to pea soup sky, rain, snow, blizzard, fog, lots of it in Oregon, plus smoke for a month in northern California and Oregon. Sharky was diligent in mentioning escape routes as a result of his pilot firefighting gig, as we hiked in the vicinity of the California Salmon River fire. We managed to catch a ride to the trailhead just before that stretch closed, but missed any views of the Marble Mountains. Bummer. At one point I saw toxic black sky ahead of us, and sighed with relief when the trail went a different direction. In southern California many hikers looked forward to the first river, the Kem River, where finally we could, perhaps, fully bathe, splash around, play. Well, the Kem River had just enough water to barely skinnydip one’s whole body. Shucks. We missed a lot of beauty because of concentration, because of narrow vision. I found myself disappointed when we would work so hard, then lose miles and hours due to trail confusion. Here’s an example: we had come to a fork in the trail. Do we go straight or to the right to get to the lake? We headed to the right, far away from access to the lake, campsites, bathrooms, garbage bin, as it turned out. We wandered and wandered, finally found the lake campsites (not where we planned to stay.) We went to the lake, swam a bit, used the faucets to do some cleaning of this and that, and headed on. Well, two hours later we were still trying to find our way out of there and to the trail. Tired, frustrated and disappointed at our loss of time and miles, we went this way and that way, grumbling and disagreeing, and finally discovering the direction to go. Later we heard from another couple that she was ahead on the trail, and went to the right. He arrived at that intersection a while later and went straight. After six hours of desperate wandering around separately, (no cell phone reception) they found one another. What a story that was! In Washington we made the wise decision to turn around, and then leave the trail, when we confronted the blizzard in Glacier Peak Wilderness. Disappointment filtered through our entire head-to-toe beings. Eventually, so did acceptance.
Exhilaration: In the Sierra City area, along a stretch of trail I took my pack off to go look for a friend, and found myself running with pure freedom and lightness and energy. I had not run like that for decades (and yes, we found our friend. She was right where she should have been.) I experienced exhilaration at mile one hundred, mile two hundred, mile five hundred, mile one thousand, mile fifteen hundred, mile two thousand, mile two thousand five hundred.
Thanks for the photos of Mt. Shasta and the trail sign, Fotogail!
Here’s the introduction and index of all of Bev’s PCT stories so far.
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