If there was any point on the trail where I was close to tossing in the towel, it was about a week ago in Crater Lake National Park. For three days straight, I just wasn't feeling it anymore. My left knee was hurting again and having just come from over two weeks at home with Jess, life on the trail just didn't make sense anymore. I saw no beauty in the forest, no joy in the miles covered, and was generally numb to the entire experience.
I arrived at Crater Lake with nothing left in my emotional fuel tank. I'd sit there with the thousand yard stare for hours at a time trying to find some ounce of motivation to keep going. Between my knee and the pit in my stomach from missing home like never before, the idea of hiking out the next day made me sick. I didn't want to plan the next stretch of miles, didn't want to look at the map, and had no desire to talk to anyone. I was in a dark place in my head and to make things worse, cell coverage was at an all time low.
I hadn't been able to talk or text Jess and all I wanted was to hear her voice if just for a minute. We decided to take a zero day to let my knee heal up. With all that time on my hands, I thought about going home and what it would be like. After calling Jess from a pay phone for a couple of minutes, I made peace with the thought that if my knee still hurt the next morning then I was tossing in the towel for good.
The next morning came and somehow my knee didn't hurt. I waited for a twinge to occur getting ready for the day, but nothing happened. I decided to go through the motions once again and hike another day or so just to see what would come of my knee. As each mile came and went, so did my doubts about being on the trail. I wasn't fully out of my funk yet, but I was feeling better. Still, the idea of the woman of my dreams sitting at home missing me made me sick. I knew that she was hurting as much as I was, but not once had she given me a hard time about it. She wouldn't sugarcoat how she was feeling, but at the same time would tell me how proud she was of me and how it's almost over. She is no doubt a blessing to me on this trail and I'm so glad she's in this with me.
If the universe was trying to communicate with me that first evening out from Crater Lake, it was heard loud and clear. As we were closing in on the end of the day, we noticed clouds forming and thunder billowing from above. We pushed forward until it was about to pour and quickly set up camp. By the time we were finished, I looked up and saw one of the most incredible sights I've yet to see in the wilderness. The sun was setting and blasting its evening light into a midnight blue thunder cloud. Textures were swirling around each other until finally hail began to fall which made the sky look as if it were dumping glitter onto the world. The evening sun was setting at just the right angle so that I could see each drop of hail coming from far above. I sat there in awe. For maybe 20 minutes or so, I watched this happen and did my best to catch as many drops as possible. I was laughing and smiling the entire time thinking about how close I came to giving up and not seeing this beautiful sight at all.
For the next 6 days or so, I hiked through to Sisters, Oregon in a tunnel of classic PNW forest. Mosquitoes hammered us all day and savagely waited for us to wake up each morning so they could make their harvest once again. Mountain peaks in the far distance came and went in a matter of days and a new bubble of hikers was formed.
I now have 145 miles until I reach the Columbia River. I've thought about that day for years and I am now just 7 days away from the experience of seeing it through the eyes of a hiker. After that, it's 500 more miles until my life returns to normal and I'm left with sorting out this whole experience.
This is all just crazy. I'm excited to go home, but fear the trail will call out to me while at my desk and I wonder how I'll respond when it happens. Will I desire to live in the dirt again or will that thirst for adventure be quenched after reaching Canada. How long will it take me to digest the PCT? Days? Months? Years? And at which point does my trail end? Does it end when I see Canada or does it continue on until my future kids follow in my footsteps? So many questions and no answers.
There are no answers, so for now, I will sip on coffee while writing this and concentrate on seeing Jess waiting for me in all my disgusting trail glory in 145 miles. She deserves an award for being such an amazing partner in an adventure she didn't know of until after we met. This was my idea, my plans, and she never batted an eye at it. How great a gift.
Onward By Land,