By Cameron AKA Don Quixote:
It’s safe to say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to hike on the PCT with Lindsey and Kyle.
I think it started with a short, if somewhat inebriated, discussion during my Thanksgiving break from Gonzaga about what I was going to do right after finishing college. Being a fairly cocky and somewhat athletic guy I thought, “What the hell, I can hike with you guys, I’ll come do a section right after graduation.” I then proceeded to spend the next 4 months not really preparing. I bought a backpack and got a permit so I had the essentials and I figured the rest would fall into place when I got closer to my start date. There was this pretty big distraction in my life that rhymes with smollege.
Graduation came and went, Kyle and Lindsey left for the trail and then it hit me. I was 4 days away from hiking for over a month and I had no food, I was way out of shape, and I still hadn’t moved any of my stuff back to Olympia from Spokane. After a few whirlwind days of shopping and planning I flew off to the trail and to find my soon to be hiking siblings for the next months and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Would the trail be fun? Would it be easy or hard? Would I be able to do the miles they wanted to hike every day? Would something on trail get to me and make me want to get off? And finally I started wondering why am I doing this hike? A month is a long time.
Being off trail now, it’s hard to look back and try to relive the majority of the miles. My feet and joints still ache with each step that I took. My back remembers the pounds of my pack that bounced against it every day. My skin is still sun burnt from my last days in the Sierras. But that’s not what my mind remembers:
The first few weeks of hiking were a honeymoon for me. The desert wasn’t too brutal, the miles hadn’t taken their toll, and I was still able to find a movie quote for nearly every little event that happened. Between the three of us, we filled the days with stories and jokes and little tidbits of information about things we’d done off trail and things we wished to do. We spent the hours hiking and getting to know each other with the intensity of new best friends. This was a chance for me to really try and understand Lindsey and Kyle, to get to know who my sister and future brother in law are.
After long enough together we reached a comfortable understanding and with this understanding came a comfortable silence. It’s would be hard to describe what this understanding was but people on trail know it if they’ve hiked with the same person for long enough. Lindsey would set up her tent here. Kyle really wants the crumbs of the peanut butter pretzels’ that I’ve been eating for snacks. A silence filled with knowledge of the “little things” as Lindsey calls it.
When you’re hiking for more 12 hours a day and about three of them are spent in conversation, the 9 hours of silence leaves an amazing amount of time to think. Some of that time is spent making sure you don’t trip over rocks or roots in the trail, some of the time is spent trying to memorize the amazing landscapes staring at you from across the huge valleys you’re about to traverse, but most of it is spent with your own thoughts. Sometimes your thoughts take you weird places, like where mine took me when I was planning this blog post.
My thoughts were a kaleidoscope of different threads at the start of the hike; I would hop from a song lyric to a memory of college to a movie quote I wanted to try to get Kyle to identify. As I found out, that was an extremely tiring way to think. Slowly I was able to spend more and more time on each subject, remembering whole songs and singing them to myself, trying to relive whole days or events of college, and getting more complex in my philosophical wanderings as well as more random. Like such:
The amount of time to think while on trail is something that doesn’t exist in most people’s lives. There is so much external movement in the real world that it’s always possible to distract oneself from one’s own thoughts. On trail it’s nearly impossible to escape from thinking for hours on end and it changes people. And it can be extremely difficult since so few of us are used to the time alone in our heads. I wasn’t and it took ages for me to be comfortable with the silence and with thinking.
But this silence and thinking was also something we fled from when we were off trail. We would binge watch TV or read books or eat continuously, anything to keep us from thinking and to distract our minds. It was some attempt at returning to the equilibrium we were at before hiking. Then it would be time to get back on trail and return to thinking.
While hiking and thinking I realized I got on trail to spend time with Lindsey and Kyle. To get to know them in a way that very few people have the chance to do. I honestly didn’t care much about the hiking other than that it was a vehicle through which I could share time with them. And as the hike progressed I began to cherish and share the experience that we were able to share. And now, being off trail I want to keep hiking just to be with them. Without them, there is no way I would have enjoyed those thousand miles and I find myself wanting to enjoy another thousand miles.
Yet I also miss the time to think. The quiet and comfort of the trail is impossible to relate to people who haven’t experienced it. People said they were on trail for adventure, I would argue that they are actually craving that slow time to think and wonder and explore their thoughts internally while their body explores a new world around them.
Maybe I’m alone in these thoughts. Who knows, someday I’ll have to take another long walk and see if I can sort some of it out.