So here’s our video/ slideshow from our hike. We’ve been really happy to share it with friends and family the last couple months and I’m happy to say it’s now on youtube. Enjoy!
In other news, I’ve been putting off writing a “final” blog post. On one hand I believe the trail experience is not just the the trail, but the lead up, the hike and post trail integration. I wanted to be sure I’d come down off of my trail “high” and in some ways I have. And on the other hand I think there’s a part of me that is somewhat sad to wrap up what now has been an 18 month experience with “the trail” crossing my mind everyday. But there are things I want to share so here it goes.
This morning I went for a short hike by myself in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Park near where I currently live in Antioch, Ca with my roommates (cough, parents). When I got to the park I grabbed a map from the kiosk opened it up to pick out a route and realized it wasn’t necessary. I knew the park pretty darn well and knew for certain I wouldn’t get lost. So I stuck the map in my pocket and just walked following animal runs, turning at trails, open spaces and fire roads. Over the course of an hour and a half of wandering I more or less made a loop back to where I started. It was nice just kind of wandering about going whichever direction my curiosity led me. It made me think how I’d like to do this kind of hiking more often and also how it was NOTHING like the Pacific Crest Trail! ha.
Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just a completely different way of exploring than following “the yellow brick road to Canada” that is the PCT. On the PCT, while I had this overwhelming sense of freedom, the trail gave me more direction and regiment than I realized. Everyday you wake up, get back on the trail where you left off and walk north. When it gets dark, you set up camp, go to sleep, wake up, etc.
While many things change: the temperature, the scenery, the people you’re hiking with, the kind of bugs that are trying to bite you, the one constant is the two foot wide trail guiding you north. It’s kind of nice. People often say you can just zone out and walk for hours on the PCT compared to say the Continental Divide Trail which requires more attention and focus (from what I’ve read). Its true, the PCT allows you to soak in your surroundings, have amazing and often weird conversations and of course gives you plenty of time to think. This isn’t to say its a complete walk in the park. We got lost a few times, and I checked the maps regularly to make sure we were on track. You gain an intuition after a while and if you get off trail your gut will likely tell you before your maps do.
Speaking of staying on track… when I got home today I picked up my trail journal and read the last entry I made on Oct 7th in an attempt to sum up my two weeks of being back from the trail. (we finished on Sept 24th)
“Well, just like that I’m back. Following the A’s & Giants in the playoffs, checking facebook on a regular basis and watching the back and forth between Barack and Mitt….Oh well, so is life, but some things are different. It’s taken me a while, but there’s things I’ve learned about me, Megs, our relationship and people. I’m gonna write these things down in no particular order over the next week or so… I think it can be summed up with Community, Vision, Partnership and Planet.
So here I am over two months later, nearly 20 lbs heavier trying to sum up what I’ve learned. Here it goes!
Community: Its hard to explain the “trail community”, but its a community like none I’ve ever been a part of. I guess the crux of the trail community is how much it is based on the concept of strangers helping strangers. Typically in the communities I’ve been a part of it takes hours if not years of building trust and relationships before that community feeling hits me. While there were literally dozens of stories of “trail magic” (which if you followed our blog you know what that is by now) there was one event that always comes to mind and when it really clicked for me. One rainy wet day in Washington we stumbled across a dirt Forest Service road in the middle of nowhere to the smell of chili dogs and hot coffee. This was incredible and just what we needed. (and especially for megs after wearing her dirty sleep socks on her hands all morning to keep them warm) The gentleman went by the name of “Not Phil’s Dad.” His son’s trail name from a few years ago was “Not Phil” and logically his trail name became “Not Phil’s Dad”. Anyhow, after stuffing our faces for a little while with warm food I got talking to Not Phil’s Dad about how and why he did it. He said it was his way of giving back as part of his faith (not in a preachy way) and he intended to do it every year as long as he could. I asked if I could give him a donation (polite hiker etiquette) and he said no. He has a system of funding this activity by taking the change he gets from his coffee and bagel everyday and putting it in a jar. Not Phil’s Dad was there for two weeks helping soaking stinky hikers like us all in the name of “giving back” or “paying it forward” depending on which trail angel you talked to. The awesome thing is that there are countless stories and not just of angels helping hikers, but also the other way around. When trail angels need help hikers have responded be it fundraising to buy a new washing machine for an angel’s house or volunteering professional legal services.
So that’s the angel/ hiker community dynamic, strangers helping strangers. But equally as awesome is the community that gets built on the trail between hikers. Its incredible how close and trusting hikers get so quickly. Megan and I made some amazing lifelong friends on the trail. Everyone’s in the same boat, on the same level, on the same journey which builds comradery nearly overnight. No one is going home to watch TV at night or to go to the gym. Everyone is on the trail and carries very little to distract them from that except the occasional mp3 player or journal. Its amazing.
The trail community has left me thinking, how can I build community through random acts of kindness to strangers?
Vision: Let me start by saying the fact that the trail even exists is a miracle in and of itself. The fact that a wilderness corridor can span the length of the USA, the most developed of developed countries through 3 states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people is incredible. Then think that it happens twice more along the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian trail…WOW. Someone(s) was thinking way back when to make this happen. If you want to read a little more about the history of the PCT and the National Scenic Trails click here, but I’m no going to go into that history. (this post is getting too long as it is).
The bottom line is that there were certain people who had a vision nearly a century ago that one day people like Megs and I would like to walk from Mexico to Canada. Talk about paying it forward! The story of how the PCT came together is still not entirely well documented from what I can tell. (Ken Burns I hope you’re reading this) But what is clear from the thousands of volunteers who built the trail, to President Johnson who signed the National Scenic Trail Act, to the advocacy groups who fight to protect the trail everyday, they all had a vision to share the best America has to offer with trails. Thank you.
This has left me thinking about taking the long view. What do I want to contribute to and build over the next 50 years? What mark will I leave?
Partnership: Ok, so here’s the mushy part of the post. I still can’t believe I got to do this whole journey with Megs. I’m such a lucky guy. Prior to the trip Megan and I had been dating for roughly 2 and a half years which were great. And the question I found myself asking the day we left the Mexican border was “Chad, things are going pretty well, are you sure you want to roll the dice here?” Well, we rolled the dice and Jackpot! We are better because of it.
Did we fight? You better believe it. Did we sometimes hike separately? Oh yea. Did we push each other off a cliff? Almost. We joke that it took us a couple thousand miles to work the kinks out, which is probably right. (Washington was a great state all around.)
With a partner on the trail you learn (or at least are constantly trying) to compromise, share decision making and communicate clearly. Some of our biggest fights were over some of the silliest things. Simple situations such as where to eat lunch or when to stop for dinner could turn into trail armageddon 2K12. While this certainly drove each of us crazy, we were both committed to working through it and trying new things, new ways of communicating or as Megs loved to joke new ways to “express our needs.”
There were lots of couples on the trail that we met and each of them had their own ways of doing things to make it work (or not). In terms of sharing things, Megs and I started out sharing nearly everything from eating from the same pot, to having one set of maps, to sharing toothpaste. All these things seemed logical from a weight standpoint and plus we were a couple right? They didn’t always prove to be the best solution. I learned that some things are best shared and some are best had on the individual level. Finding that balance of the individual/ shared experience in a variety of aspects of relationship was important insight for me.
Hiking with a partner is a completely different experience than hiking alone. Both have their advantages, but this last summer there’s no one I would have rather hiked with. Love you Megs!
Planet: So if the last section was the mushy section, then this is the hippy section. For those of you who know me, you know that my passion/ line of work has been to do my part to heal this planet we all share. Hell, its the only one we have right? After 5 years of working on a variety of fronts I was ready for a recharge and the PCT sure gave it to me. I gained a deeper appreciation for the conservation battles of the past and those ongoing. Finding that balance of responsible development and protecting pristine/ historic landscapes is hard, really hard, but in my mind there’s nothing worth protecting more than the PCT. The idea that my great, great, great grandchild could hike the PCT and have the same wilderness experience with the same amazing views is incredible. With how quickly our world changes these days, cities could be virtually unrecognizable in a 150 years from how we know them today, but the PCT will the same. How cool is that? We live in an amazingly beautiful country and I want to work to keep it that way.
So if you’re still reading, thanks for listening. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was amazing and it continues to teach me things about myself. As for this being my “final” post, that may have been a lie. There’s lots of trails out there…