Day Seventeen

Today's miles: 20
Total miles: 238

We were up before the stars faded at 4 am and on the trail at 5, leaving behind our sleeping hiker friends. We walked along the Whitewater Creek for a few miles and then pushed up and over some big hills in the early morning sunlight. I was thankful we had gotten up wary today, because as warm as it was at 7am, I didn't want to be climbing these desert hills in the heat of the day.

We took a few snack breaks, and just a it was starting to get hot (like, 9 am) we hit 10 miles and came across another water source - Mission Creek. After so long in the desert with barely a glimpse of water, it was very odd seeing two small creeks in one day. According to our maps, we would be following Mission Creek for most of the afternoon, so we'd have a steady supply of water. This was a huge gift in such a simple package.

Wocka and Giddyup were already at the stream, taking a break to fill up water and stick their feet in. That sounded so wonderful that we couldn't resist, either. We took off our shirts, doused then in the cold creek, and then put them back on, feeling the cool breeze touch our skin.

We hiked on, and as the day wore on, the sun grew hotter. At every creek crossing we re-soaked our shirts and dumped hats full of water on our heads. But despite our best efforts, the hot, dry desert sun dried our clothes completely in 20 minutes. It was a continual effort to try and stay cool.

The presence of water was a God-send. My heart was fairly singing all day, so glad was I to be near a running river. There was no better sound in the world than that of a steady water flow when you have been without for so long. My soul yearns for water - river, lake, ocean - and being so far from it has been a personal challenge for me, slowly wearing me down to dry dust. But today I feel renewed and sad beyond measure at the same time, for though I am glad to have water nearby, I know I can't keep it.

When I felt I could go no further in the heat without jumping fully into the creek itself, we decided to take our afternoon siesta in the shade of a tree by the water. It was the first time in a while that we have taken such a quiet siesta, for often we are at a trail angel's house, or surrounded by other hikers. But today we stretched our sleeping pads out an lay listening to the sound of the water, watching the world turn around us.

We spent a few hours there, and I came to realize how precious those hours were. It gave me a chance to think, which is something I don't often have time for on the trail. This sounds counter intuitive, for what else could there be to do on the trail besides walk and think? But this journey has been very mentally taxing, and not just because of the miles or the heat. It's because the trail demands your attention at every moment.

When you're in your cubicle at work, or at home in the evening, or going about your daily routine, your mind is constantly in three places at once: past, present, future. 
"What do I need to finish from yesterday?"
"What's on my to do list for today?"
"What do I need to do before the weekend?"
Or even more existential: "Who do I want to become? Where is this journey of life taking me?"

I am a person who thinks about these things a lot. I like to see my place in the world, to see where I've come from, to understand where it is I want to go. I thought that hiking the PCT would give me plenty of time to figure out Who I Am and Who I Want to Be.

But I was wrong.

The trail doesn't care about the past. It doesn't care about the future. It only cares about Now.
My feet hurt Now.
I need a snack break Now.
The sun is very hot Now.
I need more water Now.

Sometimes you think into the future, but only to see your next water stop, your next campsite, your next day's elevation gain. Think too far in the future, and you're too overwhelmed. No, I'm not going to Canada. I'm going five miles to a water spigot. Then I'm going five more to a shady spot. After that, we'll see. One day at a time. One footstep at a time.

And it's exhausting. Because who these days understands what it means to live in the Now at every moment? I certainly didn't before I came out here. I was too preoccupied with my life as it used to be, or how I wanted it to be, or how I would make it someday.

Here, there is only Now. There is only this moment, this footstep, this hour of heat and thirst and simple, driving need. You are who you are in this moment alone, and it's all you have. It forces you to give all of yourself. Emotions are stronger, hurt is more painful, sorrow is heavier, joys are greater. The next moment might be better. Or it might be worse. The trail doesn't judge, or decide, or tell you what kind of person you are. It just forces you to live. Now. Simple as that. How often have you done that? Been present in every waking moment and only that moment? It's mentally exhausting.

But today we had a few hours reflection beside the water before we moved on, always on. We only had eight more miles to go for the day, but they turned out to be the most difficult. We were climbing again from 6,000 to 9,000 feet, and every step we took was upward. It was difficult, and exhausting, and every hill seemed to have another hill behind it, until I thought I could climb no more. But at last weary footsteps landed us at a tent site near a small stream crossing, where our friends were already waiting. We joined them and camped in the shade of pine trees, falling asleep thinking of tomorrow but no further.