Day Seventy Three

Miles today: 26
Total miles: 1542

We were up at 7:00 am with a big climb ahead of us this morning. I hadn't slept well last night; my body was still getting used to trail life again. Soon, I knew, exhaustion from hiking would knock me into a zombie-like sleep every night, but the first few days would be hard.

This proved to be very true in all respects. Today was my first full hiking day and I was determined to do the best I could. It was harder than I thought. Northern California was nothing like anything I had hiked so far: it was not quite the desert, but not quite the mountains. We had high hills to climb and mountains visible in the distance (such as the stunning Mt. Shasta) but the terrain was almost desert-like in its appearance. The weather was hot and dry, the water sources were frequent but small, the trees created shade but they weren't constant. We roasted under the sun, but it wasn't so brutal as the desert. It was an interesting blend of terrain and though it was fascinating to walk through, my body still rebelled against the miles.

I discovered that rejoining the trail was like starting over again, in some respects. I began to get blisters on my toes and the soles of my feet. The air was so dry that my nose began bleeding again. My muscles ached with fatigue and my pack felt needlessly heavy. It was as though I was back at the border of Mexico again, dealing with problems that I hadn't had for hundreds of miles. I forgot what a pain in the ass blisters were. I forgot how my fingers went numb when my pack straps dug into my shoulder all day. I forgot what it was to pour sweat and snot and mucus and blood out of every pore in my body. As the miles slowly rolled by, I began to question my decision.

Why did I come back? Why did I voluntarily put myself back on a trail that daily tries to kill me?

The realization that I had left the last bits of society behind when Tanner drove away, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Why had I chosen to return, after all?

Through the aches and the pains and the heat and the miles, the blisters and the nosebleeds and the cracked, dry skin, there was one thing that hadn't changed in my month off trail. I was strong. I was stubborn. And I was going to walk all the way to Canada.

I found that even though my pack was heavy, I shouldered it through the miles. I found that even though my feet had blisters, I kept walking over them. I found that even though the days were long, my legs carried me through. They had the strength of 1,000 miles in them, and even when I was tired and weary, they kept moving forward, one purposeful step at a time.

And I realized that each time our group stopped for water, or a snack break, or a rest beneath the trees to take in the view, that I discovered why I wanted to come back to the PCT. It wasn't for the hiking. No. Hiking was just a job, now - it was what we did day after day, a necessity. A means to an end. But it wasn't our purpose. We hiked the PCT for the people. For the camaraderie. For the stories we created when we were together. It was in those moments when we were together during breaks, telling jokes and laughing about the day's adventures. It was for those moments that I had chosen to return to the trail. I wanted to finish the story that I started, and the story was the people I walked with.

But I couldn't deny that I was weary. The trail was rocky, and rough, and I was in pain. When we got to camp at 7:00 we had walked 26 miles, one of the longest days I had done in months. We slept next to a beautiful lake and had dinner together by the water. Wocka Wocka, Giddyup and Sneaks liked playing a game each night where everyone told their best moments of the day. We thought back and picked out small highlights: a joke Sneaks told during our lunch break, or a pretty view of Mt. Shasta over the hills, or the delight of reaching camp after a long day.

I curled up in my tent that night, hearing the soft sounds of my friends doing the same around me. My feet hurt, my legs ached, my muscles were exhausted, but I was happy to be back, despite it all.