Upon returning home from the PCT, I quickly found myself in a rut. The days were passing by without anything interesting happening; I was waking up, drifting aimlessly through the day, and going to sleep. My sense of purpose had been taken from me, and instead I was left trying to piece together the bits of my life and make something new with them. But change in a familiar place is hard, and the monotony was beginning to wear on me. While Tanner was at work, I sat at home and missed the trail and my friends.
And one day, after a few weeks had passed, I got a message from my trail friends Dance Party and Focus, whom I hadn't seen since the Sierras. They had finished their hike to Canada by road walking 100 miles to the border and were now traveling around Oregon trying to figure out their new lives. Dance Party's aunt owned a beach house on the Oregon coast, and she and Focus decided to spend a few days there. She sent out a note to her Oregonian trail friends, inviting us to the beach house to reconnect with the trail life we were all missing.
I was only too happy to accept. As it turned out, Dance Party and Focus were the only two of the group that I knew really well. Hikers by the name of T-Rex, Kitten and Chik-Chak were also making the trip, but they were friends I had met only briefly on trail. I knew Chik-Chak because she and Focus's Aussie friend Starfox had gotten together on trail, and T-Rex had been part of their group, hiking with her boyfriend Rocky. I hadn't formally met Kitten yet, though he and I had mutual acquaintances through a great number of other hikers.
I planned to ride to the beach house with Chik-Chak, T-Rex and Kitten, all of whom were leaving from downtown Portland one Tuesday afternoon. I was a little nervous about riding two hours in a car with a group of people I had spent very little time with, but I soon learned I had nothing to worry about. Thru-hikers, after all, are one big family, whether you've met them or not. Two minutes into our car ride we were already laughing and joking as though we had known each other for years. There was something deeply bonding about sharing a 2,650 mile journey with someone, even if you didn't hike beside them. We shared the same joys and hardships, and we were connected by something stronger than social ties.
I quickly discovered, too, that this was exactly the trip I needed. It was cathartic. At last, I could talk about the trail with people who understood. I had been wandering through my weeks feeling lost and alone, deprived of anyone who knew what I had been through. And here, suddenly, I was among my own people again, and everything we said was wholly and completely accepted. We cited our culture shock moments, our struggles with re-entering society, our disappointment in how much we had changed yet how little the world around us had. There were many exclamations of, "YES!" and "Exactly!" and "I've been going through the same thing!" It was wonderful to hear my trail name so casually on the lips of these friends; it revived my other life, my trail life, and it refused to be forgotten.
As we talked, I felt myself healing from the inside out, relieved in so many ways to hear all my frustrations about "real life" reiterated by fellow hikers. It was our own brand of group therapy.
Hello, my name is Bramble, and it has been three weeks since my last day on trail.
We laughed, we talked, we shared stories and reminisced about the trail.
Remember that time...?
Do you guys get carsick? Like, all the time??
Are you still incurably hungry? Does that ever go away?
My coworkers keep asking me about the trail. They all say, 'how was your vacation? Was it relaxing? You must be so well rested!' I didn't even know what to say. Vacation? Relaxing? Well rested? How do I even start that conversation?!
I want to talk about the trail all the time, but no one wants to hear it. And that's the only thing I have anymore; it was my whole summer. People go on and on about their horrible days at work and all I want to say is, 'when I was in the desert...'
We told story after story after story, until the Trail felt alive again. We brought it back with our memories of it, and brought ourselves back to life in the process. We were piecing together our shattered existence with the only thing we knew: the Trail.
When we reached the beach house, Focus and Dance Party were waiting for us with huge pots of chili. There were hugs, and more laughter, and time spent beside the large windows, looking out at the ocean. We played games, told stories, and became our own version of a trail family, far from the trail.
The next day we spent our time out on the beach, climbing the shifting dunes, twirling on rope swings, splashing through the ocean surf and wading through tide pools looking for sea life. We stopped in a small pub beside the water for drinks and climbed again over the hills, looking out over the ocean and contemplating how tiny we were in the universe.
We cooked up another huge dinner, relishing the delights of fresh kale, smoked salmon, and freshly picked mushroom risotto. We played games before bed and tried to assemble the next bits of our lives into some sort of path. Chik-Chak was already back at work, T-Rex was in the search, Kitten was traveling the US for another month before returning home to the midwest, and Focus and Dance Party had their sights set on South America for a few months. I was job hunting, too, but I no longer had the desire for it. I needed the challenge, the stimulation, of having something to do every day, but I knew that challenge no longer came from a 9-5 office job. It was out there in the wild somewhere, begging me to explore it. But I no longer knew how to get there.
After a few short days on the beach, swimming in old memories with good friends, we returned home to Portland feeling a little more whole. I returned to my job hunt with a stronger sense of purpose, and yet still feeling like a lost little girl looking for the footpath she used to walk upon, wondering which way it was leading her.