My palms are sweaty, I can hear my too-fast heartbeat throbbing behind my eardrums, and at least three times a day there’s a twinge in one of my knees or ankles that feels like it could be the first sign of a deal-breaking injury. None of those things is unexpected for a thru-hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail. But I haven’t even started walking yet.
It was a little more than six weeks ago, two minutes into the meeting where I was getting laid off, when a string of ideas for ways to spend a grown-up summer vacay flooded my brain. I was half-listening to my boss’ plans to restructure — and eliminate my job. I barely registered a word as he explained the logistics of COBRA and unemployment insurance. My cubicle-born adventure dreams were already transforming into real-life possibilities as he wished me well and asked that I turn in my office key before leaving that afternoon.
I returned to my desk and reached into a drawer to retrieve a neatly bullet-pointed Life List that I’d been adding to periodically since adopting a nine-to-six-o’clock work day two years ago. Which dream trip would be the consolation prize to losing my dream job? I could reserve a spot on the Trans Siberian Railroad, spend a few months traveling through South America, work a summer as a wilderness guide, hike the 2,680-mile Pacific Crest Trail, or one of a half-dozen other dreams I’d penned in moments of inspiration (or desperation) at my desk.
What would you do of you had a modest savings account, no obligations more significant than a $70-per-month phone bill and a sunny summer on the horizon? It took me about two weeks to decide, officially, to hike the PCT.
“Do you really need five and a half months of self-reflection?” asked one friend when I mentioned a thru-hike. “Do you really like walking that much?” asked another when I told her that the PCT is 2,680-plus miles. “How can I help?” asked a third, and fourth, and fifth as I started gearing up for the trip.
Six weeks later, my Martin Acres bedroom is sublet for the summer, my bills are set up to auto-pay, and I’m en route to the start of the PCT (about 50 miles west of San Diego) with nothing more than the clothes on my back and a backpack weighing just over 20 pounds.
It’s been a whirlwind of 12-hour days since I decided on this summer’s goal, and I’ve seldom felt so rewarded and worked so hard on a payroll as I have prepping for the next several months on trail. While packing resupply boxes with snack foods, dehydrated dinners and single-serving necessities, I’ve alternated between moments of ADD-like distraction and super-intense focus.
It’s not carrying the pack or being outside, or even being alone that spikes my heart rate, it’s more like a sense of supreme gratitude, and a nervous anticipation for the goals, compromises and judgement calls that shape 20-mile days in the wilderness. It’s excitement for the yet-unknown friends and a bit of trepidation about inevitable discomforts — physical, personal and social.
As I get closer to the mile-marker-zero monument where I’ll start hiking on Sunday, I’m trying to keep in mind the advice of a seasoned thru-hiker friend I e-mailed when I started seriously planning my trek.
“Just start walking,” she said. “The rest will fall into place.”
Follow Kristy Holland’s Pacific Crest Trail dispatches (current mileage: 0) via twice-monthly columns in the Colorado Daily and read more at kristyholland.wordpress.com.