Thursday, October 2, 2014

What hiking the PCT has taught me

Firstly, it continues to blow my mind that this trail even exists. The fact that there is a continuous wilderness trail from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border in Washington is astounding. It's not an easy trail either, as it runs along the Pacific mountain crest, including the mountains in the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevada, the Oregon Cascades and the Washington State Cascades. The geography ranges from hot, dry desert terrain with little or no water, into the high Sierras with snow and multiple 14,000 ft peaks, to the Oregon lava fields and lake regions and finally the steep, cold, wild and wet Washington mountains.

As my life has turned out, hiking this trail and living in the wild in my tent for 146 days has been a bridge for me from my 'old' life to my 'new' life. I had got divorced a year previously, quit my job, sold my house and most of my possessions and met a new love only three months before embarking on this epic five month sojourn, which meant I would be MIA from my home state of Hawaii. 

My biggest take home experience from this adventure is a renewed faith in humanity. I have experienced so many random acts of kindness with people expecting nothing in return, ongoing from the day I started until I finished. I am humbled at the kindness and generosity of so many people and I hope to pay it forward.

The trail is a metaphor for life. It is a journey for which you have to be present in and focused upon, one step at a time. You cannot focus on the destination as it will become overwhelming. The trail, as with life can be exciting, boring, filled with adventure, mundane, monotonous, filled with both beauty and ugliness, disappointment, elation, gratitude, fear, comfort, loneliness, solitude and companionship. I've met good people, bad people, kind people, indifferent people, angels, magic, planning, spontaneity and so the list goes on. The motto that comes from all of this is "Just Do It", live life to it's fullest potential.

I don't feel as though hiking the trail changed me, but I do feel that it reaffirmed some philosophies on life that I already had and influenced me to continue to pursue being my own authentic self. Never try to be someone else but you can evolve into the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

Have hopes, dreams and desires but don't have too many grand expectations as you are likely to be disappointed. Rather focus on the present and enjoy all of life's little gifts that come your way on a daily basis which you might overlook if you're too focused on some potential, eventual outcome.

 I've realized how many people truly care about me and are interested in my life. This creates a feeling of happiness and belonging and highlights the significance that communication and affirmation can have in one's life. 

So many people gave me ongoing encouragement and support, in the form of messages, comments, gifts, resupply boxes, hitches, trail magic and encouragement. There are too many to name but I am eternally grateful to each and every person.

My kids Ian and Sian and my family and close friends and colleagues have been so important to the success of my adventure. I am incredibly fortunate to have all these people in my life.

I am in awe of my fellow PCT hikers. Even though I hiked the trail solo, I met amazing people along the way and made many friends, sometimes only hiking a day with them and other times seeing and camping with the same people for big sections. These people inspired me and motivated me, making me realize that I was not the only person struggling along. Seeing their stamina and endurance made me conscious of the fact that I too had those qualities and that I could continue even when the going got tough. Every hiker has moments of suffering and rewarding moments and it's good to know this when you're going through your own difficult moments. 

The trail also highlighted the importance of flexibility. As with life, a fixed, rigid approach does not always work out the way you want it to. The conditions along the trail, as with life change and sometimes throw curve balls at you. This happened to me with all the fires in northern California. I was initially very disappointed but being burnt alive or succumbing to smoke inhalation was never part of my game plan, so I had to go with the flow of things and go around the fires.

Last but not least, a true romance story always makes an adventure even better. Josh has been my biggest trail angel of them all. Although we only knew each other for three months prior to the trail, he stayed by my side and encouraged me every single day via satellite phone text messages. He also flew over from Hawaii three times, once to every state and the last was to be there for me when I finished and accompany me home. He has gone above and beyond for me and I am filled with gratitude and love for him.

So yes, a remarkable experience, a bridge and a successful endeavor with a happy ending. Carpe Diem!  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Good Stuff at the end of your Comfort Zone

Day 144-146:

I cannot remember the last time I have experienced such wet, bitter coldness. I was even shivering in all my layers inside my down sleeping bag last night. By 7am I was up and ready to roll and set out on my own as the other hikers weren't ready yet.
At the Rainy Pass parking lot, I met Ranger Jan and Kokopelli who had both decided to end their hike 62 miles before the end, each for their own reasons. It seemed such a pity but Ranger Jan asked me to write that they were at the finish in spirit in the monument register. 

The rains stopped and the day actually got sunny and I met weekend backpackers Steve and Chuck and had lunch with them at Cutthroat Pass, sitting on a rock drying out my tent overlooking spectacular scenery.

The trail then hugged the mountainside until Methrow Pass and then dipped into a cold, damp forest.

I set up camp at Brush Creek at 6:30 pm as I was feeling very cold and wanted to get into my sleeping bag after a 23mile/ 37 km day. PCT hiker, Lumber appeared at 7pm and thankfully camped nearby. Only 42.7/ 68.7 km miles until the end of the trail!

Day 145:

From Brush Creek I climbed the switchbacks up another mountain giving me great vistas before Harts Pass. 

Once I reached Harts, I felt emotionally, physically and mentally depleted. No-one was at the pass when I arrived except for a ranger who told me to go along the road to the trailhead. I misunderstood his directions and hiked a couple of miles down the incorrect road. Instinctively I wasn't feeling good about the directions and when I saw a truck approaching, I flagged it down to ask them if they knew where the trail was. They told me that I was on the wrong road and became my trail angels by driving me back up the road to the correct trail access. Not only did they rescue and help me but also showered me with trail magic in the form of treats and fruit and helped me feel a whole lot better. Thank you so much Greg, Ryan and Rachel Christensen!

Continuing north bound I started running into PCT hikers who had already finished but opted to hike back 30 miles from the monument at the border to Harts Pass instead of entering Canada. 
It was awesome seeing Hotpants, Guy on a Buffalo and Shimiko again and congratulations to them.
It's my last night sleeping on the PCT and I am in good company with Sad Fish, Happy Feet, Cloud Trousers aka Bird Bath, Lumber, Shutter, Yosemite Bear, Smoky and Goosebumps.
A bear came into our camp and Happy Feet chased it away by shouting loudly. I'm so glad I was with other hikers but I went to sleep with my mace by my side anyway.
Tomorrow I complete my journey.

Day 146:

A day I shall never forget! 
The motivation to hike fast was high and there was still a fair amount of climbing before the big plunge down to the monument. 

It really felt like no man's land out here, wild and rough with awesome vistas out there on the horizon which went on forever.

The weather forecast was for rain and snow tonight and I watched the sky filling with clouds as the day progressed.
Most of my hiking today was with Sad Fish and Shutter and we reached the monument at the Canadian border around 3pm. 

What an incredible feeling I experienced on arrival at the end. Clapping and cheering from the hikers who had arrived there earlier but were lingering to savor the moment. 

To my absolute joy, Pippen, Stringcheese and K2 where there. I had spent many special moments with them throughout my journey and it was meaningful to be at the monument with them.

Stringcheese had brought along some fun inflatable suits to wear at the finish, so I put on the sumo wrestler and Sad Fish wore the horse. We were all rolling around with laughter.

Soon, Topshelf, Banjo, Smoky and Goosebumps arrived and I was able to get a group photo with these awesome people I had hiked with at the end, including Sad Fish and Shutter.

Another amazing person to be at the finish was Cloud Trousers who potentially saved me on day two of the trail simply by showing up at the abandoned campsite at Boulder Oak when I found myself alone there, being watched by a creepy man in a truck who left when Cloud Trousers arrived. Another one of my angels.

Well done to everyone else there at the finish, all very special people.
The drizzle started again and I did not want to spend another night in a cold, wet tent, so I hiked out into Manning Park resort in Canada, making it a 27 mile/ 43.5 km day.  

It was dark and rainy when I arrived at the resort lodge and that night the higher elevations in the last section of trail did get some snow, while I snuggled in a nice warm, comfortable bed.
Tomorrow I catch a bus to Vancouver and then go on to a week of celebration and R&R in Seattle with Josh who is meeting me there.
Wow! What an epic adventure! What a journey! Thank you PCT for providing me with the chance to experience life in this manner.
The good stuff happens at the end of your comfort zone.