Monday, October 29, 2012

We're Back

I haven't been writing; I know.  It isn't that there isn't much to say as much as my lack of desire to say it.  The trail changes you.  It is so very cliche, but true.  I don't have a pretty way to sum up our thru hike, so have been avoiding it.

At 4:30pm on September 13th, The Barracuda crossed over into Manning Park, Canada.  The Barracuda ended a totally different person than he began.  His maturity was so very apparent when he wrote his final remarks in the register, "From the cursed saints and cold-blooded rattlesnakes of the desert to the hallowed and beautiful North Cascades, it has been an incredible journey, but I'm ready to be done."

  The reality is any thru hike is a personal battle with yourself. Your demons come out if you really mean to hike and not merely play.  It is as though you are personally embodying Naturalism every day for four to five months.  Ultimately, you have even less of an idea about your own issues than you do how to solve them.  A few hundred miles in, they begin to take shape and you begin to rage against them.  Whether you are even aware of it is hard to say, but hindsight is always 20/20 if you want to  look.  At around a  thousand miles, you begin to realize you are stuck out in the middle of nowhere with yourself so you'd better listen.  The next thousand miles are the listening, denying, feeling and coming to terms with yourself.  These are the hard ones.  You either walk out the other side a better person, or you bury your head in the sand and remain vapid forever.

The hike has helped me to see myself differently.  It forced me to cut all the crap out of my life that I gave value to, that muddled the waters of emotion, that seemed to matter so much.  Once that is gone, all you are left with is yourself.

The Barracuda and I fought our battles together because we had to.  Whomever is by your side day in and day out will inevitably play a large emotional roll in the outcome.  They will feel the wrath, fear, glory and triumph of it all, and you will feel theirs.  But quietly, in the hours upon hours of walking, you battle personally as well.

Watching the Mohave fall behind us was the largest relief of the trail.  It meant we had successfully crossed the driest place in the United States and we were winning the battles.

I could post a stack of cutesy pictures and flowery verbiage, but if you are really doing it long distance backpacking is raw. It rips your guts out and then throws up in the cavity left behind. It turns you into someone you never were before and couldn't have envisioned.  You come back, and though everything is the same, you are not.

How could you be?  The fear is raw, the beauty is raw, the knowledge you are tiny and insignificant is raw.  Brutality is what happens when nature is in control.  One-hundred-and-eight degrees and no water for 30 miles isn't cute. Fourteen thousand feet up with 25 pounds on your back, altitude sickness, and dropping 5,000 feet in less than three miles isn't cute.  Poison oak, poodle dog bush, rattlesnakes, fire ants and razor sharp yuccas weren't messing around.  No sleep for over 4 days due to gale force wind in the desert sands - stakes won't work and neither will rocks until you learn to read the sand - and having to keep a tent up for your child isn't cute.  Losing 20 lbs you didn't really have, but still carrying 45 lbs for a 7 day resupply so you and your child don't starve, isn't cute.  Tying yourself into trees and laying on your child so the 85 to 90 mile an hour winds don't throw you both off the side of a mountain is nature in serious mode. (The wind was so strong it ripped the bite valve off my Camelbak).  That was just California.

You won't find much of any of that written here, because we discovered it wasn't about that.  All the stories, all the entertainments, seem to belittle the experience.  It wasn't some epic story; it was the reality that humans are so very unimportant.  Our over-ramped and inflated self value is our way of over-compensating.  We dramatize our existence because we aren't really living at all.  We have now seen things so beautiful it is hard to leave, so wild it creeps under your skin, so much joy in the tiniest things, so much triumph in the smallest moments, and so little of it really mattered in the grand scheme of things.

There is no way to really be present and miss the fact you are pathetic compared to the earth.  We can inflate ourselves all we want behind a screen, in our offices, or snuggled in bed, but Nature will prevail and ultimately remind you that you don't really matter at all. 

The Barracuda announced to one curious day hiker "I'm not a monkey; I don't dance!" after being asked the same question  for the fourth time that day. He was called a legend, a hero, and a stack of other flowery names for what he was doing and finally began telling people, "I don't want to be your hero.  You need to become your own hero."

Anyone can conquer the unconquerable.  He truly believes it and lives it every day.

The truth of the matter is, when you discover your insignificance at 7 years old, it is hard to ever be normal again.  The truth of the matter is it was otherworldly and no words can ever portray to you the ineffable.  The truth of the matter is that your house is safe and warm.  Your job is good, your spouse dependable, your life well scripted.  The truth of the matter is, you know deep down what lurks along the trail out in those woods.  Things get real when you leave society for a week-long stretches and resupply in only 18 hours chunks, when you sleep in a tent instead of a wooden shelter, when your clothes begin to literally rot off your body, when the simple act of food becomes a luxury forcing you into tears.  All of your society armor is gone and you are left with your dirty, smelly, starving, tired self and only one looming question, "Am I good enough?"

Then you realize the scariest part of all - no one even cares about the answer but you.

Regardless of the frigid temperatures, we would huddle together in our quilt and watch the scenery.  There are a few things in the world you should never take for granted.  Reverence for beauty is one of them.
Dad is another one.

There was a one section in Washington State where we had 14 days without much of a real resupply and plummeting temperatures.  For 3 days we didn't shed a single layer and hiked in everything we owned, including multiple pairs of socks.  In the same stretch there was a 13 mile bushwhack where The Barracuda would literally disappear feet in front of me due to the overgrowth and your body was ripped up with Devil's club.  In temperatures that low, with that significant a level of energy output, you can never eat enough.  Your stomach hurts constantly as you carefully ration your food and have to dutifully fight the impulse to eat.  In the same stretch the scenery was incredible.  We walked past Glacier Peak which is one of the few mountains (10,514 feet) which cannot be seen by any highway and must be walked into.  We hiked in what is considered some of the most remote and wild lands in the United States.  The days and nights were so crisp it was as if C.S. Lewis himself was writing your life in Narnia.  As The Barracuda and I huddled on a ridgeline trying to avoid the spitting ice, slicing wind, and regain feeling in our fingers and feet, he looked at me and said:
"You know what God is, Mom?"
"What do you think?"
"God is the voice that lives inside you that screams, and cries, and can't breathe all at once.  God reminds you that you are alive because He is here, but at any second you could die."
 There are no better words than that.

And so, that was our summer.  It was a summer to experience God.

7 thoughts:

Jennifer said...

I have nothing profound to say, except welcome back, and I'm thrilled for your family that you got to experience this. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

babbaapril said...

I am profoundly happy that you got to have and share this experience with your son.

Hello Kitty said...

What a beautiful post! I'm so happy that the two of you completed the trail and had such a transformational experience. It was memorable sharing the trail with you for a brief time.

Maureen said...

Congratulations. What an experience...and accomplishment!

Anonymous said...

This is not a criticism in anyway, but I'm wondering -- was it at all fun?

Granola Girl said...

It was the greatest thing I have ever done with my son. It wasn't fun, like I used to think of it. It was extreme. As fellow thru-hiker Veggie put it: 'There are 3 types of fun. Fun #1 is fun when you are doing it; Fun #2 is fun when you talk about it later; Fun #3 is fun because it is better than work or school. From this standpoint, it was most definitely fun!

We are planning on thru-hiking again, now that we know a little more what to expect. The Barracuda still wants to hike like crazy and triple crown before 14, but he doesn't want to talk about it in the same way.

Old Drum said...

It was fun to meet you both on the trail. I look forward to hearing how things go on the AT. Weather wise, I still recommend a NOBO hike on the AT beginning April 1. You get the spring in the south and still finish way before bad weather in the north. Met some SOBO's this fall at Hot Springs, NC waiting for the rangers to open the trail back up after a November snow storm. Either way good luck, have fun, keep learning and enjoy a completely different hike.
Old Drum
ps Congratulations on the PCT.

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