Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Why?"

Surprisingly few people have asked me that question.  Nevertheless, it is one that I have asked myself repeatedly.  Here are my answers:

I am hiking the PCT for the experience.  I don't know if I believe in reincarnation, but I do know that sometimes it feels like there is a wise, 80-year-old woman inside of me telling me that this -- right here, right now -- is my life.  And it's the only one I have.  And I had better get the hell out there and do whatever it is that I think I want to do, because this is IT.  Two years ago, I got tired of wanting to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and decided to listen to the wise old woman.

I am hiking the PCT for the challenge.  I love challenges, both physical and mental.  It's why I've run marathons (read:  s-l-o-w-l-y run marathons -- I'm a tortoise.)  It's why I moved 2,500 miles away from my family to take the most terrifying job I could think of (one that involves, gasp, public speaking -- but also involves a uniform; which somehow makes the speaking easier.)  It's why I chose to become an EMT (that and the usual fascination with blood, guts, and helping in emergency situations that most people in the field share.)  It's why I fought my irrational fear of suffocating in avalanches to summit Mt. Hood (a fairly unlikely cause of death on Hood -- but I guess that's what makes it irrational.)  It's why I look cows in the eye, track wild turkeys, and am committing to sleeping outdoors, somewhat alone and in the dark, on the PCT -- all irrational fears of mine.  Perhaps because of that wise old woman, I like to meet my challenges, head-on.

I am hiking the PCT to become a better person.  I know; it sounds cliche.  But I also know that the 20-some-miles-a-day for days on end of the Trail is going to push me harder physically and mentally than I've ever been pushed before.  Something about being out for so long seems to make everything a little more immediate and raw.  Parts of yourself you may never have known were there (and maybe did not want to know were there) come to the surface.  All of the hidden stresses, unflattering character flaws, greatest fears, and unconstructive thoughts are all right there for you (and sometimes everyone else) to balk at.  (I know I get toilet paper-, map-, and water-stress; that sometimes my shyness turns me into a fun-hater; that I really am afraid of the dark; and that my doubts can trap me in a cycle of indecisiveness.)  Discovering these things can be the absolutely most horrible, painful, and frustrating experience, ever.  Who wouldn't want to give up a fantastic job, soft bed, and heat that kicks on with a flick of the finger to spend $6,000 and beat his/her feet into a pulp for 5 months of this?!  Ah, but the wise old woman says that it is in this place that we grow.  And the only other way I can think of to do it is to have children.  And I'm just not there yet.

I am hiking the PCT because it is my passion.  I love hiking.  I love being out.  I love sunrises, sunsets, and alpine lakes.  I love wildflowers.  I love the smell of conifers.  I love watching wildlife.  I love finding animal tracks and absolutely love finding animal scat.  (Yes, it is what you think it is.)  I love piecing together the stories of geologic formations.  I love watching the constellations roll around throughout the night as I lie awake, terrified of some bump I heard.  I love hot dinners and creek dips that feel earned.  I suppose I love enough things about backpacking to balance out all the awful ones I listed above.  And so, I am hiking the PCT because it is my passion.  I am also hoping that in following and sharing my passion that I might inspire others to do the same.

Now, up until the other night, I was pretty secure in the belief that these were the reasons I was hiking the PCT.  And they are.  But, as I lay awake with little pools of tears at the corners of my eyes, I realized that I might be hiking to heal a little as well.  Now, I do not think this is unusual.  Many of us turn to an adventure or a vacation in a time of need.  A trip is healing.  I just didn't think I was in that category.  I'm generally happy and healthy.  I have a great job, good friends, and enough money to manage to pay on my school loans, squirrel away for a trip like this, and still go to The Lorax.  But, admittedly, it has been a rougher year.  These past six or seven months saw the death of my grandfather, medical issues for my father, a medical scare for myself, difficult times for my sister's family, and the end of  a nearly 4-year relationship.  We all have these times; some of us have much worse.  Mine have not been unbearable.  And all of them have worked out:  My 96-year-old grandpa was calling the nurses "baby" and using his "c'mere, and give me a hug" line up until his last days -- they were 96 well-lived years; my dad and I are resolving any issues or scares; my sister's family is stronger; and I'm in a new relationship and in a friendly one with the past.

So, why the tears?  Well, those were for my best bud who I lost the first Thursday in February.  Scout (my cat) and I took down the tree together on that Wednesday night.  (Yes, I waited until February this year.  I know.)  We had a fantastic time batting ornaments, chasing strands of lights, and (still) listening to Christmas music.  When it was time for bed (somehow he always knew), he lay down on his blanket at the foot of the bed, and I got ready and then climbed under the heaps of blankets and curled way down to rub his belly.  (My therapy.  My roommate was gone, so it was a night alone for the scared-of-the-dark one.  Cats help immensely.)  It was the regular routine the next morning, and then we both left for work -- I, as a park ranger; he, as a fierce hunter of all things four-legged on our 10 acres.  When I came home, I found him in the road; he'd been hit.  Thoroughly hit.  I was devastated.  Actually, I was hysterical -- like how people are in the movies.  It was surreal.  It still is.  And, judging from the other night, I guess I'm not over him yet.  I know all of you animal lovers out there understand.  And for the rest, you're correct.  I am destined to be a crazy cat lady.  All Kwaiser women are.  I'm even looking forward to it.

Scouters, sleeping in his box.
I've come to conclude that there are as many reasons to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as there are hikers hiking it.  For me, it is for the experience, the challenge, the personal growth, and my passion for the outdoors.  And for one little runt, giveaway kitten who grew into the most handsome, smart, athletic, funny, and intuitive friend I've had in a long time.  RIP Scouters.  I'll be scaring up four-leggeds for you all the way to Canada.







9 comments:

  1. Oh Dorothy.... You are living the dream and I am enjoying your candid, journalistic style blog. I wish I could be the one to join you. I picture myself one day as an empty nester taking a significant hike with Kirk by my side.... But for now I will salivate over the details you share. Enjoy every minute you are given out there. It will probably feel like forever and then be over in the blink of an eye! Thanks for sharing. xx

    Anna M

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  2. This is so beautiful, Dor! Thanks so much for sharing all of this.

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  3. Found your blog on PCTA, good luck on your journey! will you be posting from the trail?

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    1. I plan to! I'm *trying* to embrace my smart phone's capabilities. I don't know if I can keep up with daily entries, but surely a couple of times a week. Thanks for reading!

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  4. Very cool! I'll have to remember to follow your blog as you hike. Be safe and enjoy your starry nights.

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    1. Thanks, Dean! I'm looking forward to them.

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  5. Oh Dor, what beautiful writing. Literally brought tears to my eyes. I'll certainly be following along with your next big adventure!

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  6. my dream is to be able to do every single step of the PCT...one day...after my babies all grow up and I can spend 5 months away from my family. Until then, I am living vicariously through those of you starting your journey this year. I can't wait to hear how it goes.

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  7. This really touched me, I have my Gomerbear (that looks like Scout) and I am thinking about this hike. I need to go this but EVERYONE that knows me will laugh.

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