I’ve been in Portland for a week, staying with my good friend Seamus, riding a bike, taking naps, eating collard greens and too much dark chocolate. Reconnecting with the people who I love, face to face and on the phone, through email, however I can- sometimes I think that I am a very poor friend, that I am just gone, that I miss all the important moments, that I am never there when the exciting thing happens, or to help move a ping-pong table, or to bear witness in the hard times. I am so lucky to have connected, in this short time on earth, with so many wonderful people- being away and out of touch all summer makes me realize this, this goldmine of connection that I’ve been sitting on, forgetting about and neglecting as if I have all the time in the world, as if I’ll live forever. These connections are all that we have and I am lucky that my friends, who are much more settled and dependable than I am, are so patient with me. I only hope that someday I can pay it forward, because I know I’ll never be able to pay it back.
I finished my second thru-hike of the PCT! And it feels… sort of regular. The trail this year, for me, was not so much a physical challenge as an emotional one- on my second thru-hike my body just sort of knew what to do but I felt more emotionally distant from the trail, less attached. By mid-Oregon I was ready for the sorts of emotional and intellectual nourishment that non-trail life can offer, all the different kinds of people and experiences, a wider more open and varied world. The trail is a narrow demographic of people doing a narrow range of activities and discussing a narrow range of subjects. I felt as though I’d beaten most of that near to death, and although the hiking was much easier this year than last year (and by the end I felt stronger, as a hiker, than I’d ever felt, ever) I was starved for other things, other emotional and intellectual experiences. So when the trail ended I was ready, and I didn’t feel sad, only very peaceful, and contented, and probably sleepy, and that was nice.
Last year I was so heartbroken after finishing! Having lost the people and life that I had grown to love, that I had become so invested in. I rolled with a larger group this year and therefore didn’t connect with others as intimately, and also hiking the PCT a second time has destroyed, for me, the illusion that a thru-hike is a “once in a lifetime” adventure that can never happen again. I know that I’ll see my friends again and I know, money and time permitting, that I can thru-hike as many goddam times as I want. They also say that, much like your first love, there’s nothing like your first thru-hike. So maybe that’s true.
My body, after the trail, feels good- although it’s hilarious how “out of shape” I am for anything but walking. The first day I rode a bike left my hamstrings so sore I could barely move, and running on concrete feels completely impossible and also inherently wrong, as though I’m missing a sort of spring-like elasticity I should have and instead my legs are made of solid lead that is somehow magnetically attracted to the earth. Attempting to run on concrete makes me want to lay down on the warm pavement and go to sleep. Running on trails is alright, if awkward, so I’ve been doing that- although I have to fight the constant urge to walk.
My feet feel good. I am grateful, once again, that I do not have the foot pain that so many (all) of my thru-hiker friends experience at one time or another. Maybe it’s my giant feet, or my gait, or how often I change my shoes, or something, but so far my feet have held up really well and I am grateful for that. I have, however, been pooping my brains out- I stopped filtering my water the last week on the trial, as I want the immunity that the more veteran thru-hikers have, and so I’m riding this stomach bug out the same way I rode out what may or may not have been giardia when I was in Mt. Shasta. I want to be able to drink from a stagnant puddle without getting sick, like NotaChance can do. That’s my ultimate goal.
I’ve got a seasonal job in Southern Oregon that starts mid-September and until then I’m in Portland, broke and sort of sleepy, with only one set of clothes and my battered cascadias, seeing friends and soaking up the city life, reconnecting myself to a world that is large and varied and wild, the convoluted labyrinth of the human experience. It’s a beautiful world but an inherently fucked-up one as well- I left the simple quiet woods and returned to a human world in which, incredibly enough, black folks suspected of misdemeanors are executed in the street, and online comments say things like “he shouldn’t have run, he deserved it” and those comments are upvoted the most. For months I’ve been around thru-hikers, a mostly white, mostly sheltered bunch, and I’ve found that among them, much like among white hippy communities everywhere, there is a commonly held belief that “the world is a better place than it used to be”. I hear it other places too- there’s a podcast called Hardcore History that we all listened to while hiking, narrated by a white dude, and the premise of the podcast seems to be “shit used to be crazy and we used to do fucked-up things to each other, isn’t it great that the world isn’t like that anymore?” which drove me sort of batty because things are still just as fucked up, we just call them by different names and so they’re hidden in plain sight, and if you have enough privilege you can “decide” that the world is anyway you want it to be, and ignore the things happening right under your nose.
Instead of “the world is a better place than it used to be”, it would be more accurate to say “it’s a very good time in the world to be a white American”. Because as a white American I have, in a global sense, insane amounts of privilege, and access to a mind-boggling amount of resources. I can pretty much go anywhere and do whatever I want, and if any of the injustices in the world start to edge their way into my reality I can tell myself to “Stay Positive!” and just ignore them, and none of it will affect me at all.
To recap: I live in a motherfucking country where people suspected of crimes are shot dead in the street, and I can just ignore it because, since I’m white, I can be fairly positive that it won’t ever happen to me. All of this is happening, right now, and I’m…. writing about hiking? It makes me question everything I’m doing. It makes me long for the days when I was an angry young anarchist and we would dance around to this song– it didn’t do anything, but at least it made us feel better. It makes my own problems seem infinitesimally small- how broke I am until my job starts in September, my temperamental gut, trying to figure out how to be a good friend to the people that I love who are spread out over so much space and time.
Instigate calls me on the phone- I haven’t talked to her in months, since the long hot descent to Belden when I had good reception.
“I just got back from Ferguson,” she says.
I’ve been trying, since last fall, to convince Instigate to hike the CDT with me next year- but Instigate’s work as a political organizer is what’s most important to her, and thru-hiking, for her, is an indulgence, a sort of vacation. Now she’s just getting back into doing the work that she loves, and hiking the CDT would interrupt all of that. This is, to say the least, admirable, and inspiring to me- this young woman, almost ten years my junior, so wise and grounded in her own integrity and her sense of what’s good and important in the world. I learned in my early twenties that I don’t have the patience, resilience or organizational skills to be a political organizer, but my intention is that one day I’ll have enough influence as a writer to be able to write about things besides motherfucking hiking- I want to write the sort of narrative nonfiction that shapes our understanding of reality- I want to stuff sticks of dynamite into the glimmering golden blinders of white privilege. But right now I’m small so I’ll write about hiking in order to build my platform, and maybe some stuff about riding freight trains, and I’ll keep talking to all of my white, well-meaning hiker friends about the varied experiences of people who live outside of their narrow demographic, and I’ll get fuck the police tattooed on my forehead, and you should to.
So what happens next? This winter I finish the book about my 2013 hike- I’ve already written two drafts, haven’t looked at it for five months and now I’ll write a third, try and leverage my growing online platform to get a traditional publishing contract and, barring that, I’ll publish it myself. I’ll also work a shitty job, train for an ultra, eat lots of brassicas, and drive away my instagram followers by posting lots of selfies. And in 2015 I’ll hike the Continental Divide Trail– it’s an unfinished trail (aka lots of roadwalking and route-finding) of variable length that stretches from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. It’s a unique challenge- sort of like if I’d hiked the PCT back in the seventies, before it was finished. I’ve already begun reading the blogs (Myla Hikes is a good one from this year, written by a woman who hiked the PCT last year) and picking the brains of people who’ve hiked it, and I’m already really, really excited. Several friends from the PCT last year and from the PCT this year will be there, as well as several other thru-hiker friends. As much as I was ready, in the end, to be off the trail this year, I already long for it again, as I knew that I would. I might do something wild next year, money and time permitting, like tack another hike onto the end of the CDT- I felt so, so strong at the end of the PCT this year, and it seemed a shame to not just keep going, to see what I was capable of. And of course I’ll be blogging on the CDT- and this winter I’ll blog now and then, about my life, and what’s in my brain, and preparations for the trail, and I’ll post photos. And sometime this week I’ll do a review of all the gear I used this year.
And most important of all, I wanted to say THANK YOU– to all of my readers, for your wonderful, encouraging, heartfelt comments and emails during my hike this year. I don’t respond to comments while hiking because I have such a small amount of time in which to blog, and I have to ration it carefully, but I read and cherish every single comment and they definitely helped keep me afloat me during difficult times on the trail. It’s literally because of you that this is possible at all, that I get to thru-hike and write about it. And it makes my hikes about a thousand times more rewarding, knowing that I have readers, knowing how fun it is for all of you to follow along. Win/win/win/win! Here is a pika for you!!!