Touching the Base
When I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed about six months ago my thoughts were, “Wow what an amazing journey this woman embarked upon.” If you haven’t read it, it’s the memoir of a woman in her mid 20s venturing out solo on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Cascades of Oregon. Remarkable, yet all the while, a parallel thought was running along, saying, “That will never be me, no way in HELL!” I finished the book, put it on the shelf and forgot about it until last week.
Last week my family and I headed out to the mountains. We had reservations for ‘glamping’ at a sweet little guest ranch in the Warner Valley of Mt. Lassen National Park. Our cabin was outfitted with a full bath, hot shower, comfy beds and kerosene lamps. The dining hall served up three gourmet meals every day with a wine list to match. We went there for some family time, just to get away, do some hiking, swimming, get off the grid and pay attention to each other.
One of the extraordinary things about this spot was that it is a thoroughfare for many thru-hikers in the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail. Can I tell you these people were amazing! Men and women, traveling in pairs, small groups and even solo wandered onto the guest ranch looking forward to a swim in the pool, hot shower, good food and even a most-coveted popsicle.
These people became easy to identify as they strode into the ranch with forty-pound packs on their backs. They have a certain gait, some might even call it a hobble. Yet they wear it and all the blisters, scrapes, bruises as badges of honor. As well they should, because most of them just hiked up from the CA/Mexico border for over the past three months. We met one woman from Holland, a yoga teacher, deciding to hike the trail solo. She began in Washington and was making her way down to the Mexican border. We met a 41 year-old guy who had quit his job, sold everything, flew across the country and was deep in an existential crisis about why he was doing this, primarily because of the triple blisters on the balls of his feet which were taking him out of the game for three days until he healed.
There must have been at least twenty hikers who came through and while I marveled at each of them, I still wasn’t fully getting why they were doing it. Why would anyone put themselves through that kind of physical and emotional torture? They shared about how their thoughts while hiking were incessant of how many miles they have to go, how heavy their packs were, when their next shower will be, when they can get their hands on an ice-cream bar! They shared the mind tricks to get them through the last five miles of the day. Along with some pretty harrowing tales from near-death slips to up-close bear encounters, they also shared tales of the ‘trail angels’, people who had helped them along the way with rides into towns, home-cooked meals, supplies, etc. My beau and I became such angels to two hikers whom we offered the shower and fresh towels in our cabin. They were incredibly grateful to receive such a gift and we were elated to see their transformation from weary to invigorated. We heard about the moments of zen when all the pain begins to fade away and their true spirit takes hold and guides them. And I suppose that’s when I got it. The breakthrough moment of when you feel so broken that there is nowhere to go but up…literally! I would imagine doing a trek like this, or anything that challenges you to the brink of intense internal questioning brings you to a place of not only surpassing your limits, but a deep devotional surrender.
We hiked small day hikes while in Lassen to many of the hydrothermal features. We saw some breathtaking views. There is something about walking in the forest, hearing absolutely nothing but birdsong and your own breath that is so grounding and uplifting. There is a spiritual component to hiking, wandering on the long journeys, being off the grid and living in a way that has always been possible, but we’ve become so challenged by. It’s a touching down to our inherent basecamp within all of us. The place which tells us not only that anything is possible, but so available!
As we returned from the trip, we rode down from 8500ft altitude and back into Marin County. There was an acclimation period in which I resisted coming home, back into the buzz of the Bay Area. Yet with me I took the inspiration these trekkers anointed me. I immediately looked up the 2600-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. And while there was still a ‘HELL no!’ coming from my body, there was a audible, ‘hmmm…mayBE’ as I read about the 226-mile John Muir Trail. I’ll keep you posted!