Sunday, September 15, 2013


Many people are familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail because of Cheryl Strayed's book, "Wild".

For those who haven't read it, it's the story of a 20-something woman whose life is falling apart - nay, has fallen apart - and who decides to put it back together by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  The PCT goes from Mexico to British Columbia, and it's about 2600 miles.

Well, this weekend, Katherine and I did our first backpacking trip together, and we hit a section of the PCT.

When I was in my 20s, I backpacked.  I went with girlfriends, and I learned how to filter my water in a stream, how to cook on a tiny one burner stove, how to load my pack....and how to carry that heavy pack for miles and miles over boulders and logs and up the sides of mountains on narrow trails.

I loved it.  It made me feel alive, and badass.  It made me feel simultaneously peaceful - nature, quiet - and energized, alive from pushing my body to new limits.

When Bryan and I were dating, we bought his and hers backpacks from REI.  We talked about all of the hiking we would do together.

We went once.  For one night.  In our entire long relationship.

But now Bryan's not my partner, and bit by bit I'm reclaiming the pieces of myself that I let go away during my marriage.  (Note: he didn't take them.  He couldn't.  I think I gave them away.  How foolish of me.  Whatever he did or did not do, I'm most upset with myself for allowing myself to let the best parts of me vanish.  But I digress.)

This weekend was magical.

I hauled my old external frame backpack, which has sat dormant for a decade, out of the attic.  I dusted off my old Whisperlite stove and tried it in my back yard - and it lit with the first match.  I pulled up websites about how to pack a pack.  I pulled up packing lists.  I consulted my wilderness cookbooks.

Katherine and I had already dropped some cash at REI for a backpack suited to her frame.

And....we were off.  It was an eleven mile round trip hike to a gorgeous lake.  Our packs - filled with outdated equipment of the cheap variety, for the most part - were very, very heavy....mine checked in at 38 pounds fully loaded with food and water, and Katherine's checked in at 22.

But we did it.  We feasted on pasta with salami, sundried tomatoes, thyme, garlic, and pine nuts for dinner, and our chocolate bar dessert was nirvana.  We snacked on wild blueberries.  We saw a sunset with the moon reflected in the lake.  We saw many pikas.  We talked.  Katherine talked.  Katherine opened up and told me about this and that and nothing at all, and my heart burst with joy.  She asked questions about backpacking, she asked questions about my life.  We were also quiet together, just us (and our dog).

I saw my daughter look at me with new eyes: this is a part of me she didn't know.

I let her lead the way, because when I was out front, I was way too fast for her.  Her eyebrows went up.  Mom is that fast?  But no problem, I can wait....

We met a grandmother camping with her grandson.  (The grandma STARTED backpacking when she was 63.  How inspiring is that?!)  I said to Katherine, "When I'm a grandma, I want to take your child backpacking!  Would that be okay?"  Katherine thought for a bit, and said, "Well, couldn't I come, too?"

Yes.  Yesyesyesyesyes.  My daughter wants to do this again.  My daughter wants to be a backpacker.  My daughter wants to backpack with me even when I'm an old lady.  YES!

And we met three different thru-hikers (a large percentage of those we met, actually, as the trail was relatively empty).  They all stopped and talked to us, and I grilled them.  How many miles per day?  How do you manage food?  How fast do you go?  When did you start?  Do you recommend it?

Katherine listened, eyes wide.  We looked at each other, and our eyes said it: We want to do this.

I do not know if I will ever hike the 2600 miles of the PCT.  What I know, though, is this:

I'm just getting started.  I'm reclaiming my life, my interests, my fire.  I am a backpacker.  I was born to be out there.  I feel "me" in the woods, and the deeper in the woods, the better.  My legs burn a bit even as I lie in bed typing this, but it's such a good burn.

(How I'm going to run 8 miles tomorrow morning, I don't yet know.  I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.  My half marathon approaches...)

I don't want a little, I want a lot.  I want to be like those thru-hikers: passionate, lean, proud.  Their eyes danced.  They're near the end of the trail, and they have accomplished something that few people do.  They've got fire, they've got spunk.

My eleven miles may not compare to their 2600, but maybe it felt just as good.  Sharing it with Katherine was....sublime.  Reconnecting with myself was divine.

Happy birthday to me.  This weekend ushers in a new year for me, and I couldn't be happier with it.  The good times keep coming, and I am choosing wisely.  Lots of work, not an easy path....but so much beauty, so much joy, and such bliss to share it with my daughter.

It's going to be a great year.

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