I finished the PCT, but it hasn’t finished with me
Ten days ago, on Friday, September 19th, I walked across the border into Canada. I felt relieved, tired, grateful, exhilarated, exhausted, and more than a little bewildered that I was done. DONE.
I’ll tell you about Washington State in a moment, but first, let me tell you about right now.
It’s been ten days, and my feet still hurt. Every first step in the morning, or after sitting for more than ten minutes sends tingling spreading up the heel, across the arch, through the toes. My calves ache more often than not. My quads wimper at gentle yoga. My left hip flat out refused to participate in the wearing of high heels.
The urban environment sounds deafeningly loud. Friends’ voices sound like shouting, crowds roar a cacophony of competing distractions. Horns send me cringing. I turn the car radio up two-thirds as high as I did pre-hike.
My possessions overwhelm me. They sit in my line of sight, demanding attention, giving in return neither utility nor beauty. So many junk mail offers to shred. A myriad of shoes to try on and discard like I’m one of Cinderella’s step-sisters. Can’t get my big toe in this one. Those heel calluses keep me from that one. Boxes and papers and books and clothes. So. Many. Things.
Oakland engulfs me in a sea of smells. Lake Merritt’s familiar marshy sea-scent hits twice as hard as usual. The whiff of laundry detergent on a thrift store dress tempts my gag reflex. Kale giving up the ghost on the counter smells like rotting meat the instant I open the front door. The aroma of Zachary’s deep dish pizza follows me two blocks down College Ave, my salivary glands working in overdrive.
I don’t notice the smell of my hiking backpack.
The entitled frustration of Whole Foods shoppers shoves me towards the edge of panic, and only picturing the hills I slogged up on the trail gets me through the shopping list and out the door without losing it. The shelves of snickers and ramen at the convenience store… I can’t even.
Friends ask me if it’s strange to be home, with running water, at karaoke, in a car, with my husband. It is. It isn’t. One friend doesn’t ask me anything, and that feels even stranger.
I started making “maybe I should just hike the CDT next year” quips around Day 4.
“Too soon?” I seek approval about my joke.
Russell’s response was, and remains, “too soon”.
I remember feeling “reverse culture shock” when I came back to the US from studying in India and China. I know that many of these feelings will pass. My hearing will readjust, as will my nose. As hard as it is to believe now, my feet will eventually stop hurting All The Time.
Thing is, I don’t want all the feelings to pass. I’ve only just started to sort through and absorb the life lessons of the trail, as I work past the physical and emotional challenges of walking for 2660 miles, 160 days, 3 states, 2 cougars, and never enough hugs. Even at this early stage, though, I know I don’t want to lose sight of the capability that I feel, of the physical strength I built, of the stubbornness and grit I lived by, day in and day out. I feel a clawing panic that I will let these things slip away, that I will give in to the pull of the status quo and trade in my hard-built strength for complacency and acceptance.
Even now I remember how hard the end of the trail felt. How ready I felt to be done. Done with foil tuna packets and pitching tents. Done with worrying that a big cat would maul me, or a bear would eat all my food. I felt over the day-hikers asking the same questions again and again. Over the relentless Northward motion. Over the repetitive small talk with other hikers I might never see again.
I remember how much of those last days I spent letting myself dream, for the first time in 5 months, of being home again, being in civilization, being in my husband’s arms.
And now I’m home. I finished what I set out to do. And yet, right now? Right, right now? I miss the trail, so so much.
Life feels so … complicated at home, though I hardly have a complicated life. I came home to my partner, our apartment, a familiar city, friends, family. No real stressors or hardships. And yet, here, there’s so much to decide, to choose.
On the trail, life was damn simple. I got up, dug a hole, packed up my (sufficient) belongings, ate as I walked, stopped for a few breaks, found a place to camp, did my chores, and slept. There were few choices, and only decisions that mattered. It was gloriously easy, in that regard. I knew what to do (walk, walk, walk), and I knew I could do it, ’cause that’s all I had been doing for 5 months. I was part of a community, and I had crystal-clear focus.
Welp, I have used up all the simple time. Now, the world is laid out in front of me, and it’s time to make the next choices.