The following is Part 6 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. The previous six parts can be found via the “Blog Archive” down amidst the right-hand column.
FRAILTY, THY NAME IS MAN
28 April: Saturday
Thursday morning, April 26, I awoke to scattered rainfall. Fortunately, it cleared enough for me to pack away a relatively dry tent. Yet again, aside from those not going far, I was one of the last to depart Scissors Crossing. The rain came and went, as did the sun; and the wind was tireless as I climbed the limbo of in and out, up and down, that marked the SanFelipe Hills. Looking west across the valley at the mightier Pacific Crest (Volcan Mountain), I cursed the private landowners who forced the PCT to make such a long easterly detour. I cursed a lot that day, some out loud. That was the low state that I was in.
I was still very tired. I wondered how my friends were doing. I saw no one on that long 24-mile stretch until reaching my goal, Barrel Springs, at 19:30. The questions—the doubts—plagued me to the fullest. Why was I doing this? Did I really want to hike 2700 miles (my estimated amount including detours and alternate routes) in four months? Could I even hike that far in that amount of time? Some of my responses that day were that I am not built for this: I am a runner; I am an artist: I cannot abandon half of myself for a third of a year; I need to be with people; I need to rest. Yet I do love being on the trail. It is beautiful. I love the sense of ever moving forward: that one does not have to return by the way that he has come—like most of the outdoor courses that I have tread. I love witnessing the change of environment, of geology. It is educational. It is stunning, a testament to life’s diversity and complexity—its variables. Most of all, though, I think that I love the community: the sense of belonging. That is the hardest aspect to leave. If demoted to a section hiker, will I still belong? I will miss being part of that long journey together with people from all places and walks of life—like a church. And yet, would I have mourned equally or greater at the end had I succeeded in completing the trail? Would we have gone our separate ways once again, keeping in some contact at first, but eventually dissipating our communication? Who can say for sure?
I called Mama around 10 miles into the day. I told her where I was at, literally as well as physically and prospectively. Checking back in over an hour, it was decided that they would drive down on Friday (yesterday) to pick me up at Warner Springs. Their sacrifice, dedication, and encouragement are unparalleled. Again, I do not know where I would be without them. Thank you, Mama and Papa.
It was very difficult, but I made it to Barrel Springs before dark. A few others were there, including Castle. She seemed to be doing much better than I was. A trail angel had left cold drinks and cookies. That kind of trail magic goes such a long way. Never underestimate even the simplest of gifts. It was a calmer night. Probably from holistic weariness, I slept better than ever before so far on the trip.
I left camp shortly after a young couple that I had seen at Penny Pines departed. I may have seen them camping at Desert View Picnic Area as well, but I am not sure. About halfway through my 8.5-mile journey across the lovely rolling fields and cow pastures that fill Warner Springs’ southern border, I met the young woman of the couple coming the opposite direction without her backpack. She had lost her husband, apparently. Later, at the Warner Springs Post Office, over some delicious homemade cookies that they shared with me, she told me about that she had accidentally taken the wrong path at San Ysidro Creek. They too were not going back to Lake Morena for the PCT Kick-off. I would have liked to get to know that couple better. As they sat in the back of a local woman’s red pickup truck—the same blessed woman who had given me a lift into town—I could not help but feel regret.
The main highlight of the day was stopping to climb the small hill to see Eagle Rock. Nature has a curious sense of humor.
As if to give me one last slap in the face, as I lay under a Handicapped Parking Only sign between the post office and a “sold out” gas station, a bird shit on me: three small white bombs, four if the small stray moisture that hit my upper lip counts. There are a few ways of interpreting the gesture.
On the PCT register at the post office, I wrote next to my name: “Defeated by my feet . . . for now.” I had realized that morning—and I certainly realize it now—that my feet were in very poor shape. In an effort to compensate, my legs began to also be at risk of serious injury. I could feel the pain gradually moving from my feet to my ankles, up my shins, and beyond.
My tale is not uncommon. I have joined the rumored 50%. Once again, I realize that I cannot do everything that I set out to do. I am weak. I can easily lose will and strength. Almost like a testament to that, a chunk of my yellow LiveStrong bracelet has broken off. I am no hero. I am just like many others.
Only, I try to live in courage, to take serious risks. I try to get back up when I fall. I like to think that I do not give up easily, that I endure. Not everything, but as much as I can. On that road ascending through the San Felipe Hills, I thought of Jesus carrying the cross up Golgotha. Who am I to complain? I was not being mocked, beaten, and scourged. I was not separating myself from God for a time by choosing to receive justice for humanities frailty. I am not worthy. Praise God for grace and for redemption.
So what do I do now? There are many pages to fill—that need to be filled. First, I heal. And while I heal, I gather what I have learned and consider my options. I am not done with the PCT. That is sure. Though I have been defeated after only 110 miles in six days, There is more will in me. It needs refreshment. It needs a new strategy. It needs redemption. I already have the latter. I only need to let the One who has an unfailing will, work my circumstances to His Kingdom’s glory. I am willing. Come, Lord Jesus, come. “Where you lead us, we will follow . . .” (Jars of Clay/Gungor). Amen.
“. . . and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to” (J.R.R. Tolkien).