Oct 25, 2012

A Chronicle of Limits, Part 1

The following is Part I in a series of posts concerning my experience with The Pacific Crest Trail. Each part will have been adapted from journal entries, most often written in the wild. Note that the date and time listed are when the journal entry was written. Thank you, one and all, for your varying support before, during, and after this endeavor. Though little went as I anticipated, it has been a blessedly memorable year.


11 January, 2012: Wednesday
It is not that I am scared of the many unknown miles. They will be hard, but they will be full of beauty. It is the isolation that haunts my nights. I am scared of the loneliness.

7 February: Tuesday
Every so often I lie awake not from strained thoughts, but with a strange energy. Tonight it seems that even reading cannot quell my roaming mind. Perhaps writing will succeed where others have failed. After all, it is written that it is better to give than to receive. Words are my soul pouring out to the quiet: an unknown audience, myself. How will the words be read? I cannot say. I am but the giver. To give is to humble oneself, to lower a part of one’s defenses. It is faith.

Lately, I wonder how these moments will feel out in the wild, on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It was raining earlier. Even with the bedroom window open, the night is kept somewhat distant; the walls and roof of the house like a levee. But out in nothing more than a tent, it will surround me with the greater advantage. It will move through me, for good or ill. I will be exposed, vulnerable. I will be free. I yearn for it. I fear it. But can there be too much freedom?

20 April: Friday
One week ago, starting Wednesday night, April 11, I tested myself and my gear for the journey ahead. The first night was spent on my grandparents, “Mama & Papa’s” back lawn in San Jose, California. I slept poorly due to gusts of rain, which kept me more alert than I would have liked. But the Big Agnes Lynx Pass 1 tent and Sierra Designs Ridge Runner 15 sleeping bag proved more than capable. After a late start the next morning, I left the house on foot with 50 pounds on my back, which was more than I had ever carried in that way. I must give some credit to the impressively supportive internal-frame design of my Osprey Aether 70 backpacking pack for making it seem possible. Or maybe I should curse its alluring deception . . .

Every step was noticed. Minutes were little better, which was very disheartening. The tension mounting throughout the fibers of my trapezius (shoulders and back), hip, and leg muscles, as well as my feet, scared me. I was to hike about 21 miles that day. The terrain would not be particularly difficult. So how would I do more, and actually enjoy the journey, when the real PCT hike begins? I tried not to dwell on it. I tried to focus on the beauty around me.

Fremont Older Open Space in the West Cupterino foothills offered lovely vistas. The sky was spotted with clouds, the temperatures perfect. I found a new trail into the park. I had what I needed: I was in nature, in its laws, but free of the bustle of work schedules and car traffic. I was blessed.

Yet the difficult march continued. The ascent through Steven’s Canyon felt long. During the first miles, I tried to console myself with the idea that part of the trouble was that I was on a paved road, thus ever reminded of civilization and swifter forms of travel. So many miles can be thoughtlessly—or at least effortlessly—traveled in a car, or even by running. I found a new appreciation for that. In part, I trust that conditioning will occur on the PCT; that I will eventually not feel every single foot of a mile.

I managed to cross two streams in the canyon without getting wet. Despite the constricting and unbalancing nature of a heavy pack and the drizzling rain, I managed to each time carefully climb a fallen tree and cross. I did miss my pack-less running agility, but I had no choice. And I liked it. I am thankful that I did not slip or lose my balance and tumble into the creek, however. I would have to do a wet crossing the next day to return to Steven’s Canyon Road, but that was good in that it gave me a sense of the necessary process.

Once I finally reached the ridgeline of Skyline Boulevard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the weather abruptly changed—or revealed itself. The sun was veiled. The wind was strong from the coast. The rain increased, and the temperature dropped. I realized that I had been sheltered in the canyon. Isolation began to haunt me. I saw only a few people throughout the day. My company was the forest, creeks, numerous salamanders, rain and wind. My discouraging pace never ceased to talk. Reality set. It was good. It made the journey important.

Black Mountain loomed across the valley. As I refilled my Nalgenes with filtered water from a pond surrounded by Christmas tree farms—note: the Sawyer Gravity Walter Filtration System is admirable—the rain really began to fall. Be careful what you say. The day before, I said that I was ready for anything. The mountain must have heard. It brought its full force against me in those last ascending miles. The winds seemed to range from 80 to 100 mph, carrying the rain with a fury. Even my Arc’teryx Beta AR Pro Shell jacket was tested to the max. Rain puddled in my pockets, dampening my hands. My legs went partially numb. But I made it.

At the top, a park ranger waited for me in the shelter of his pickup truck. I was very thankful to interact with someone. I quickly learned that I was the only one [crazy enough] to be camping there that night. Did I want to go through with it? the ranger asked with a somewhat dubious expression. Yes, I answered. The training was important, for I hoped that the current harsh conditions would prepare me for the worst on the PCT, especially in the Northwest. “Well, have as much fun as you can,” the ranger said. As he drove away, I too wondered about my sanity. It was 19:45. The night had only begun.

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