Okay so I have to admit this is the hike that should not have been. Major ACL reconstruction surgery back in December left me thinking there’s no way walking long miles with a lightweight yet loaded pack would happen in this calendar year. But after months of rehab and physio exercises and patience I started to walk. Then hike. Then run. Then, finally, carry some weight in the pack on the trails in the Canmore backcountry backyard we love so much. Much to my surprise and absolute stoke the knee, the new ACL, the hamstring tendon from the other leg that made the new ACL, all felt bloody good. Soooooo….why not start a hike and head south and see how it goes?!?
That’s precisely how I ended up heading south from Chester California, around the mileage marker that marks the halfway point of the 2660 mile long remarkable vein of cleared forest/rock/wild that makes up a long distance trail America offers to those willing to walk and suffer and endure. Why the hell not? Worst case scenario, I stop and ride my bike. Or sit. Or draw. Or just hang out. But oh my dear how I wanted to walk a long long way. I longed to be in the forest eating sleeping breathing nature day after day/week after week/month after month. So, let’s walk.
DAY ONE: 17.7 miles, 6.5hours
August 18, 2017
My dear friend Brian Nelson winds his way around up and over the maze of dirt roads from Chester to bring me to the start of the walk. A ice cold crystal clear flow of water pummels gallon after gallon into a massive trough. We’re at Cold Spring, a source of Earth Juice so energized it vibrates nourishment far more Han mere hydration. I load up on this liquid and give Brian a big hug. Brian and Kathleen have been a gift in our lives for over 20 years. We love them like family and share adventures from time to time. I know he’s happy for me and I’m ready but nervous to take that first step. He pulls the car away and it’s time. Time to walk.
Nervous us doing this alone. In a weird way uncertain if I want to be here at all. Sometimes what you think you want so bad in reality is wrong. Then I take that first step. It all makes sense. Yes, this is right. This is good. I am indeed where I’m meant to be. Here. Now. Yes.
I see NOBO (Northbound) thru hikers throughout my SOBO (Southbound) day. Little do they know I have some trail magic for one of them. The Best Peach Ever sits waiting in my pack. They are all plugged into their headphones disconnected to the world the walk the experience. Too rushed or tired or cool to say hi. And then Timber walks up. He pulls the plugs out of his ears and wants to talk. We chat and he’s nice and I ask ‘do you like peaches?’ and he seems stunned to receieve this gift. I walk away as he smiles at the fresh fruit. I feel happy to have given something to someone on a journey like this. He’s walked all the way from Campo, the Southern terminus of the PCT. Where I hope to end this 1/2 hike of a major trail. I think back to two years ago when I finished my first trail in its entirety, the Appalachian Trail. It feels good to be on the other side of the continent walking in these woods.
Later I meet Froggy (Fucking Really Old Guy Getting Young). He’s all over the California section of the PCT. He’s a self-proclaimed yoyo-er (up and down hiking the same trail) hitcher (hitch hiker), chronic zero-er (days off), flip-flopper (moving from section to section skipping parts of the trail). He’s having a blast.
I take a break after 1 1/2 hours to eat the sandwich I brought. I eat a big tomato (yes I left with a tomato why not?!) and yes, a peach. I drink pure water. I walk. I walk and walk some more.
I arrive at the spot to make camp that night. Not planned but it looked good so yes, this is home. A big creek that feeds Belsen Town its water flows nearby humming its water trickle lullaby that eases me to slumber well before 9pm. I am happy.
DAY TWO: 23.7 miles, 9hrs 15mins
August 19, 2017
Up at 5:13 am after sleeping through 430am alarm oh well it’s not work I have to get to but I am a little disappointed because I love love love to walk in the hours before the sun rises and then greet the shining bright globe of light as it peaks its head up over the Eastern horizon. Walking by 625am. Feel as if I’ve never done this before, awkward and unsure and wondering what to do with all this stuff that needs to fit in the pack. This rhythm will come. Takes time. Patience.
An odd night of sleep. So hot. So hot in the tent! Bats swooping above. Night hiker NOBO’s walking by in the dark. Some set camp right on the trail. I know that exhaustion and am happy for them. I’ve only been on trail for a day and night but already in ways other than organization it feels like weeks.
Climbing, climbing climbing out of Belden Town. Up through thickets of poison oak. Everything starts to look like poison oak when you know it’s around. Up into stands of Sugar Pine. White Fir. Up up up into manzanita covered hills. Up up up into fields of lupin filling meadows up above 6000 ft. Up into the wildflower lined trail that makes me beam a smile of gratitude at the cornucopia of colours all around.
Forst NOBO of the day passes by in a glorified thong for her pants. Aurora is her name. Oh my. Then Army Man passes. He’s walking for suicide awareness and is plugged into his earbuds wearing a headnet when no bugs appear to be circling around. Two older section hiker ladies talk to me and say ‘we’re so slow!’ Slow?? Who cares, I say. We all walk at our own pace and it’s not a race. You’re walking and that’s wonderful I say. Then Jerry Garcia and his beautiful wife walk by. They are so cute. ‘It’s all downhill from here?’ they ask. Oh no, it’s never downhill. Never all downhill but I don’t tell them this. I mention a few uphills in the coming decent but say they will be fine. Later I see their entry in a trail register that says ‘just because you wander does not mean you are lost’.
The trail moves through a mangled, butchered forest. It’s not the trees fault we humans did this to them. I tell them they’re still beautiful, regardless. There’s water and animals trees and life. I make a tobacco offering to say sorry for what we’ve done, how we’ve left them. The forest lives and tries to be what it once was and I thank her for letting me sleep on her floor.