Day 7: Parting’s Sweet Sorrow

As I lie down beneath the stars tonight, I’m filled with a kind of sadness — because I’ve already felt such friendship with so many fellow hikers out here, and because it’s obvious that some of those connections will be lost soon enough.

It started this morning in Julian, when, after showering (again, just because we could!) and a two-course breakfast (waffles, mmm!), Clare and I went out to sit on the front porch of the hotel…and suddenly found three-quarters of the gang we’d been hiking with sitting across the street. Hurray! I found myself so happy to see them it almost surprised me, and I kind of wanted to run over and give them all hugs. (Hugging someone out here, though, is an act reserved for those people you feel very close to…because of the, ah, odors involved.) We saw Kara and Allie, Keith and Shannon, Hannes and Julia (the wonder German couple)…it just felt so good to see them all. They’d all been trailing about a half-day behind us yesterday, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them.

And that’s the hard part, you know? Everybody hikes at different speeds, everybody takes zeroes in different towns, everybody makes different decisions. “Hike your own hike” is a mantra of the trail. From everything I’ve heard, you might hike with others for a day, two days, even a week or two, but beyond that is very rare just because of the natural variations of the trail and of human beings. And I wouldn’t want to actually force myself to hike someone else’s hike, or to lose that wonderful freedom out here to do exactly what’s right for me (us — yep, that’s the tradeoff of hiking with a partner) at any given point.

Still, I wish I could stay with some of them, in many ways, the whole way — to see some of their ups and their downs, their reactions to the spectacular beauty that can be out here, to be with them during the incredibly hard slogs (hiking uphill, in the pouring rain, when it’s 40° outside). I find myself already cheering people on, really, really hoping they make it, wanting to know what it’s like for them. Is that silly, given that I’ve known none of them for longer than a week? I think not: the trail bonds you close to people, quickly, and you feel a camaraderie and friendship not easily found elsewhere.

There are wonderful people in this world — from Christie, the woman who’s been baking pies in Julian for 37 years and who ferried us all back to the trail, just out of the goodness of her heart (and adamantly refusing our proffers of gas money), to the trail angel who gave Lucky, an…incorrectly prepared…PCT hiker $600 (!) for all-new gear so he could head out properly for Canada.

Tonight, I’m just going to think of those things as I gaze up at the stars. Tonight is our first night “cowboy camping” — throw down a groundsheet and your sleeping bags, and there you go. I’m looking forward to falling asleep with the sounds of nature all around me.

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