Today is our 100th day on the trail. It makes me think about how this experience feels in the moment — what it’s like to spend over three months out here like this.
After a hundred days, the memory of what life was like before the trail is…it’s not gone, exactly, but it’s receded so far as to seem remote and distant. This is what life is, now — being outdoors all the time, hiking as far as we can, thinking about the next stop, cooking food over a camp stove, sleeping under our tarp. Our blissful hotel stops in tiny little towns are part of that, too, but they don’t feel any closer to “normal life”, either. (I’m writing this on top of a Ms. Pac-Man tabletop video game cabinet in a small local restaurant in Chester, CA, watching the sun slide low in the sky outside as pickup trucks drive by and we wait for our food.)
It’s not as if “normal life” has disappeared; I think often of how wonderful it’s going to be to get back to having a car, an apartment, a real bed, the bus to work every day, friends and restaurants and the rest of the world. There are plenty of hikers out here on the trail who’ve basically become “hiking bums” — tolerating the real world just long enough to make enough money to get back on a trail somewhere — and I’m definitely not one of them. But doing this, being out here…it just becomes life, in a way it never did even on the twenty-six days of the John Muir Trail. It’s not only what we’re doing, it’s who we are.
After a hundred days, the rhythms of hiking have set in completely. We wake up in the morning and I go through my morning routine — put my contacts in, deflate my sleeping pad, pack up what’s in the tent and put it outside, make breakfast (which involves dumping powder in a Nalgene with water), put together my pack. Lunch has a rhythm, dinner has a rhythm, going to bed has a rhythm. It’s far more all-consuming than “normal life”; there’s really no time for choices about what to do — we’re hiking every day until we have to stop so we can get to bed in time to get enough sleep for the night. The free time you’d have at home before or after dinner, or on the weekends, is nonexistent out here. Even on zeroes in town, we’re busy more-or-less all day long, even if part of that is trying to catch up on sleep.
In some ways, it’s probably impossible for me to tell just how much being out here has changed me or affected me. Doing this is such a huge change, and is so all-encompassing, that I probably can’t really see it for what it is until I’ve returned and can stand back and see it more clearly. It’s this half-a-year that will forever be a completely different period in my life, when I did something crazy and huge and almost unthinkable…and it’ll take plenty of time before I can really reflect on it myself.
After a hundred days, too, doing this is…well, people ask, “How is it?”, and there’s simply no good way to answer. It’s wonderful, it’s terrible, it’s the most amazing thing in the world some days and other days you think it was the stupidest idea in the entire world and you just want to go home. After a hundred days, you recognize that there’s really just absolutely no way to capture all of it, not in a single word, not in a single phrase, not even in a single paragraph or page, and you just end up…somewhat wordless. It’s everything you can imagine, every emotion you can imagine, all bundled into one in all its boundless complexity, and so nothing can ever truly capture it.
I do know one thing, however: I am incredibly lucky, and I feel such gratitude, to be able to do this. I’m sitting in a restaurant in Chester, California, waiting for our salad and pizza to come, having come over one thousand, three hundred miles on the Pacific Crest Trail…and I can look forward to seeing more than one thousand, three hundred miles of the wild yet to come. That’s amazing, and a chance so few people on this earth ever get. For that, I feel incredibly grateful.