We started walking at 5pm today, me following behind a long chain of great new friends: Ant, Dash, Teresa, and Laurie. It was 97 degrees in the car when we headed out, and 97 degrees at 5pm means it was worse earlier. Despite the gratitude for not getting fried alive in the hours before, we were hot.
I had taken a shower a mere two hours previously, and all that hard scrubbing work was overturned in moments. I stomped along anyways, my usual anxiety before getting on the trail (which, happily, seems to be diminishing each time) dissipating with each footfall.
We were walking in Cheryl Strayed’s footsteps. I looked to my right, through the barbed wire fence, and watched car after car after truck barrel down the highway, breathing a sigh of relief that the curb and some grass protected us from their insanity. It was the same highway Strayed had walked along her first day out. I looked to my left, through the barbed wire fence on that side (they don’t want us off trail, apparently), and wondered at the climb before us.
Our packs felt as large as Strayed’s Monster. They were packed to the gills with eight days of food (about 16 pounds) and six liters of water (exactly 12 pounds), plus my usual base weight of around 17 … My math is terrible, but I know that is more than the 20-30% of body weight that is the usual rule of thumb (by close to 10%!).
I was sweating and stomping, inwardly groaning and outwardly smiling at our friends (genuinely glad that they were spending more time with us, and falling in love with the trail that has stolen all of our hearts). Through it all I was thrilled that I was walking the same path that Strayed had walked all those years before, and that all those who had finished before me had hiked, and we were all moving along it together in some cosmic multitude of a moment. It was beautifully mind boggling.
Even through that I was wondering at the strangeness of it all — I had read a book (Wild) three years ago nearly to the day and was standing at the beginning of the whole story today. My past and present collided. All that was in the center collapsed and I felt glee, filled with the synchronicity of it all.
Up and up we climbed until the shadows engulfed us and our great new friends, feeling more like old friends than anything else, had to return to their car and their home and their dogs and their life. We hugged and missed them furiously already in the same instant. They turned around and were out of view only minutes later.
We watched them go for a while, asking each other how in the world we got so lucky as to meet them, joking how all of our families and their families were fearful of the situation (certainly crazy from the outside, but you’d agree they are literally the best people on the planet if you met them), until there was nothing left to do but hike.
Then we climbed up and up into the shadows and the reds and blues and greys of the ever widening sunset. The windmills blinked at us in the distance (“I’m here! I’m here!”). The tiny cars whizzed along the highway, turning their lights on one by one. The cities all sprawled out in the valley twinkled in the twilight. The blues and greys and reds all bled, one into the next. There was a magic all around.
I am here for a reason, I know not what, but every picture I hold in my head of this trail points me ever onwards, ever here.
“I feel like we were supposed to hike this trail just to meet them,” Ant said about Teresa and Laurie.
Is that our purpose? Perhaps. If not, just like Strayed’s book, they are a beacon of light in a sometimes dark world — showing me just how beautifully one can live.