Missing Home: My Two Year Trail Anniversary

I am homesick. On this day two years ago I put my first footsteps on the Pacific Crest Trail, the trail that became my first real home. My life has changed immeasurably since that first day. I knew, starting out, that I wouldn’t leave trail the same person I started it. But I had no idea just how much things would change.

I spent the majority of my day sitting at a desk in an office, nearly the farthest thing from moving my body across the wide open spaces of the Southern California desert. As I typed away at the story I was working on—funnily enough, a piece about post-thru-hike depression—I couldn’t help but wonder if I had changed too much. Am I too grown up? Have I exchanged freedom for a steady paycheck? Have I stopped dreaming and started settling?

As the emotion bubbled too close to the surface, I took a walk around the big block that holds REI headquarters. I wondered, “In the past two years, what have I done?”

The answer came back, very depressing at first: I broke off an engagement to one of the best people I know, I started and ended another relationship with someone I’m not sure I ever knew, and I stayed alive and sober, which feels like a miracle. But then more flooded in: I survived one of the biggest depressions of my life, I had a dog baby, I learned to be alone, I came out as trans to friends, family, and at work, I grew into a body that finally feels like my own, and I started speaking up about things that matter, instead of hiding and staying quiet.

I made a decision to head into the woods after work. I realized that maybe there is something like balance in the world. Perhaps I can adventure and have a stable job that I absolutely adore.

I got home, cooked dinner, packed, and hit the road. I got to the trailhead at 7.30pm and headed into the dusk. Love and gratitude burst out of my chest. Why hadn’t I done this sooner?

I was home, after finding myself homesick for an entire day. I looked at the immense array of greens that made up my world. I squished through mud. I smiled at the heavy rain that passed overhead, leaving sweet musky smells in its wake.

And River, my always-ready adventure buddy, dashed ahead and fell behind. Home is silence and solitude and one foot in front of the other.

I looked around me, noting water sources and time and distance and possible campsites. Home is the freedom to move forward or sleep where you are, these truly important choices that I can make all on my own.

And I hiked into the darkness, watching as the light slowly sunk out of this world. The greys took over and depth lost meaning. River’s little harness light blinked into the distance. And I walked further past the setting sun. I can’t ever stop before all light fails—there is too much life to walk into. Home is the wondering what is around the next bend.

Finally I decided enough was enough, and I turned around, darkness settled tight around my eyes. I turned on my headlamp and two reflective eyes turned to check that I was still trailing behind.

I tripped and slipped back past the babbling brook, across the wide stretch of power lines crackling in the rain, over a slick creek, until I finally found the little campsite I chose on my way up. I set up camp, tucking River into the tent before flicking off my wet shoes and shimmying under my quilt.

Home is down lofting. Home is feeling small in a big world. Home is where my heart beats quietly. Home is where rain shatters against my tent fly.

Today I feel immense gratitude for the Pacific Crest Trail. It stripped away the meaningless and left me with a strong sense of self, and finally, a place I can feel at home.