Friday, February 2, 2018

Monkey on my back

"So, you're almost done with the PCT," friends say. "What are you going to do next? The Continental Divide trail?"

Only on a long distance trail can having about 650 miles left to hike be "almost done". But I digress. When I am asked this question, I'm really torn.

I never expected to complete the entire Pacific Crest Trail. When I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2011, I didn't realize how much I would come to love long distance hiking. There is something about the simplicity of being in the woods for multiple days, of being truly disconnected from anything but the ribbon of trail under my feet, the only questions being where the next water source is, where to find a campsite, what to eat. At the risk of sounding old, it reminds me of when the world was a more innocent place, before school shootings, before people were fastened to their phones, when kids could be free range in the neighborhood. On the trail, it doesn't matter what you do for work, how old you are, what you regret.
Yikes! I bring a lot less stuff now.

I was hooked. Over the last six years, I've tramped through much of California, all of Washington, and most of the Oregon section of the PCT. Most days, I don't want it to end. Others, I do: I am ready to get this monkey off my back and do something else. Another long trail? Probably not until I retire. This section hiking is challenging. You have to be able to jump from your hourly workout (all I really have time for right now) into 20 mile days, sometimes more. Logistics are a killer. You can spend hours combing the internet for shuttles, for road locations, reading the water report. I am almost at the end of sections that can be hiked in summer heat. Soon all that will remain are the ones that require cooler temperatures. Fires can close your route, and unlike thru-hikers, who can skip ahead, you may have plane tickets for that section only. Once you're there, you can't just hunker down and wait out that rainstorm.

Not that I'm complaining. My PCT hike so far has given me a reason to dream. In the middle of a terrible winter (not enough snow and widespread ice) it gives me hope. While I sit at my computer for work, I can think about the section that is coming up. And when I am done, I can say I walked from Mexico to Canada in entirety.

So what's coming up? In three weeks, Triscuit and I are going to take on one of the more hated sections--Section E, the dreaded LA aqueduct section. In this section, there's a long stretch of flat, enclosed pipe, the channel that sends water to Los Angeles. It is reportedly monotonous and sometimes blazing hot. But I'm not a skipper--I am all in with this PCT thing.

Love. Washington in August 2012.
My summer hike depends on snow. Frighteningly, the section I am thinking about, from Truckee to Chester, is seized by a drought. While that might bode well for a hike in June, I am not so selfish to think that this is a good thing. Without snowpack and spring rain, this area could be ripe for a catastrophic fire season.

The fall signals the possible return of Flash, my erstwhile PCT companion. I think Triscuit and I have her talked into California Section D, home to some intense elevation change and Mount Baden Powell. If all of these hikes go as I hope, I will have only about 250 miles left. We could be looking at a 2019 finish.

As with all monkeys, I am sure I will feel a sense of relief and regret. The PCT has consumed my life for so long that I will feel off balance without it to plan around. I'm not sure that weekend backpacking trips can fill the canyon I am sure I will feel. Luckily, I have 650 miles before I need to find out.

Plenty of people have monkeys on their backs--goals they both crave yet sometimes seem like too much work. Whether it's a sub 3 marathon or 50 hikes in a year, they have some similarities. If you have a monkey on your back, what is it? What do you plan to do when you finally lose that monkey?
the path feels endless, until you come close to the end

16 comments:

  1. The logistics of your section hikes are something I've wondered about. They must add headaches at times. I've also wondered if you sometimes resent using your vacation time to hike places like the LA aqueduct. Of course, I participate in races that have similarly unpalatable segments, in the name of completing a challenge.

    Registration recently opened for the 2018 Tor des Geants, and my happy trigger finger is itching to hit send. No! I want to tear this monkey off my back. Its insistences are unwanted at this point in my life. And yet.

    This summer I would like do to a long hike or bike tour. I fear it won't happen, again. As simple as my "real life" is, it's still becoming exceedingly difficult to tear myself away. I think that's the key to removing the monkeys ... breaking the patterns. Succeeding in a goal certainly doesn't stop them. Heading into my fifth Iditarod attempt, I know this all too well.

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    1. OMG yes, there have been times, particularly walking through burnt areas, where I am thinking, I work all year to do this? My desire to complete the trail is pretty strong I guess. I have had hiking partners who have decided that they only want to do the nicer sections. Can't blame them. Stupid goal mentality.
      I agree it gets more difficult to get away. If I do any long hikes where you want to go on, that would be great, although I lack a Leslie pace.

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  2. I've got great news for you. You can still be a long distance hiker without committing to a long trail. I loved my 6 weeks in the Winds last summer. There are other places I can see myself doing something similar. I also like what some are doing where they put together a thru of a state like Utah. Maybe in a few years I'll lose my cherry pickin' ideals? Maybe that's my monkey?

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    1. You're right although it takes a lot more planning because I know of few areas where you can plan a hike without having to come back out and move to another trailhead. At least in my experience. The PCT is so easy in that regard. For example, here, I think you can stitch a 50 miler together but my normal 100 to 200 at a time? Would be hard without doubling back or coming out to drive elsewhere.

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    2. Agreed! Buy hey you'll be retired and free to roam in a few years.

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    3. NOT SOON ENOUGH. But with every paycheck I tell mysekf, that's one more tent I can buy...ha.

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  3. I've got monkeys too. What a great phrase to describe it. The worst ones are the arbitrary goals I make up for myself and don't tell anyone I'm working towards. Like walking "all the trails" in the Park. Then, in all the trails in the 5 Parks in my region. Which would be OK if I had a 4WD vehicle to get to the trailheads but I don't so then I "have to" do the roadwalks to get to the trailheads. So I spend all day roadwalking to get to a half mile trail. But I can't seem to stop. And sometimes it provides the direction I need to get out of my rut of going to the same places all the time.

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    1. I actually make similar goals when home and am always surprised when I find a new trail. But I'm not as committed sticking to the goal. I guess I've set that monkey free. Back to the trees you go monkeys :)

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    2. I have those arbitrary goals too. The 50 nights in a tent was surprisingly hard to achieve since it sounds so easy.

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  4. I love this bit of history; I never asked you how it all started for you!

    Managing Bears Den Hostel in VA on the AT introduced us to the world of section hiking. It was so eye-opening. We met people who had been sectioning the AT for 20 years!! True dedication. And all those other things you talked about. We decided whole heartedly that section hiking is much harder than thru hiking!!!

    Our list is too long and probably too ambitious. In the meantime, adulting takes precedence, ugh!!

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    1. Prior to the JMT, running was my passion. If I had kept that up as much as I do hiking, I'd probably be doing ultras by now.

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  5. This explains why you didn't mention what I thought would be a logical solution to the road sections on the Florida Trail--calling Uber! Or arranging for bicycles to be available.

    For long, remote hikes, you might want to check out the 2 1/2 million acres of wilderness and roadless areas across the Snake from you--the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church River of No Return wildernesses and surrounding areas. The gravel Magruder Corridor road runs between the two. Not sure what trail maintenance is being done now, but when I was on trail crew in the mid 70s they were in great shape and heavily used in the fall by hunters using pack animals.

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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    1. I have heard of people bicycling the road walks! That is actually a great idea if you want to do "continuous footprints" but if road walking trashes your feet.
      I used to live in Stanley but stayed in the Sawtooths and White Clouds, so I'm intrigued by those two areas. Knowing how little funding is available for trail maintenance, probably some of it is in disrepair, but still worth checking out.

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  6. I'm waiting until retirement to start on my hiking "wish list." That's my "monkey." Right now, I've not enough vacation time to hike and ski all the places on the ol' bucket list.

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  7. Argh! I know. I chip away, but it's never really enough! I just hope I can still do it then--it's so far away.

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  8. I admire and am completely amazed by those who complete through hikes in entirety, but I am even more impressed by those, like yourself Mary, who have to stitch it together. So much more difficult to keep the goal

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