Trail Update #9: Reflections on Solitude

Day 101, Ashland, OR, 2:00 PM

(I’ve been out here over 100 days now? Wow.)

Hello hello from Oregon! That’s right, Oregon! Two days ago I finished the California stretch of the PCT, which is just under 1700 miles and almost 2/3 the length of the entire trail. I feel pretty accomplished and definitely relieved that it’s over. It feels different on this side of the California/Oregon border; I feel psychologically refreshed by being in a new state for the first time since I started hiking, and I’m a lot less intimidated about the rest of the trail than I was even a week ago. The sections of the PCT that go through Oregon and Washington are each less than 1/3 the length of what I’ve already done, and Oregon in particular is flatter than what’s behind me already. Everyone out here is really really ready for a nice flat stretch of trail! (Of course it’s not actually flat, but I don’t think we have any really big climbs for a while either.)

The biggest thing to write about right now, I think, is the adventure and challenge of being out here by myself for the first time. You’ll remember if you read the last update that Mathew, Ben, and Emily all left at Burney (Emily just went to visit family for a bit, don’t worry) and that since then, for the last two weeks, I’ve been hiking by myself.

Before they all left, I was mostly looking forward to the solo stretch. For most of the hike thus far I’d been wanting to go faster and farther than we had been as a group, and this was my chance to let loose, to hike as much as I wanted and be accountable only to myself. I did feel nervous though… how much of my happiness out here had been because of the people I was with? How would being by myself affect my mental state?

Beyond what I could have anticipated, the transition was jarring and rough. My first full week by myself was an emotional roller coaster. At the worst times I felt totally purposeless. Achingly aware of a void that had previously been filled with the people around me, I felt sad, lonely, and empty. After I saw my friends off on the bus to Redding the morning of the 28th, I hit the trail going north from Burney Falls and had hiked maybe 25 miles when I realized that was the longest Mathew and I had been apart from each other in over two months. I started crying, and continued crying as I hiked into an empty camp and set up my tent by myself. Weirdly enough, I happened to be on a very deserted-feeling stretch of trail that day and the next couple days; I hardly saw anyone else, and I camped alone for three nights – an oddity, considering I’ve been in the middle of the main pack of PCT thru-hikers and every night since then have had other people at camp with me to hang out with. Needless to say it made me feel even more alone – though, granted, it was nice to have some privacy when I felt like crying… lol.

My sadness didn’t keep me from recklessly moving forward. If anything, I felt more aware of my aloneness when I wasn’t walking, so I found myself taking fewer and shorter stops. First day on the trail by myself I did 28 miles, then 30. I took a half-day off in McCloud and stayed with some friends of the family (shoutout to Nancy and Bruce, thanks for hosting me!), and then I did three 30-mile days in a row. I hiked 193 miles in a week, through the Trinity Alps, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountains, and up one of the toughest climbs of the trail out of Seiad Valley – not the easiest hiking of the trail.

Those first days of being by myself, I was heavily questioning my reasons for being here. For the first time since setting out on this journey, completing the trail seemed impossible, and maybe even pointless. I know now that it was just a transition and it was going to be hard no matter what, but at the time it was a deep personal inquiry about who I am – what if I just don’t like backpacking by myself? What if it’s more important to me to have shared experiences than solo experiences? What’s even the point of being out here if I’m not sharing it with someone? I was afraid of feeling that lonely for the rest of the trip, of driving myself literally insane with my back-and-forth thoughts.

Truthfully, I didn’t make it through all by myself. Family was there for me when I called. Mathew was there for me when I called. There was one conversation in particular with him… It was the day after my three 30’s in a row and my shin had started hurting first thing in the morning so I’d been limping all day, up and down steep stretches of trail through the Marble Mountain Wilderness of the Klamath Mountains, worried about whether or not I was getting shin splints and whether I was actually cut out for this trail. I so desperately wanted to find phone service and call Mathew and I thankfully did, a few miles before making camp for the night. He told me about staff training for P-Wild and moving into his house for senior year, and as soon as I started talking I was crying blubbery choked tears to him about how sad and crazy and totally weak I felt all of a sudden… like really, I don’t even remember many of the words that were said but for probably an hour I was pouring all my heaviness and sadness and fear out, crying to him, and he was listening and encouraging me. It really must have been exactly what I needed because after that I felt a whole lot better. I started hiking again and soon found another hiker I’d met the day prior named Sunny, and we hiked together for a few miles or so talking about veganism and the things we were planning on doing post-trail. I camped that night with him and another hiker named Amoeba at a really nice spot under a big oak tree by a spring. We shared good conversation and laughter and I went to bed feeling at peace with things.

One of the many lessons of this trail is that nothing is permanent. Even in the midst of all that pain and questioning, I sensed that given time things would be different. It still seemed like the only thing to do was to keep walking, trusting that as the land around me changed so too might my thoughts and feelings change. And they did. They leveled out. I feel normal again. I feel grateful to be here again!

So, it is with renewed vigor and a changed perspective that I look forward to hiking through Oregon and Washington. I’ve accepted my solo-traveler status and think that it comes with a new set of joys and challenges. First off, I’m not really alone because there are soooo many other hikers out here! So one goal for me moving forward is to be socially confident and social, since without the social buffer of already being with people I’m left to either be outgoing or shy towards other people. I’m choosing now to try to habitually make the first move and be friendly. What do I have to lose?

Another lesson that I’m going to try to take away from this has to do with fear. Our fears can make monsters out of normal things… backpacking by myself is something I’d never done before! It could have been something I was afraid of forever, just a monster in my head that I didn’t want to face. But I’m doing it right now, and I’m fine! It’s not a monster anymore, and I don’t feel weak and afraid anymore. That’s how it is in life, you have to do things that scare you, to prove yourself wrong about how scary you think the world is, or else you make yourself small and keep yourself in a box.

Emily is coming back to the trail today too. We aren’t planning on strictly sticking together from here on, but I’m looking forward to seeing her when she gets in and grabbing a beer at a local brewery. Ashland is a cool town! Even in cool towns, though, it takes me longer than I expect to get around and do the things I need to do – buy food and supplies, charge my things, shower and do laundry, etc – and it wears on me to be around so many people and so much concrete, so that before long I’m pining for the trail again.

Oh yeah, I have been forgetting every time I send out an update to tell you my trail name! I introduce myself out here as Daveg, like the-vegetables, but just Daveg. It’s short for Daveggies Targrillyen, a take on Daenerys Targaryen for all you Game of Thrones fans. Mathew thought he was so clever when he thought that one up. Mathew’s trail name was Jockstrap, Ben was Molasses, and Emily is Tiny Tuna.

Here’s one of my last views of California, after I climbed up out of Seiad Valley (I haven’t uploaded a panorama before so hopefully it looks ok):

Goodbye California!

And here’s a funky little tree:

hehe

Sending out so much love and gratitude to you all! My thoughts are especially with friends at Duke that are setting out on another Project WILD trip – don’t forget you guys are changing lives, and it’s beautiful! I’m also very much looking forward to seeing my grandpa again, and friends Mike and Katie, in Bend. If anyone else is in Oregon or Washington and wants to try to meet up soon, feel free to contact me by text or email or facebook. Til next time!

🙂

2 thoughts on “Trail Update #9: Reflections on Solitude

  1. Bruce

    Emma– Nancy and I thank you for your shout out to us. We admire your adventurous spirit and precocious wisdom. I read your blog and was quite impressed with its technical correctness and courageous honesty. You may not realize it, but you are a writer at heart because you are not afraid to reveal your heart and mind to others.
    May you continue to influence others and safely accomplish your future goals as Mother Nature embraces and mystifies you all at the same time.
    Your Trail Angels–
    Bruce and Nancy Badrigian McCloud/Morro Bay

    Like

  2. Lou & Tawna Mena

    Hi Emma! Tawna and I have been reading your blog entries every time you write them. You are SUCH a good writer! The way you write, we actually can feel your joy AND pain! Tawna cries every time I read to her what you write, and I have to admit, I’ve gotten a little teary-eyed myself. You have accomplished so much in your young life, that you SHOULD be proud of yourself! We are VERY VERY proud of you! We can’t imagine what it’s like to hike so long by yourself, I guess because every time we backpack, we do it together. We really were worried about you during your solo time and we’re happy to hear Emily will be joining you again. Please tell her hi for us and that We are VERY proud of her also. We received your post card last week. We were VERY happy to receive it. That meant you haven’t forgotten about us and we really did make an impact in your life (be it small, but still an impact). You have conquered CA, now go tackle Oregon! We will talk to you soon. God Bless you,
    Your Trail Angels, Lou & Tawna

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s