An undertaking like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail requires a certain fortitude. It's not particularly physically hard to do - it's barely more than walking. It's the mental aspect that's difficult. And it's not so much the things you have to do, it's the things you have to give up. Showers, beds, clean clothes, hot food...
There are lots of reasons why I do this kind of thing (explaining it all would go on for pages), and these days, one of those reasons is as an example for my students. I essentially have no business being any good at long-distance athletics; I'm too short, I'm anemic, I had problems with my heart, lungs, and kidneys growing up. But I picked up running anyway, I did it a lot, and got good at it. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is inconceivably difficult to people who haven't done it, but it's been done by an 82-year-old. It can't be that hard. I want my students to see that with patience and dedication, almost anyone can do almost anything. For some, it'll be easier than others, and some people might have to hang in there a little longer before they get there. But anyone can do it.
I also want to give a quick shoutout to my aunt, Mary. Only a week ago, she finished her second thru-hike of the Camino de Santiago, hiking across the length of Spain. Not bad for a gal in her 50s with little athletic background. Towards the end of her hike, she cranked out hiking days of 40 and 44 km! I was worried I'd have trouble logging 40+ km in a day on the PCT, and now I get to tell myself, "If Mary can do it, so can you."
But more than anything, this one's for Doug.
My uncle Doug, while I didn't spend a lot of time with him as I was growing up, was influential nonetheless. He's the one who introduced me to stringed instruments, helped me get a job at Google, and got me into backpacking. I never got any good on guitar, but strumming one helped me understand how songs are built around chords, which was instrumental as I began writing my own music. I probably would've figured it out one day, but not as early as I did, and I'm certain some of my songs wouldn't have turned out as good without that. I didn't get a job at Google only because I had an uncle that worked there, but if not for Doug getting the ball rolling, I probably would've never applied. And while I was already into hiking, camping, outdoors, and distance endeavors before Doug introduced me to backpacking, it may have been a while before I got into true backpacking, especially considering there's almost no backpacking trails in Texas. The PCT is something that may have never occurred to me.
Sadly, the world became a poorer place a three years ago when Doug suddenly died of a heart attack. He was, as another family member put it, "one of the good ones." Not only a likeable man, he was also unusually bright, and one of only two people I know that have read an encyclopedia, all 20-odd volumes, cover-to-cover. Three of my cousins and myself spread his ashes in Yosemite National Park, fittingly in the Sierra Range, his favorite stomping grounds. He belonged there.
I won't quite be visiting that exact spot as the PCT passes through Yosemite (and his ashes may have made it to the Pacific by now anyway), but I'll be hiking in Doug's favorite places for weeks at a time. I wonder how many plants and flowers I'll see that he'd be able to identify. Probably hundreds.
This summer, I walk for Doug.
from PCT South