The 4th of July came and went. It was hardly blanket weather, but I pushed my head back into my chair and pulled the throw over my shoulders and up over my neck. ‘Escape’ felt like the perfect mantra.
I needed to regroup. And yet I needed to NOT think. Maybe sit by the window and read a mindless book. Or cover my ears with headphones. Let the loud music have its way with my brainwaves so I could ignore the noisy insecurities. Steady my equilibrium. Find my footing.
But checking email seemed safe enough. Open, read, reply, delete. Certainly I was up to that.
Carowack! I sat up in my chair. The subject line told me this would be fun reading. Carowack was the blog title for my niece, who was off hiking northward on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT runs 2,659 miles (4,279 kilometers) from the US’s southern border with Mexico to the northern border with Canada.
In April 2015 my niece, who was 23 at the time, began her PCT adventures as Happy Feet, the hiking name she’d chosen. Her intention was to walk the entire length of the trail that spring and summer. She planned to hike alone, with what she could carry on her back, and complete the hike before the end of summer.
She planned stops along the way to replenish supplies, and she pre-arranged mail pick-ups with more supplies too. Her planning and prep was extensive, and she had some earlier wilderness experiences, but never for more than two consecutive nights. As someone who won’t wander to the back part of my wooded backyard after dark…after all, we have fox and raccoon…I consider this a bold and courageous venture.
We received regular email updates as she hiked that spring and summer…through the desert…over the mountain…through the snow and ice…until August. Then she decided to leave the trail at mile 1500, mostly because the daily hiking was taking its toll on her body. These were her words on August 18, 2015, in her last post from the PCT that year and the accompanying photo:
“People ask me all the time why I decided to do the trail, and I have never had a good answer for that question. All I know is that some voice deep inside me said that I needed to be there, on that trail this summer. That same voice was what told me it was time to go home. When that voice speaks, it’s hard to ignore. So I’m home now, starting my next exciting adventure. Put a pin in it, PCT. We’ll meet again one day.”
I took her for her word, and assumed one day she’d finish her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Between August 2015 and June 2017, my niece was busy with life. She worked at more jobs than I can remember and she applied to grad school. She secured a teaching position at a great school and planned to start her studies and employment there in September 2017. I wasn’t surprised, though, that she scheduled her life around a return to the PCT before starting grad school.
In June 2017 she got back on the PCT near Mt. Shasta, in northern CA, where she’d left off in 2015. She headed toward the Canadian border, planning to hike the 1,200 remaining miles in two months.
Now it was July 7, and I was opening an update she wrote a few weeks after returning to the trail. The email talked about the differences she felt as she compared her 2015 hike to her return in 2017. This is how she closed the update.
“There are other, more subtle differences that I have noticed too, still falling under the umbrella of all the things I learned from my first trek. The one I am most proud of is my unshakable faith that things will work out for the best, the way they are meant to…..This ability to have faith in the powers that be is one of the most valuable life lessons I could possibly have gleaned from the trail. It allows my life to be fluid and open, given to chance encounters and wonderful surprises…Now, my faith helps me let go of something beautiful to go find the next beautiful thing, like leaping across a chasm to see the view on the other side. I know it will be beautiful no matter what. I just have to be brave enough to go there.”
What moved me about those words? Was it because I’m so proud of my niece and impressed with what she did. To be so brave, and so skilled, and so enlightened at such a young age. Or was it because I needed to hear those words? They move me even now as I read them again.
The power of words. Sometimes the words we need to hear come from deep inside us, like the voice my niece heard in 2015. And sometimes the words we need to hear come from someone else. They ping some part of our psyche, and tell us to wake up and listen.
I knew it was time to get up, find my footing on the road I’m here to travel, and leap across a chasm.
All photos are Carowack, not me. (I can only dream.) They are on this post courtesy of and property of Carowack. All Rights Reserved.
My niece reached the Canadian border on September 6, 2017, ten days before her first day at grad school. Her blog is a fantastic read, with plenty of adventure, challenges and exhilaration. And unbelievable photos. You can read her blog at: http://carowack.blogspot.com/
The rewards for having the guts to leap across a chasm? Carowack’s post from the day she made the 3,000 foot climb to Mt. Whitney. To watch the sun rise from the top of the tallest peak in the lower 48 states.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for so many months, envisioning myself walking up this path into the sunlight. The tallest peak in the contiguous states. 14,500 feet. I had to walk almost 800 miles to get here. When I finally make it, when I’m standing there, higher than any other person in the contiguous states, I can hardly believe it. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life, physically, mentally, emotionally. I feel so full of life at this moment. The sun lights up my eyes but doesn’t blind me. The cold wind whips around me but doesn’t chill me. I stay for a short while, take it all in. After a while, I start back down the mountain. I still have a long way to go from here.”
Summit of Mt. Whitney. All Rights Reserved.