By the numbers:
What a difference a couple weeks make.
I am in Cascade Locks, at the foot of the ‘Bridge of the Gods’. Washington beckons. Oregon is done. Given the extraordinary snow fall of last winter here in the Pacific Northwest and the relative lack of a summer they have had thus far (even while the rest of the country has apparently been baking) I have had to cross snow fields on every major volcanic mountain all the way up Oregon. My 9 zero days at Mt Thielsen, waiting for snow to melt out helped some, but there was still plenty left by the time I arrived at Thielsen, Diamond Peak, The Three Sisters, Three fingered Jack, Jefferson, and finally Mt Hood. Despite all that the weather has held perfect and I have been able to make many miles the past twelve days. Given the elevation changes through these mountains I have also been able to experience the botany in ‘winter’, spring and summer.
Apart from the few fast packers passing me by at speeds of 35-40 miles/day, I remain well ahead of the main pack of thru hikers and therefore my journey remains very much a solo one. Since I started on June 14th I think I can count on one hand the number of nights I camped with others. During the day the cadence of my foot falls and my the click of my trekking poles add the beat to the visual cacophony of plant diversity around me. I have had three resupply points since I headed back out at Mt Thielsen; Shelter Cove, Big Lake, and Timberline Lodge. At each of these points I ran into warm interesting people who color the journey and provide mental waypoints to what can otherwise become a blurred temporal landscape. Was I on Jefferson three days ago or four? Where was it I camped last night? How many times have I seen that species of Penstemon now? When was the last time I saw water? It all starts to blend together into one whole lived landscape.
Given the snow, the periodically wet feet, wet shoes, and resultant stiff-as-cardboard socks my feet have taken a beating. Today they get to rest, but not for long. There are over 500 miles yet to go, many a pass, many a mountain, and surely more snow ahead.
My trail angel Grace back in Berkeley has been commandeering my gear resupply box, as well as been on the receiving end of my shipments of fresh plant specimens. I am indebted to her and I was happy to wake up this morning and discover that the new shoes she sent had arrived. New shoes and new socks should make a world of difference. For the rest, I apply duct tape and seam grip liberally to heels, soles, tent, pack, and pretty much anywhere else I can think to stick it. I arrived here in Cascade Locks more dusty and sweaty than I can ever remember being. It is a particular quality of insanity this long distance hiking, and it doesn’t readily translate into words. I met a hiker yesterday who was laughing about the idea of being done soon, going back to whatever other life he lived before this and then what? Inevitably whatever you do will feel lazy in comparison to daily 14 hour hikes.
I have been thinking a lot about pain lately. My feet have been giving me some insight. It seems that we fear pain and try to avoid it at all cost, but there is a quality of beauty to pain that we often overlook. Pain is a presence that does two things, it provides in stark tangible bodily reality two facts to the receiver.
1) I am alive
2) I have certain responsibilities towards myself to insure that I take care of myself.
If I disregard the second fact, the first too may well become false
I think a lot of endurance athletes reach a pain threshold and transcend it. The typical path along pain is something like this: You initially ignore it as a nuisance. In the case of your feet that is when the ‘hot spots’ start. Then you start to treat it. Perhaps you use second skin or moleskin, duct tape, maybe some vitamin I (Ibuprofen). This is pretty much as far as a weekend trip will take you. But if you are in for the long haul, eventually you actually do have to confront it in a real way. You have to accept it as an inherent part of the journey. Given time you learn to love it. This is when the mind gets real weird. Mine does anyway. However, I think this is where the real learning lay. At this point you begin to transform, to learn from your deeper self, and here is where you grow. Long distance hikers become more than the person they started as precisely because they bring themselves to the edge…and then embrace it all.
In dealing with emotional pain I believe much of this holds true as well. It is a long road, many take detours and short cuts, but those that stay with the pain can find breakthrough
In the case of neither my feet nor my heart am I there, but well…the journey continues.