Excerpts: I had to change. I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the persExcerpts: I had to change. I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be—strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good. And the PCT would make me that way. There, I’d walk and think about my entire life. I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous
I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave... knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid.
How can a book describe the psychological factors a person must prepare for … the despair, the alienation, the anxiety and especially the pain, both physical and mental, which slices to the very heart of the hiker’s volition, which are the real things that must be planned for? No words can transmit those factors …
I continued up, into the late afternoon and evening, unable to see anything except what was immediately before me. I wasn’t thinking of snakes, as I’d been the day before. I wasn’t thinking, I’m hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. I wasn’t even thinking, What have I gotten myself into? I was thinking only of moving myself forward. My mind was a crystal vase that contained only that one desire. My body was its opposite: a bag of broken glass. Every time I moved, it hurt. I counted my steps to take my mind off the pain, silently ticking the numbers off in my head to one hundred before starting over again. The blocks of numbers made the walk slightly more bearable, as if I only had to go to the end of each one
The sun still stared ruthlessly down on me, not caring one iota whether I lived or died. The parched scrub and scraggly trees still stood indifferently resolute, as they always had and always would. I was a pebble. I was a leaf. I was the jagged branch of a tree. I was nothing to them and they were everything to me
You’re doing fine, Cheryl,” he said. “Don’t worry about it too much. You’re green, but you’re tough. And tough is what matters the most out here. Not just anyone could do what you’re doing..
If he could do this, I could, I thought furiously. He wasn’t tougher than me. No one was, I told myself, without believing it. I made it the mantra of those days; when I paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: Who is tougher than me.
I realized that in spite of my hardships, as I approached the end of the first leg of my journey, I’d begun to feel a blooming affection for the PCT. My backpack, heavy as it was, had come to feel like my almost animate companion. No longer was it the absurd Volkswagen Beetle I’d painfully hoisted on in that motel room in Mojave a couple of weeks before. Now my backpack had a name: Monster.
These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding. It had begun to occur to me that perhaps it was okay that I hadn’t spent my days on the trail pondering the sorrows of my life, that perhaps by being forced to focus on my physical suffering some of my emotional suffering would fade away. By the end of that second week, I realized that since I’d begun my hike, I hadn’t shed a single tear.
....tent, for the smallest sense that something was shielding me from the entire rest of the world, keeping me safe not from danger, but from vastness itself. I loved the dim, clammy dark of my tent, the cozy familiarity of the way I arranged my few belongings all around me each night.
I rose and spent the next several hours hiking harder than ever, with the single-minded goal that they would not catch up to me before I reached Kennedy Meadows. I was dying to meet them, of course—but I wanted to meet them as the woman who’d left them in her dust instead of the woman they’d overtaken.
I stopped in my tracks when that thought came into my mind, that hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Immediately, I amended the thought. Watching my mother die and having to live without her, ....
I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before