Days 17 & 18: Roughing It

More than a couple of times in the last two weeks, I’ve thought to myself (and shared with friends), “This isn’t hard enough.”  I’ve got this idea in my head that I’m supposed to be “roughing it,” that if I’m not dirty and smelly and going without a shower for days on end; if I’m not completely exhausted and sore from physical exertion every day; if I’m not barely consuming adequate calories or eating only for nourishment and never for pleasure…then I’m not working hard enough.  I’m not entirely certain where I got this idea, but I’ve got a notion it comes from Cheryl Strayed and her journey on the PCT. 

In case you haven’t read “Wild” or seen the movie adaptation, here’s a brief overview: Cheryl Strayed found herself in a really difficult spot in life and decided she needed a major reset.  I can’t remember why or how, but she got it in her head she should backpack the Pacific Crest Trail.  She seemed ill-prepared at best, and she faced lots of obstacles readying for and tackling the grueling endeavor.  Ultimately, she learned a great deal, and it seems much of the learning came from being broken down by the arduousness of the hike and all it entails.  It was from great difficulty she experienced significant growth.  And then she became a famous writer.

I’m intrigued by the Pacific Crest Trail, though I haven’t found myself strongly drawn to hiking it.  I love the outdoors and hella admire the folks who have the gumption, grit, tenacity, and wherewithal to commit themselves to the several months and hundreds of miles it takes to complete the trail.  I really don’t think I could do it…and maybe that’s why I don’t bother considering it – fear of failure.  I think Cheryl was afraid of failing too, but she got to a bad enough spot in life that she didn’t see any other option. 

For me, the alternative to this trip wasn’t a good one.  I desperately needed a change, and I hope with all my heart that somehow I’ll find what I’m looking for “out here.”  So far, it doesn’t feel very likely, and maybe I feel discouraged about that.  Or maybe I’m blaming myself for the lack of clarity I’m finding so far.  A friend asked me today “Are you loving life?”  I mean, I absolutely love moments, but this is hard.  I’m seeing all kinds of beautiful places, and I know the experience will be unforgettable.  I’m not complaining, and I don’t think I’ll regret any of it, but I do struggle sometimes. 

I’m lonely.  I’m frustrated by often not knowing where to go and especially with not knowing where to camp.  Before this trip, I’d only once before camped solo (and I cried most of the night, if I’m being honest).  I expected to set up my tent on public lands every night, but that doesn’t always feel safe, so I’m staying at more campgrounds than I expected, and there are dozens of options there, ranging from $5/site to $45/site – and it’s not always easy to pick one from the car.  More than once, I’ve just pulled over on the side of the road and stared at maps, hoping for epiphany with regards to where I should sleep.  It’s something I’ve never experienced, and it’s not always awesome.  There’s a “sky’s the limit” aspect, but I don’t always feel that.  Sometimes, all I feel is fear and aimlessness…and those are two of things I most hoped to overcome out here. 

Maybe it’s rougher than I thought.  But it’s a different kind of rough.  It’s not physically grueling, but it’s definitely stretching my…emotional resilience.  It’s okay.  It will be okay.  But it’s not easy; it doesn’t feel like a vacation (and I never wanted it to, but I suspect that’s what others think).  I stayed in a hotel the evening of Day #18.  I just needed a…break.  I wanted to sit in a cool, comfortable spot, not shooing away bugs or fearing a bear might sneak up on me.  I wanted to watch TV.  Isn’t that silly?  And I felt guilty about it.  But my bestie said “You didn’t commit to camping every night.  That’s not what this is about.”  And I needed to hear that.  So I enjoyed two showers (and didn’t even run out of hot water).  And I ate a turkey sandwich from my cooler lying in bed watching Days of Our Lives.  Then I slept without pepper spray, bear spray, or an expandable baton by my bed.  It was a welcome reprieve, maybe not from the gruel of “Wild,” but from a trip that is stretching me and definitely represents “roughing it” more than the life I’ve known.

Day 3: A Minor Reset

Today was a work day – and I realize by the relief I feel tonight that I’m gonna need to plan one of those every week or so.  I had my first tiny meltdown last night (and it really was pretty minor).  I got to a campground 15 miles (40 minutes by way of winding roads through mountain passes) from cell phone service, and my spot was a mess (thanks to some punks from the night before, according to a neighboring camper), there was no running water, and the bathrooms were trashed (again, thanks to my predecessors).  I felt…all alone, for the first time (I know, I know; I was only 2 days in!), and I couldn’t “fix” the situation except by rushing (slowly) back to a place where I could re-“connect”…and then, I sat on the side of the road at first sign cell signal studying three different maps, reaching out to anyone who might provide help or encouragement, and frantically Googling for better options.  (I wanted to camp in natural spaces, to avoid campgrounds whenever possible, but there’s something kind of daunting about that, being ALL alone in the wild; it’s what I want, but it also feels scary…so for now I’m checking out various “types” of more “public” sites [insert sideways glance]…)  Next thing I know, a cop appears at my window.  “I’m sorry; I know I shouldn’t park here; I just need to regroup and can’t do it without cell service, which I’m sure you probably know is hit or miss at best around these parts…”  (I didn’t even let him get a word in, just blabbered my shiznit all over him.)  Of course he would ask “What’s your destination?”  Well, I don’t have one, per se, but that’s an awfully long story… My goal is aim-ful-ness (and if that’s not a word, it will be when I’m done with this journey).  I want direction.  And in those moments, I had none.  BUT…I didn’t cry.  He was kind.  Not super-helpful.  But kind.  And once I got a grip, I moved on up the road, found no room at one inn (campground), then sweet-talked the camp host at the next full grounds and wound up sharing a spot with a really nice older couple there.  They invited me to share their campfire too (gosh, the kindness of strangers…), but I just hid away in my Snail Space for the evening, and looked forward to resetting things a bit today… Long story short, I spent several hours in a coffee shop studying maps, books, and websites and making very specific plans for the next few days.  Tonight, my soul feels a little lighter.  It appears I’ve learned a few things in my journey already.  ❤  (This picture of the Siskiyou National Forest and Mountains represents to me the great expanse of opportunity this journey presents; it won’t be without challenges, that’s for sure, just like the wild is not, but the opportunities are as abundant as these trees and hills.)