Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Goal of Not Being a Better Hiker

I hunched over, my left arm braced on my left knee, my right hand gripped the trekking pole, the fading echo of my voice across the emptiness oozed into the dark forest. Grace Meadow seemingly creeped into a blackness as if falling asleep, the last curtain of light of the day drew to a close on Keyes Dome. I felt exhausted and lonely, I felt so far away from her because I had failed her. The day was over, my time was up.

I depressingly hiked in the utter hope that I may still find her. An hour passed and the night became immense even with a bright moonlight. 40 or so miles later and still no sign of Bearclaw. We had planned to reconnect in Tahoe as she hiked towards me but I had awaken the morning before with a tremendous amount of clarity: I needed to go find my love, to walk back to her.

I found a ride to Sonora Pass and fervently hoofed it south with my goal to surprise her on my birthday. I met other hikers who had seen her and some who had not but thought she was ahead of them. The mixed messages narrowed my search, however, it gave away my surprise. I even received a sign from a bear sighting. I knew she was close. In fact, later on I found out we came within an hour of a meeting after that bear encounter. I left a few notes at critical junctions before settling into camp. 

The next morning I went up Dorothy Lake Pass and spotted fresh Altra tracks. I figured to be on her heels and frantically chased the footprints. 'It has to be her!' I thought. I pushed on knowing I had to because if we had missed each other the previous day and somehow she got ahead of me I couldn't risk waiting around. I thought maybe she is pushing hard to get to Tahoe. Up on the Sonora Crest I hunched over again in the same dejected position as the night before. This time I could see for miles around upon the 10,000 foot crest. I felt entranced in the vast space of peaks and rocks. I calmed my breath down and managed to send her a text telling her I had failed her, that I could not catch whomever was in front of me, but that I would wait at Sonora Pass. 

Hours went by, as did the same hikers I saw throughout the past 20 hours and 63 miles. Suddenly, from my position I spotted 2 silhouettes breach the crest high above. The shadowy figures zig-zagged slowly down. Another figure appeared, then 2 more. I knew I had a chance. I patiently waited for each one to get into plain sight so I could see if it was her or not. Time seeped on, no matter how patient I felt to be. 

On a snowy switchback, she appeared. I could tell by her gait and her pack. My love was near. I sat next to the monument on Sonora Pass and stared at the corner she would bend around on trail. Suddenly, I heard, 'Dirtmonger!.' I leaped up and ran to her. After many exhausting hours, we embraced at last.

From there we hiked on together to Tahoe. We spent our first night reunited under a blaring full moon. The miles flew on by as the scenery began to change. Granite changed into basalt, the forests got thicker and taller, and the tread became less rocky and more of dirt. We ambled along in a synchronized flow. Then, we spent 3 full days in Tahoe relaxing.

Before this hike on the PCT with Bearclaw I planned on evolving. For some reason, I thought I knew what that meant. I have passed along hiking and wilderness skills to Bearclaw yet I failed to realize the sacredness of our relationship. I proposed to her upon a bald mountain top believing I knew what that meant as a man. I even fell prey to the crows of social media and the ego of my self-centered ballooned head of a supposed hiking reputation.  I even harped in a previous entry about MYOB. In my hike I have seen a bigger contradiction in myself. I've had a lot of questions to ask myself. I threatened my own way of living more than anyone and, ultimately, have learned what love is from a wonderful woman. I thought I knew what strength was or even a good fight until I have seen her resilience. With Bearclaw and our experiences in this adventure I am now striving to not be a better hiker but rather a better man. Not for me, but for her, us. That is what hiking long distance is all about.