“Part One” is over. Whew.
“Whew”, that word has so many meanings: relief, exhilaration, exasperation – it’s the perfect word for now.
The blisters healed, too slowly for me, surprisingly fast for Dennis Marta, podiatrist extraordinaire. During my hiatus, I got a call from a fellow hiker, Bill Barclay, a Vassar grad student in drama. Bill was calling from Idyllwild with a bum knee and had pulled off the trail hoping to take a bus or hitch a ride to Big Bear allowing his friends to continue but also allowing a chance for his knee to heal. Jac and I did what he’d do for me, we picked him up and brought him here for three days, ultimately driving him up to the Lake the day before his group arrived.
And so Bill and I pretty much sat around reading and talking and eating, imagining we could see my feet heal, becoming two pent up hunting dogs anxious for the trail. After Bill left, I piddled around with my future re-supplies but never got more than two food drops built. Finally, Sunday morning came and at 6:45, Jac and David dropped me off at the Highway 74 trailhead and I was gone again. But before Sunday morning there was Saturday night.
I’ve thought of many romantic words to put into this journal like, “If Jacqueline loves me enough to let me go, then it’s no shame that I love her enough to stay”. And those words can make you feel all toasty inside, goose bumps rising, vindicated for making the decision to stop. But when you’re lying in bed the night before an extended separation and you at once both feel the shudders and hear the staccato sobs of the one you love who’s trying to suppress the emotion to save you the guilt, you know that words are only words, pretty and comforting but never good enough to express, “what true love is”. Forest Gump said that. I’ve mentioned Forest before. He was a good companion to me when I was alone on my walk. I think he taught me quite a bit.
I’m home now. I’ve pulled off the trail for a while. I was back on-trail for two more days, one more night. There’s a lot that goes into that and, really, there is an “order” to this difficult decision:
1. It’s easier to walk home through the desert on blistered and bloody feet than it is to walk away from home with a full belly and a rested body.
The other reasons are secondary:
I was right about one thing, or at least partially right. As I told Jeff Ehret and Mike Gomes, “there isn’t a single physical reason why I can’t do this Trail – it’s all in your head.” What I didn’t understand was the ying and yang of that statement, that your head can coerce you into stopping but it can also give you the freedom to stop. I’ll admit that the Desert Divide kicked my butt but I can also say that I did it – it’s behind me and, like getting my wisdom teeth pulled, I never have to do that again and I don’t.
I’ll confess that I’ll struggle with this decision. But I know that this is a part of the lesson, one of the questions that I wondered about – how will I be if I stop? I can choose to belittle myself and fall into the morass of reflection: I’m a Brown Belt in karate, not a Black Belt, I was an assistant SCUBA diving instructor, never a certified instructor, I’m a rock climber but I didn’t fulfill my promise to myself to do Half Dome (but I’m still young and there’s still time). I’ve never owned a business but it sure was great working for some outstanding companies. I didn’t hike the Pacific Crest Trail as a “thru hike” but, you know what: I’m still the luckiest man I know. I’ve got you, all of you. And I’ve got a treasure chest full of adventures that no one can take away. I’ve got two awesome kids, an incredible wife – why I’ve even got an ex-wife that still can call me “friend”. I thought to my self yesterday, “Will I disappoint any of those that I know by stopping?”, and even as I asked myself the question, I knew the answer: you only care about me; the Trail is only a path, just like life.
So if any of you lost money betting on me completing the Trail as a thru hike, I’ll be glad to pay the debt. As far as I know, only one person bet against me and they’ve got to live with that, not me. I’ve got yet another adventure in my treasure chest with more to come. My plan is now to wait a few weeks then skip over the rest of Southern California and bounce to Kennedy Meadows where I’m hoping friends can join me to Whitney. At Whitney I’ll pick up Paul Blanchard and we’ll laugh and suffer through the lion’s share of the John Muir Trail. Then maybe I’ll meet up with Brother Frank and David at Reds Meadow and hike to Tuolumne Meadows. In late July, I get to join Lou and Heather and “Team Donnels” for walking and fishing and eating “Reno Fried Chicken”, the only fried chicken I’ll ever eat again. Come the end of Summer, Jon Mark Stewart, aka: Bushrat, will join me for two weeks and then I’ll be home again. Somehow I don’t think that my next departure will be as painful as this last one. I don’t think any separation short of death could be as painful as that. I guess Jac and I have both learned a little bit more about each other, learned that we can let go and learned that we can come home without excuses. How lucky am I?
And so, “Part One” is over – photos to follow. “Part Two” has yet to begin.