Do you still choose to hike to Canada?

September 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Mt Shasta to Seiad Valley – 156 miles 9 days Total: 1662 miles 114 days + 16 zero days

I wasn’t quite right in my last post. We weren’t ready to keep on yet. We had checked out of the motel that morning, our town to-do list was fully ticked off, we were having an early dinner and the plan was to get back to the trail that evening. It was already 5pm and by the time we got a ride it would be too late to hike very far. Our reason was telling us to get back to the trail anyway so we could get an early start the next day and do most of the climb in the coolest hours but the idea of another movie night and of sleeping once more with one of those plump motel pillows was really tempting. We were debating what to do, hesitating, no one dared to take a final decision when, to help make a choice, so we wouldn’t be afraid to voice our opinion, Isabelle suggested we wrote on pieces of paper what we really wanted to do. And that was it! “You know what I REALLY want. I want to stay.” I said. So did Busted Magic. I turned to Isabelle: “And you, what do you REALLY want?” “I want to stay too!” So that’s what we did!

“Hang on past 1500 miles and it’ll get better.” a PCT thru-hiker friend of Busted Magic had told her. We hung on and indeed it got better! The last sections were beautiful. We hiked mainly along ridges and got great views of the rocks of Castle Crags, Mt Shasta, yet from another angle as the PCT skirts it, and we could even still distinguish Lassen Peak in the distance. The Trinity Alps, the Russian Wilderness and the Marble Mountains were gorgeous. We also had some encounters that comforted us and boosted our confidence. First, Marie, who helps hikers in Seattle and who was section hiking with her husband, reassured us that it’s possible to finish end of October, hikers have already done it. Another section hiker bowed down on one knee in front of us because we went through the Sierras with all the snow. And it wasn’t just anybody, that section hiker was no less than Strider, the head of kick-off! However, we couldn’t help noticing that him and his friend, who thru-hiked a couple of years ago, were both wearing knee braces. A thru-hike memory?

We got the fastest ride ever going into Etna. As soon as we arrived at the trailhead, we heard a car coming, we ran to the road (it’s a road known to have little traffic) and put our thumbs up. The car stopped and we got picked up by two gold miners. That’s one of the things I love about the trail. You get rides from the most random people and you get to places you would never go to otherwise – under freeways, in small towns like Sierra City, Belden, Etna… From Etna we rode back to the trail in the back of a pick-up truck. We swore never again. The three of us were sick and had to concentrate not to vomit.

“A thru-hiker is a slave to daily mileage.” a hiker wrote in the PCT register in Etna. Miles do become an obsession. You have a high number of miles to do in a limited number of days. If you choose to hike it all the way, there’s no escaping counting the miles. Which leads to the question I’ve been asking myself lately as there has been days when I have felt stressed to do the miles and there has been nice places we couldn’t stop in for a day as we’re running out of time: “Do you still choose to hike to Canada?”

Is this the Pacific Crest Trail you want? Wasn’t the reason you undertook this trip: to take the time? It’s not the destination but the journey that matters. It’s with a reasoning along these lines that you were able to take a decision about the PhD. What do you make of this saying now? You learn a lot from identifying your limits and pushing them further but how far is too far? When does it stop to be worth it?

A section hiker told us we were his heroes, another said we are royalties among hikers. You can often sense a feeling of superiority among thru-hikers. And I’ll admit I have sometimes thought that we were better because what we do is harder. But now I think we’re nuts and section hikers are clever, they do it the smart way. My next backpacking trip will be a 5-days hike that I’ll take 10 days to complete. There is truth in what our dad said: “Sometimes it takes more courage to stop than to keep going no matter what.”

But despite all this, yes, I still choose to hike to Canada. I can’t explain it, I don’t understand it myself but Canada is calling and I feel compelled to answer. It’s the goal we set ourselves. We’ve given too much already not to agree to the little sacrifice required to make it to Canada. We hurt and it’s tough – to give you an idea how tough I’ll quote Isabelle: “Once I’ll have thru-hiked the PCT, I think I’ll be ready to give birth.” – but overall we’re still having an amazing time. We get our kicks from days when we go for the sport, the speed, when we push our bodies as well as from days when we stroll leisurely. It’s just a matter of finding the balance between the two. But again it’s such madness, what pushes you to hike to Canada, whatever that is, feels so strong that you expect something big to explain it and all the reasons you find don’t seem enough. Once more let’s live the question!

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