I’ve been spending way too much time lately thinking/talking/writing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, especially since I doubt I will ever travel more than small pieces of it. There are many problems to deal with when hiking the length of the trail — food (two pounds a day is recommended), water (either too much in the high sierras, with swollen rivers and icy trails, or too little in the deserts), heavy packs, wind, ticks and other unfriendly insects — and I would prefer a trouble-free life.
Still, just thinking and researching the logistics of such an adventure are an escape from my life. In looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with a dysfunctional brother, I am always aware of others, either listening for signs of distress from my father or listening to my brother’s moans and cries without knowing if these sounds come from pain or are a way of manipulating me. When one is hiking alone, away from civilization, away from other hikers, even, one only has to listen to oneself, only has to fulfill one’s own needs. That idea is restful to me. One foot in front of another, nothing to think about, no one to worry about.
Even more that that, thinking about such an adventure is like working a puzzle, helping to keep my mind active and alert despite too much loss of sleep. I’ve even gone so far as to join a few Facebook groups, including a couple just for woman hikers. Lots of good information in those groups, lots of things to consider. Planning such a trip gives me a new way of looking at ways of life we take for granted. Modern plumbing, for example, has made basic body functions easy for us. But what if there isn’t a restroom for hundreds of miles? How does one keep clean? How does one remain infection-free?
Thinking about living an adventurous life (simply thinking about it, not living it) has also helped me past the last hurdle of grief, giving me something to concentrate on besides what I have lost. It’s been almost four years since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I have adjusted to life without him. In fact, sometimes I forget that I once had a different life, that once someone loved me. I don’t want to forget — I loved him deeply — but I can’t spend the rest of my life yearning for him, can’t be always looking to the past. Thinking about a life on foot makes me realize that, whether my life will be on my feet or on my behind, I do still have a life.
Throughout all these years of grief, I have been afraid of the future alone, afraid of becoming the crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course), afraid of settling somewhere and waiting for entropy to take its course. Thinking about other possibilities — hiking the PCT, walking to Seattle, car camping, going abroad and just winging it, taking a freighter to New Zealand — helps me realize that I don’t have to moulder. I can live. I can be adventurous. I can take chances. I can try new things. I can learn new things. I can become the sort of person who could hike the PCT if she so desires.
I don’t know what I want to do, and there’s no reason to make any plans since my stay here at my father’s house could continue for many more years. But I can prepare. In fact, tonight I will take a backpack on my Sierra Club walk (I walk with the club three nights a week) and fill it with a five pound weight. Five pounds is heavy! I cannot imagine trying to carry thirty pounds for any distance, but at least, this will be a start.
But a start of what? Maybe someday I’ll find out.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.