Howdy folks. It is getting pretty exciting round these parts. I am leaving in a week. I am thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and really jazzed up and a little scared. One of my new hiking friends and i were talking a bit about fear/anxiety. I shared a thought with her. This is not my original concept, just something i have heard from many sources and that i draw strength from at times. Bravery and courage do not imply an absence of fear. To be brave, to act with courage, is to be afraid and to carry on despite your fear.
I am practicing with a few acts of bravery here in PA 🙂
The previously endless task list is no longer endless and all the big chunks are done. There are still a few things to tend to. If you are as “particular” as i am, there are always more things to do. All the resupply boxes are packed, addressed, and ready to ship out. I have a stockpile of backup food prepared in case i need to have my mail drop angel Liz adjust my portion sizes. I have two boxes of backup gear packaged and labeled for easy identification in case stuff breaks, wears out, or i want something else once i am out there doin’ it.
I filed and paid my taxes. I enrolled in a health insurance program. I got my booster shots both for regular USA life and for almost definite international business travel that will commence as soon as i return to everyday life after the hike (Tetanus and a Typhoid booster). My car is at the doctor’s office getting a new lung so that it will be ready for my folks to use in my absence.
I got some great tent repair tools from the maker of my new tent and have patched the hole i inadvertently made in the rainfly the second time i ever set up the tent. This kit includes a very lightweight device that will preclude the same kind of incident occurring again.
All of that necessary surface stuff aside – there have been some interesting emotional shifts and other reflections during this time of preparation. I look back at the years of drinking and smoking and continue to wonder how and why i lived that way at all, and for so long. There are so many great benefits for me in being sober and an ex-smoker. (I can never be a non-smoker. Even if i thought that it was possible for that title to apply to a former smoker, which i do not, Bill Hicks would crawl out of his grave, join Facebook, and become my friend – just so that he could unfriend me for applying that label to myself. No one wants that.) I will be 5 months smoke free on Friday, but i don’t really feel any different. That does not make me want to smoke again. I love not smelling terrible (or at least not terrible in THAT way). Many people have commented that it should be much easier to hike now. I don’t feel that. I don’t know if not enough time has passed, or if it has more to with me just having a very large lung capacity and staying active even when i was about 40 pounds overweight. I like not smoking. I like not spending the money i used to spend on cigarettes!
The not drinking has many more tangible, immediate, and longer term effects. One of the biggest things for me is that i am not depressed anymore. After living in a constant state of at least mild depression with several rather severe swings into deeper dark places – i have not even really been sad since i quit drinking, and it feels great. Aside from an initial few weeks of changing body chemistry, i sleep so well now. I fall asleep easier and actually sleep all through the night. What a great change that is. Having good sleep alone has probably helped reshape my attitude into the happy sunny guy you all know and love those days 😉 (Yes, i used to be even grumpier. Don’t you wish you knew me then?) I am still me, still have my own ticks, and tendencies, but i let more stuff go now. I am hanging on to less. I do still bottle things inside and am far more likely to channel emotions inside to try to understand and control them rather than just letting them run free – but i am doing it less.
A final thought to keep this “brief” and not spiral into a super lengthy introspective ramble – an unexpected correlation between long distance hiking and sober time. Many guide books offer the advice that if your goal is to thru hike a long distance trail like the PCT, you have to expect some changes out there due to fires, floods, landslides, mudslides, endangered species, and other factors. However you do choose to surmount these difficulties, the key is to walk a continuous foot path from start to finish. You don’t want to have to say, “i hiked the whole PCT, except for that bit near Idyllwild because of the …”. I understood this immediately, both what they were trying to say and why it might be important, particularly in your own memory and in talking with other hikers.
I quit drinking (this time) in January of 2013, just a few days after finding out that one of my dear friends and mentors who also struggled with depression and addiction killed himself by hanging. But on April 14th, 2014, the day i will start my thru hike attempt, i will be 6 months sober. That is because i chose to drink last October. It was something of an experiment. I didn’t go crazy or shirk my duties or anything – but i did drink for several days. I am glad i did it. If only to know that i don’t need to ever run that test again. I hated it. I was so very disappointed in myself for doing it. I had to make sure that i made a few public statements about it so that i would not have a bunch of my supportive friends trying to wish me a “happy one year sober” in January of 2014 that i did not earn. I don’t declare that i have been sober for a little over a year except for that little incident in October. That would sound and feel false and wrong to me. I don’t want to have a similar thing with my thru hike. I am not a purist in the sense of “every possible mile of the PCT must be walked”. There are several alternate routes that are not mandatory, they just take you to different sites and i am really excited about hiking those paths. For me, those alternates do not break my chain of thru hiking the PCT. Skipping sections in a car or something like that – something that does break the concept of walking a path all the way from Mexico to Canada – that would violate my personal goal. So, i get what they are saying and i am on board!
I am not judging the choices others make. That is their decision and their lives. You go out have the hike that you want to have. This one is mine.
PS – i keep meaning to write about music and m/ METAL m/ but i just have not had the time. And yes, those issues are timely and hike related! My new buddy Minda and i have a lot of common musical tastes, though as of yet, she has not found any Metal that works for her and we have been talking about metal. I wanted to write a bit about it and explain what it is about Metal that appeals to me. It may not be what you think…
Anywho – be well folks.
PPS – i have written about my dogs throughout this blog and i am sure i will again. With the anniversary of both of them passing – Guthrey at the end of March in 2004 and Lucas 03/30/2012 – my company getting really active in the MidEast again (which happened right after Guthrey died), and me going to hike in California again (i hiked the JMT a few months after Lucas passed) it has been on my mind. I miss my buddies every single day. No day is really harder than any other. But i am feeling it quite a bit right now.