(1) Where are you from?
Santa Barbara, California
(2) What day did you start?
(3) What day did you finish?
(4) Do you have a trail name?
(5) If so, where did it come from?
The night before I got into Big Bear, I was lying in my tent thinking about what my contribution to the trail could be. I wanted to give something back after being so filled up from what the trail was giving me. I immediately thought of poetry which plays a huge part in my spiritual practice. I decided I would start writing poems in the hiker logs in the hope that other hikers, upon reading a poem, would remember to pause, come back to the magnificent rawness of the present moment, and be grateful. That is what poetry does for me. The next day I came upon a small cache of trail magic: just some instant coffee, candy, and a hiker log. Seeing the notebook, I decided to start my new tradition right then and there, and wrote down a Rumi poem I had memorized. The poem is called “Today Like Every Other Day” and is about gratitude in all forms. Right after the cache, the trail forked, one side being the PCT, and the other a side trail leading up to Coon Cabin. The cabin is an abandoned boy scout cabin from the 1920’s and is all boarded up and graffitied on. I looked through the window and saw that it was completely empty except for a wooden bench in front of the fireplace. On the bench was a book. I needed to know what it was. I went around back and found a way in. The book was “The Essential Rumi,” translated by Coleman Barks, and had the poem I had just written inside. I laughed, raised my hands, and said “okay, Rumi it is.”
(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?
I dreamed of my family, being held by the people that love me, and fresh veggies. I learned pretty quickly how to feel what I was going through and also remove myself from the immediate turmoil of it. Then, when the loneliness hit, I was able to feel the immensity of it, let the weight run waterfalls down my cheeks, and then scoop myself into my own arms and hold myself the way I would a lover or a baby. That doesn’t mean it hurt any less, but it allowed me to see the beauty in my own cracked-openness.
(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?
Being on the earth for that period of time is in itself miraculous. The quiet, time with the trees, time with myself, and time in that much beauty, feel like tiny yet radical miracles in our fast paced and constantly moving world. I had this moment in the desert where I got to camp early and just sat on a rock for hours. My perch was on the top of a precipice that looked out over what felt like infinite earth as the golden hour turned to sunset and then to dusk. It was magnificent. I realized later that what felt so special was that the vastness I saw before me was mirrored in my body. That the feeling in my chest and head was total quiet, and through that quiet: peace. I started crying when I realized this because to feel so whole, so part of the landscape, and so at home on the earth, felt like a miracle, and also the most natural thing in the world.
(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?
Probably the most scared I have ever been was a night coming out of Yosemite National Park. I camped by myself next to a water source after a twenty-seven mile day through mosquito hell. After I set up camp I noticed a Forest Service “no camping” sign pinned to one of the trees. The site had been marked on Guthook (the online map most thru-hikers use), so I didn’t think too much about it. But as night fell and my reptilian brain took over, I started playing out worst-case scenarios in my head, fearing that if anything happened there wouldn’t be any hikers around to hear me scream. I finally slowed my heartrate down enough to fall asleep but was woken up a few hours later to the impact of an animal's body colliding with my tent. The tent collapsed under its weight so I was jerked out of a dead sleep to the sensation of its body hitting mine from the top of my head down to my hip. It felt like something the size of a german shepard and the impact hurt. In retrospect, I’m sure that whatever it was was more scared than me, but at the time, I lay frozen in my tent with my heart leaping out of my chest, sure that each twig breaking was the sound of the animal coming back. While I would like to say that I overcame my inflated fear of something trying to mess with me at night, the truth is that even at the end of my six month trek, I still had nights where I’d wake up with my heart pounding. I got better at managing this fear, but I didn’t overcome it. I’m not sure yet if I even need to.
(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?
In a way, no. Before the trail I was trying to lead a fully awake life - trying to remain present, connected, and grateful amidst the chaos of day to day life. That is what I tried to do on trail as well, and what I continue to do now that I am done. What changed in the muscle memory of what that looks like, something I got such a huge dose of while I was out there, and something I am so grateful for. My hope is that as I return to my work in the world, I can call on that feeling of deep peace within myself, and deep connectedness to the earth, when I feel ungrounded or when the weight of the injustice occurring threatens to crush me. My hope is that I can get up and try again tomorrow, just like I did every day on the trail: one foot in front of the other.
(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?
I miss how unguarded people are. In the wilderness people are vulnerable and stripped down. They don’t have their armor - no makeup or phones to hide behind. It’s so juicy because we also need each other out there to remain sane. I love how willing this made people to connect with each other. So often I would meet someone and immediately the conversation would deep dive away from chit chat, into deep and vulnerable dialogue about fears, curiosities, intentions, and beauty. That is what I live for, so I was in heaven.
(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?
I think I was most afraid of getting sucked into other peoples hike. It’s funny because the most common hiker cliche is to “hike your own hike” but it really is true. It’s so easy to get caught up in the miles game, comparing pack weights, or getting lost in other people's reasons for hiking. It took a lot of intention on my part to resist falling into this, to take time off from the trail when I needed to, be continuously checking in with myself, and staying true to what success for me looked like. This meant seeing as many sunrises and sunsets as I could, jumping in to every lake possible, always saying yes to new conversations and connections, and saying no when I needed to. Some days this was easier than other, but I always tried to come back to this intention.
I was also afraid of taking six months off when the state of affairs in the U.S. and abroad is so dire. I think I was afraid that doing so would look selfish when so many other people can’t afford to take time off. For me, hiking the PCT was in many ways the most radical act of self love I could have ever given myself, but I’m also not blind in realizing what an immense privilege it is to have the time, skills, resources, and bodily safety required to take something like this on.
(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?
I’m afraid that I won’t be able to tell my story. I’m afraid that the ripple effects of my journey will only be in the future of my life and not in the lives of those around me. When I envisioned reintegration from the trail, I thought a lot of it would be learning how to share my story with my community, so that others could grow from the experience too. But now that I am back, the celebrity of doing so makes me uncomfortable, and I’ve been overwhelmed by trying to explain the complexity, hardship, and magnificence of what I went through in a few sexy sentences. It feels so much bigger than words can explain. But along with this, there is an accompanying sense of loneliness, because only other thru-hikers could begin to understand. So instead I’m just trying to find peace with where I am at, and trust that even if my journey only informs my life (in the myriad of ways I know it will), it will still be enough.
(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?
With life on the trail there is this shared commonality around the PCT. I noticed this especially in the rural towns we passed through, where trail angels went so out of their way to help PCT hikers. Most of the townspeople had really different politics than me, but instead of that being the divisive point (which happens so often in our bubble communities on the West Coast), what came through instead was the incredible generosity these people had - opening up their homes, cooking a meal, or offering a ride, and often when they had minimal means to do so. Getting to know these people and getting to connect over kindness and a shared love of the surrounding landscape, instead of focusing on our differences, was incredibly hopeful for me in our current political climate, and felt like one of those rare instances of bridge building that we talk of so often but have little opportunity for. It is something I hope to foster more of off trail.
(14) Would you like to add anything else?
Being on the trail is such a privilege. I think it is really important to acknowledge who gets to endeavor feats like the PCT, because the roughly $4,000 cost, time off from work, and general wilderness savviness it takes (which most people’s upbringing don’t expose them too), means that the entry barrier is far too high for most people, especially underprivileged communities. What I am excited about is democratizing the outdoors and making it more accesible to LGBTQ, undoctumented, low income, and indigenous and POC communities, or in other words, the people who could benefit most from the healing and empowerment opportunities the wilderness has to offer.