I'd read the section in my guidebook about the trail's history the winter before, but it wasn't until now—a couple of miles out of Burney Falls, as I walked in my flimsy sandals in the early evening heat—that the realization of what that story meant picked up force and hit me squarely in the chest: preposterous as it was, when Catherine Montgomery and Clinton Clarke and Warren Rogers and the hundreds of others who'd created the PCT had imagined the people who would walk that high trail that wound down the heights of our western mountains, they'd been imagining me. It didn't matter that everything from my cheap knockoff sandals to my high-tech-by-1995-standards boots and backpack would have been foreign to them, because what mattered was utterly timeless. It was the thing that compelled them to fight for the trail against all the odds, and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days. It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way. That's what Montgomery knew, I supposed. And what Clarke knew and Rogers and what thousands of people who preceded and followed them knew. It was what I knew before I even really did, before I could have known how truly hard and glorious the PCT would be, how profoundly the trail would both shatter and shelter me.
And so, despite the complex web of paths, waterfalls, cliffs, as a hiker wanders downhill, drainages merge, faint, abstract paths coalesce, thicken, until there is one path – the one, natural, trodden way.
I was passive by nature. I had always been. Arguing felt unnatural and uncomfortable. I was always agreeing even when I didn’t really, instinctively looking for ways to forfeit power, to become more dependent, to be taken care of. I realized how intensely Icecap reminded me of Jacob. They were similar, both diligent and harsh in their judgments—and my big brother’s sureness had always comforted me.But as I ran on sore legs to keep up with Icecap, my tendency toward silence stressed me.
In a world where we seem to be beset by a trend towards 'manualising treatment modalities' the person-centred approach stands and says NO, that is not the way forward.
I knew with certainty now—I could say no, and he would stop. Above all, I felt the fierce beauty of the choice. I knew now what it was that had held me from falling into my desire to be with him fully: I first needed to make sure he was a man who would respect my 'No.
If I couldn't find the trail before dark, I could wake tomorrow disoriented and desperate, without having even made any new miles; my loss of the PCT should have distressed me, but a new instinct led me forward. In this moment of despair I was refusing to stop fighting. I asked the mountains for some guidance, the strength to get myself out of here, and pulled wild power from within myself I'd never known I'd had.I was no longer following a trail.I was learning to follow myself.
My mother overstated the dangers of the world – invented threats. And so I saw: Starbursts’ hoof-made gelatin never gave me mad cow. Mad cow was not a threat to me. And so I thought: most risks weren’t truly real.
Though I was starved for contact, I didn’t stop to talk to any of these strangers. I had forgotten how to convincingly speak the polite things strangers say to each other.