I looked in the mirror this morning, pausing for the first time in a long time to see my 70 year-old self looking back at me. With the inevitable lines and wrinkles mapping out a life fully lived, gray-streaked hair which the pandemic’s lack of salon access has forced into my consciousness, the visible scars from cancer, and a knee replacement, the invisible scars from loss of beloved family, the ending of a much loved career, of my children growing up and moving deep into their own lives, of former loves that faded or sometimes turned into betrayals. It’s all there on my face, my body, my heart.
There are days that the young woman still lives inside me, but these days, she visits less and less. I hope I don’t forget her. She’s the one who experienced the fireworks of first love, the profound peace of a first starry night spent in the woods, the overwhelming feelings of love as I first held my newborns in my arms.
There aren’t many firsts anymore, but lucky for me the pleasures, although sometimes more muted, still exist. I have experienced the utter beauty of a sunny winter day high in the mountains, with all the trees covered in ice and snow, a lazy morning with time to cuddle in bed with my love or a grandchild in my arms, time spent romping with my grandkids who are still young enough to find joy in pillow fights and freeze tag—lucky me, to have all these magic moments. The sum of my choices has become my life, and I’m pretty happy with the wooded paths and uncharted roads these choices have led me through.
In a few days I’ll leave for California, and on April 3, Covid and damaged toe and ankle willing, I’ll start on the PCT (Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.) I alternate between list making, crazed trip preparation, and you-tube videos on how to not drown crossing swollen ice-cold Sierra streams, and what to do if a mountain lion seems interested in you (DON’T RUN!)
I’m cautiously excited, but I got all the way out to the PCT last year, then the trail was closed due to Covid. I understand it could happen again. Fingers crossed it won’t! I’ve been doing tons of reading and watching PCT-related safety videos (how to self arrest with an ice ax if you start falling down a mountain, how to avoid some of the most unfortunate hiker mishaps on the trail (more about poodle dog bush in a future posting–who ever even HEARD of poodle dog bush?) From the hiking books and PCT blogs I follow, I know people on the trail have A LOT of time to think in the quiet and aloneness of long-distance hiking. I’m scared to death every now and then–more of the answers I may come up with to some life changes and perplexing questions I hope to sort out as I walk, than of mountain streams or mountain lions. I’m feeling guilty, too, about being away from my far-flung family for so long, especially after the forced separation due to Covid this past year.
I recognize I’m only getting older, —I only have to see who is REALLY there looking back at me when I look in the mirror. It’s not the young me. If I don’t give the trail a try this year, I may not have a chance or the ability to try again. So, another day begins of list making, sorting trail food, repacking my backpack, and making decisions I’ll have to live with for 5-6 months. I’m a day closer and one COVID vaccine shot nearer to starting the trail, and the adventure continues!
PS: The attached photos of me are from the 16 years I’ve been hiking mountains. What a glorious way to live!
PPS: If you’re interested in seeing a map of the PCT, which starts at the Mexican/US border in Southern California and runs through the the entire states of California, Oregon and Washington, ending at the US/Canadian border (and who wouldn’t be interested?) click here: