Four weeks ago, I stood on a plane with a single task. All I had to do was step onto the platform outside. I looked down and immediately moved my right foot onto the platform. Okay, no problem. Then I spent the next several seconds staring at my left foot and willing it to move. I couldn’t. It wouldn’t move. I tried and honestly just could not make it happen. So I stood there halfway out of a flying plane feeling like a failure. Then the tandem instructor grabbed my leg and pushed us out. Haha, it was awesome. I skydived through a glory, a circular rainbow on top of a cloud. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve never laughed so hard in my entire life. Sure, part of it was to keep from crying, but also because of the absolute freedom that comes with trusting the universe to take care of you. I couldn’t bring myself to step out of the plane but everything after that was out of my control. I trusted my tandem partner, the equipment, the weather, and the people above and below us. It was incredible. I accepted there was nothing I could do at that point and let my fear melt into the sky. Sometimes a girl just needs a little push.
Three weeks before that, I was hiking from Grayson Highlands south into Damascus, VA for Trail Days. I did my first 20-mile day in two years. It was amazing. It was hot, my water filter broke, a pony tried to eat my phone, I kicked a rock barefoot, and stabbed my toe with a trekking pole. It was kind of a disaster, actually. I miss it so much. I strolled along a wildflower scattered trail and suddenly recognized it as the section I hiked on Mother’s Day in 2015. I remembered I didn’t have cell reception the entire day and cried a lot but just like now it was covered in flowers—rhododendrons, mountain laurels, lady slippers, wild columbines. At the end of the day, I finally got enough reception to receive a text from my son that simply read, “If you saw any flowers today they were from me.” I cried a lot. As I hiked along the trail this time and I remembered that day, I got distracted and I completely ate it. I laid there on my side on the trail and then I also remembered that my son still loves me. Missing Mother’s Day when he was 16 wasn’t the end of the world for him. Missing him going off to college in Florida this year because I’m on the PCT won’t be the end of the world for him. He’ll still love me and I’ll still love myself. Sometimes a girl just needs a little push.
I spent the rest of Trail Days considering the validity of that statement. Do I love myself? Every day that goes by that separates me from the day I finished the Appalachian Trail chips away a little piece of me. I lose a little bit of myself and I don’t know how to get it back. I am no longer that fearless and lovingly wild woman that stood on top of Baldpate Mountain by herself howling back at the wind on my last day of my thru-hike. The A.T. was physically hard. It made me stronger than I’ve ever been but mentally it was the opposite. It made me warmer, softer, more caring. I need that back. Now, I snap at co-workers. I shrug at my family. My indifference is heartbreaking. Being around my trail family and meeting new trail friends gave me just a little bit of Cyndi Loppers back. Since then, I’ve gone hiking more. I’ve gone swimming more. I’ve been exploring in Austin on foot. I’ve watched wild baby manatees snuggle their mothers for hours. I’ve sloshed through thunderstorms. I’ve fallen through rainbows. My life was meant to be lived outside. The more I’m outside, the kinder it makes me when I’m stuck inside. Sometimes a girl just needs a little push.
When I was at Trail Days, my cat had surgery to give him some more time but it didn’t help. This week, he threw a clot while he was on the couch with me and we had to rush him to the vet. We made the impossibly hard decision to let him go. Our last cat died while I was on the Lone Star Trail and I made the choice when this one was diagnosed with lung cancer not to do the PCT. I didn’t want to leave my husband alone at home to deal with that again. These cats were his best friends and there is no comfort I can give him except that it’s over and they aren’t suffering anymore. His death does in no way give me relief but it does begin to alleviate the guilt of having my husband watch him slowly die over months while I play in the woods. Sometimes a girl just needs a little push.
Now, I have no excuses to hide behind. I have nothing holding me back and it terrifies me. What if I can’t make my feet move again? I have the rest of today to pack all my gear and organize my maildrops. I had longer but I put everything off until the last minute. My permits are in order and the logistics of getting there are worked out but I still have a lot to do. I’m flying out tomorrow to thru-hike the John Muir Trail with a friend and then heading straight from there to Washington to southbound the PCT. I still need a ride from Seattle to Harts Pass but I’ll figure that out soon hopefully. I am finally letting myself get excited. The excitement is slowly starting to overshadow the fear and doubt and it feels good. It’s time for me to jump instead of getting pushed. See ya next week from the JMT!