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Day 118: Is This Real Life?

Posted by on September 3, 2015

August 26, 2015
Hwy 26 – Portland (2097.0) to Seasonal Stream before Timberline Trail Junction (2104.8)
7.8 PCT miles today
2150.7 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 1,165 ft, – 739 ft

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And just like that, we’re back here in our tent, listening to huge trees creak in the wind, and brushing our teeth by headlamp. The juxtaposition of life off trail with life on trail is sometimes more bizarre than I can explain. This morning we slept in and when we woke, we were wrapped in flannel sheets on a memory foam mattress. We made breakfast in the kitchen, brushed our teeth in the bathroom, and then used the computer to get a couple things done. It was a typical relaxing day at home…which made it anything but typical for Pickles and I. This afternoon, despite Shyam’s earnest attempts at keeping us around for one more day, we found ourselves once again on trail hiking north. We didn’t get going until 6pm, but the few hours of walking that we did get in felt distinctly different than all the other miles that we’ve logged in the past few weeks and months.

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While walking I was trying to put my finger on what had changed, and I realized that it had to do with the idea of “real life”. When you first start out on the PCT, you’re always referring back to your “real life” in the “real world”. The trail is an exciting break, but it is temporary and unique, and it doesn’t feel as “real” as having a job, living in a home, and driving around a car. But then something happens as the number of miles you hike gets up into the hundreds and then thousands. After being out here for weeks and then months on end, the trail slowly begins to feel more like real life than anything back home. At least this was my experience. It took this break in Portland, as much a home to me as anywhere else that I’ve lived, for me to realize that over the past month or so, my mind had really begun to think of the trail as my new norm. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone told me that hiking north was all I’d ever do, day in and day out, for the rest of my life. Cities, homes, beds, and cars were luxuries that I might enjoy in passing, but they weren’t a part of my life anymore. This wasn’t necessarily a positive or negative way to view the world, it was just what had happened after so many days away from society, hiking toward Canada.

But then I took this break in Portland, and my perspective seems to have been shaken once again. Coming back out here this evening, I feel like I’m doing something temporary. I feel like a visitor here on the trail, and my mind and heart are mostly back in a home with our friends. The “real world” is once again back in society, and the trail is an escape from that reality.

I suppose that this transition would have had to happen eventually, and the fact that it has happened now will probably make the next few weeks a little easier, since it won’t feel like I’m getting ready to leave the “real world” when I reach Canada, but rather to enter it. However, I can’t help but miss the part of me that had become so at home out here in the woods that I was ready to continue on like this forever.

This is probably only the beginning of quite a bit of reflection that I’ll do as our PCT adventure comes to a close and we prepare for life back home in society. We all know that both the trail and life at home are “real life” and I’m sure the real task will be balancing them both when I’m not doing something as intense as hiking across the country. For now, I’ll find peace in the fact that both versions of life, being on trail or off trail, bring me so much joy that they compete in my mind for dominance.

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2 Responses to Day 118: Is This Real Life?

  1. Claire Kennedy

    Awesome. Nice piece of writing, Rochelle, putting into words and sharing those intimate thoughts and feelings. Thank you.
    We in Berkeley are still following you! I have my daughters on board, either reading your posts or asking me how “my” PCT hikers are doing. Gosh you ‘re so close. Almost there! I’ll be thinking of you as we visit and hike east of Seattle this holiday weekend (looking at day hikes on the PCT at I-90 and Rt 2) Also watching fires, smoke and air quality …. take care. Claire

    • Rochelle

      Hi Claire, Thanks for those kind words…we’re happy to know your family is following along 🙂 We hope you had a nice weekend of hiking up here and that the weather wasn’t too inconvenient. Just 2 more weeks!!

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