The Book of Tea, 1906Kakuzõ Okakura,
We could not have walked 1,604 miles (2,581 km) without embracing this journey with commitment, gusto, and determination. Or shared such wonderful moments without trusting and supporting one another when we needed it most.
Shepherd’s enthusiasm and commitment to show other diabetics they can realise their dreams was infectious. What we accomplished was a resounding success.
The phrase, ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey’ sums up our entire PCT experience. I signed up for a challenge, determined to see majestic scenery and wildlife and the PCT delivered.
What I hadn’t foreseen was its more important message for humans to act with kindness and courtesy towards one another. I saw this with Shepherd, our fellow thru-hikers, trail angels, shop owners, hoteliers, postal workers, rangers, Uber drivers, and the myriad general town folk we interacted with along the way. It took getting away from civilisation to realise civilisation is key to our survival.
Shepherd and I defied the odds. We were a formidable team, covering vast distances under trying conditions with many logistical challenges. Our mutual love of the wilderness gave us so many magnificent moments to share and enjoy. I’m convinced I would not have lasted as long as I did without Shepherd’s company and leadership.
She taught me lots of other things–how to tie a knot, fix the corrosion on my iPhone USB charging cable, and re-thread a guy line on my tent. And how to download a Spotify playlist of my favourite songs, order a replacement trekking pole, use a smart TV remote, and light my stove when other methods had failed. She put her earlier scout training and IT knowledge to expert use.
Me. What are my skills? Logistics. The harder they are, the more engaged I become. It took dogged persistence and determination to make sure the PCT didn’t break us. Working out where to send bounce boxes and food resupply, and getting there before the USPS Post Office closed, was crucial to avoiding extra zero days. And despite my inexperience in the great outdoors, I had a well-stocked repair kit.
I was nimble on my feet. I loved balancing on logs submerged in fast-flowing streams and walking on snow. Admittedly, I spent as much time off my feet, slipping and sliding everywhere.
Still, we weren’t wusses. We brushed the dirt off without fuss, righted ourselves when we fell, and soldiered on. No point whining. As an Aussie, I may have been less stoic than my British walking buddy. This is part of the reason Shepherd’s decision upset me so much in the end. I thought she could continue because she never complained. I waxed lyrical in minute detail on what was happening to my feet. Shepherd didn’t, so I assumed she wasn’t hurting. Had I known the truth; she did a fabulous job getting as far as she did.
We were both exhausted. We had pushed our feet beyond their limit. They had become swollen and numb. For me, numbness persists to this day. They took an almighty pounding.
We began questioning our determination to continue when every mountain pass became steeper and more difficult to traverse. A magnificent vista each time, but why continue if we couldn’t complete the whole trail? It was bittersweet for me, walking off the trail when we did. Incompletion isn’t part of my vocabulary. Never give up, a constant chant. But the time was right, even if it was two weeks short of our departure date home.
Gave us time for a holiday in San Francisco and Los Angeles; time to pick up one last resupply box in Lone Pine; time to readjust to societal norms (no more peeing outdoors wherever we liked); time for one last argument; one last celebratory burger and a final glance at a stranger-come-friend.
On our last day together, I went shopping alone. I had companionably lived with Helen for five months. We knew each other better than our best friends, but enough was enough. What kept us focused on the trail no longer existed. It was time to go home to our loved ones and resume our normal lives.
The PCTA approved 5,441 PCT Permits in 2019. 16.9% finished. Some hikers quit before their start date, others within 24 hours, and there were the Double Ds at mile 1,604. Two diabetic women proved a chronic disease shouldn’t limit your ability to follow your dreams. We suffered every complication diabetes can throw at you, but we managed our condition and came out of the experience healthy and happy.
We conducted ourselves as responsible ambassadors for Diabetes Australia and Diabetes UK and raised significant funds for continued research into better therapies and a cure. I know neither of us would hesitate to hike again in a heartbeat. But will we return to the PCT together or go elsewhere? I hope there will be more awesome hiking adventures ahead.