You are currently viewing Epilogue

Kakuzõ Okakura, The Book of Tea, 1906

It is two years since I completed the Pacific Crest Trail, and the trail is in my thoughts every day. I sacrificed my job and future employment, but it gave me the chance to write about this incredible journey. If you are tempted to get up close to nature but still wish to discover the power of people, I thoroughly recommend the Pacific Crest Trail. Along with insulin and sugar, the PCT now courses through my veins.

If I hadn’t joined Shepherd in 2019, I may never have completed any part of the PCT. None of us expected the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and beyond; how it would take countless lives and thwart the plans of many future thru-hikers. I miss the hiker life, the simpler life, the communal feel to it: people accepting you, being kind, encouraging, and helping one other. I miss my constant companion. I desperately want to go back. There is unfinished business.

On one of our catchup calls, “Helen, come back with me, to the Sierra. Pretty, please? Who else will put up with me?”    

“Nah, Kit Kat. You’re on your own this time. Not feeling the love any more. I’ve got my border collie, Ruby, to look after now. Wouldn’t have got her if I hadn’t met Shiloh, her cousin, in Washington? I’m fulfilled. You go finish it. It’s still calling you.”

It is. The PCT changes you in ways you can’t imagine. No epiphanic moments for me, but I wasn’t searching for answers so much as seeking a challenging adventure and time away from my husband’s debilitating disease. Ageing, feeling my influence in society waning, and observing the physical changes associated with age were the impetus to embrace something outrageous.

I especially wanted to show others that chronic disease diagnoses can be positive news. You can still do amazing things. You’ll work hard to make it happen and plan for every contingency. Shepherd and I, the Double Ds, are the perfect example. We wanted a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we made it happen.

But Multiple Sclerosis’s presence in my life still lingers. Mike and I will walk no great distances together. His unsteady gait, is a constant reminder of the disease’s progression. To cope, I must escape to my happy place: the great outdoors, every once in a while.

Mike understands this yearning in me. I left him, lonely and alone in the company of well-loved movies. On my return to the marital bed, flickering light from his tablet constantly disrupts my sleep. I can’t complain about this new routine, among many. I was gone so long he’d purchased a whole new wardrobe in my absence.

“Multi-coloured jigsaw-patterned socks? Really?”

“Leave me for months on end. What d’you expect?”

I was as good as dead to him. Why should there be any collaborative decision-making if I was uncontactable? Only now do I see the selfishness of my hiking pursuits and what a gem of a husband I have. I wear a sleeping mask to hide the flickering light. It’s the least I can do.

I’m still bossy, annoying, impatient, and intolerant. My focus and stubbornness will always worry Mike. Where does she plan to go next? Who knows when we can travel freely again? For now, local bush walks within Australia must satisfy me.

If nothing eventuates, I have learned to be more self-compassionate. Longer and longer hikes do not define me; the journey does. I’ll accept the result in whatever shape it comes. And know success is of my making, not a measurement of attainment determined by society or individuals.

On a lighter note, I still fart copiously. If I must follow through, I am a big fan of squatting. I have never been more regular than when I was on the PCT. Constipation, I’m afraid, is the curse of a non-hiker.

I still wear Infinite Raspberry lipstick to boost my spirits. It’s ironic my preferred shade of lipstick should prove such a prophetic one. ‘Infinite’ means limitless; impossible to measure or calculate. Its name speaks of the opportunities for any woman prepared to challenge her place in this world. And you can wear lipstick anywhere if you choose. Or you can break from its societal shackles and discover the woman beneath the veneer. My ‘Nude Smokey Eye’ routine has gone. I prefer to be makeup-free. My hair has transitioned to grey. For vanity’s sake or my hairdresser’s insistence, I have succumbed to a few blonde highlights. Remember, ageing affects everybody. It’s important you feel comfortable with your appearance. It takes courage to accept and embrace the changes that come with natural ageing. Last but not least, I regained every pound of weight I lost. Bummer!

I contained post-hike depression, but the yearning to complete the trail or undertake another long-distance hike is never far from my thoughts. I walk my dog on tame suburban paths. He’ll never venture with me into the deep wilderness. Into the abyss where fighting to survive awakens the senses. Its meaning is something I’m still discovering. 

I still love hiking gear and I follow the PCT Facebook Groups to see how the next year’s PCT thru-hikers are managing. My heart goes out to the many PCT Classes who have put their hikes on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And why did I quote Kakuzõ Okakura’s, The Book of Tea, only? I couldn’t think of a better philosopher to describe the essence of each chapter. His quotations are also a fitting tribute to Rebecca Corbett, my No. 1 Trail Angel, whose fervour for the perfect cuppa even exceeds mine. Her study of the Japanese tea-making ceremony is far worthier of recognition than my ability to walk a few thousand miles. It’s my way of thanking Rebecca for making my PCT hike a reality. As simple as that. I pay my respects to a connoisseur of this delightful beverage. Served hot, of course.

I hope my PCT journey inspires you to hit the trail in the ensuing years, embrace nature, and discover the kindness and generosity of humankind. Give yourself permission to pursue your wildest dreams. Age and health issues are no barrier. The time has come. Go out there and live your life. The possibilities are infinite.  

Leave a Reply