The next morning, still at Tuolomne Campground in Yosemite National Park, I couldn’t get out of my tent. I heard hikers all around me moving about and politely whispering so as not to wake the people still sleeping in their tents, but at 7 in the morning, the chatter gradually began to increase until I knew it was time to get up. But I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength to get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, pack up, and go asking around for rides. I didn’t want to face anyone. I was so sad that I was going home and disappointed in myself that I felt too ashamed too face anyone. I wanted to continue hiking so badly, to do bigger and bigger mileage days until I made up for the 2.5 weeks off trail, to not skip another section, to get stronger and stronger, to complete my thru-hike of the PCT, and here I was, dejectedly going home. I wanted to cry. And so I tucked my knees beneath my chin and cried. Then I pulled myself together, told myself I deserved ice cream and hot coffee that did not come from an instant packet, and promised myself that I’d feel better if I got up and gave myself these things.
I went to the campground store and sat at the picnic tables outside amidst other hikers. But I did not feel like one of them anymore and I didn’t socialize with them. Besides, I didn’t know any of them. All of these people started nearly a month after me. I’d never even seen any of them before. I pulled out pen and paper and wrote my little sister a letter. Writing always made me feel better, especially when I’m addressing it to someone, and even more so when it’s directed toward someone I feel comfortable venting to. I wrote for hours. I bought coffee and terrible-tasting breakfast potatoes. I saved the ice cream as a reward for later, for when I managed to get myself out of my dark mood (although, in hindsight, maybe the ice cream would have gotten me out of my terrible mood earlier).
I talked to a few people eating breakfast and waiting for the shuttle and admitted that I was a defeated hiker heading home; I also asked everyone with cars if they were headed north that day or the next. No one was, but everyone was very apologetic about it. At least they were kind. I felt a little better. I went to get ice cream, but they’d run out the past hour. I resorted to a common hiker snack from my pack–Belvita crackers. A family came up and asked if they could sit at my table. We made small talk, and I shared about my injury and my unwillingness but need to go home. One of them happened to be a doctor, and I told him I actually no longer believed it was my tailbone that was the problem, but some other bone in the pelvic region. I explained how the pain was more focused on the left side of my upper back and was more pronounced when I stepped onto my left leg. He said he thought it was an inflamed (sacral?) joint, which would take a much longer time to heal than a tailbone. I didn’t want to hear that at the moment, so I changed the topic.
I heard a hiker at a nearby table say something about getting off trail and going home to San Diego. I was on the way home for him! My parents live in Los Angeles and that is where I planned to recover before I attempted regular life again. I debated between getting up and feeling pain or remaining sitting comfortably and missing an opportunity. I realized that I’d felt worse pain and told myself not to be so ridiculous about it and stood up and walked over to the group of hikers at the table to ask. Too late. There was a hiker who was indeed driving to San Diego, and he’s apparently “really cool” and would most definitely have taken me to LA, but he had just left. “Maybe you’ll get lucky again!” they called out as I walked away.
I slumped back onto my wooden bench. I resumed writing. A sweet elderly couple who was hiking the side trails in Yosemite struck up a conversation with me over my writing a letter and wished they were headed my way. I found out they were taking a bus to Mammoth, from where I could find transportation to LA much more easily, so I told them I’d be taking the bus down with them. My morning had been difficult and I still hadn’t brushed my teeth or packed up, so I walked back to the campground to do so.
Bending down hurt, so I took my time, moving slowly. I eventually decided to take a break and crawled in my tent and, instantly, feelings of weakness and frustration and defeat flooded me and soon overcame me. I bit my lip and tried not to let the pooling tears go beyond the rims of my eyelids again. A man walked up to my tent and asked if he could camp near me since most of the campground was full. I said, “Sure.” He left and the tears started pouring uncontrollably. I turned on music on my phone to block out my muffled sobs as he came back carrying camping gear from his car. He left for more gear, and I began to feel pathetic, sitting there crying in my hot tent in the middle of a nice summer day in a beautiful place. But I tried to be good to myself. I reminded myself that Rosco, my fellow hiker from my first trail family, with whom I told you I had lunch the previous day, had told me that he’s had many bad days on the trail (every 3 days or so) and that he’s been mentally processing a lot and that it’s okay for grown men to cry in the woods. “It’s okay that I needed to cry,” I said to myself. “I’m grieving the loss of a great adventure, a lifestyle that was supposed to be mine for 6 whole months, an accomplishment like no other.”
He came back just as I finished taking apart my tent and packed it away. I told him he could have my spot since I was injured and was getting off the trail to go recover with family in Southern CA. “San Diego?” he asked. “No, Los Angeles,” I answered. “Well, I’m going to San Diego tomorrow if you want to come.”
And then I was unpacking and setting up my tent once again, like a silly fool.
We had a campfire and I allowed myself to spend money I didn’t have on salami, cheese and crackers to entertain and show my gratitude (the Russian in me needs to feed everyone I am fond of/am grateful to/feel indebted to), none of which he ate. We stayed up talking about his wife and kids, most of them older than me, and then I was invited to go fishing with him the next day, which sounded much better than sitting around the campground waiting.
I hiked four miles north and four miles back on the same part of the trail I had just hiked fourteen miles north, turned around, and did fourteen miles back. (The same four miles were hiked four times!) I experienced minimal pain, but this was without a pack on, mind you. Everything was back at the campground except for my beloved Sawyer filter and uneaten salami, cheese, and crackers. These I snacked on while he fished. I lost sight of him at one point throughout the day (I’d closed my eyes and sunbathed for a while) and walked down the river for two miles searching for him, asking anyone if they’d seen him, etc. No one had. It’s like he had vanished.
I hiked back to the campsite and found his things gone. I assume that he waded up the river as I hiked up in the same direction but along the trail, where occasionally, I lost sight of the river, and that, at some point, he turned around and headed back while I continued going up in search of him. Eventually, by the time I hiked south, he had been at the campsite for some time, and decided not to wait for me and began his drive home.
And so my search for a ride home resumed.
Note: This is an old entry from a journal I kept while hiking the PCT in 2016. I am no longer on the PCT and had to get off of the trail due to my injury in late July. I wanted to share with you my last few days on the trail and explain how difficult of a decision it was to go home.
Good to hear from you again. I was recently wondering if you were hiking the PCT this year. I traveled all over Vietnam in 1997 and had an amazing time. I would love to go back there to see how much it has changed in 20 years. Good luck in whatever you do. – John
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I couldn’t, as my injury took a little over an entire year to heal! It was about a month into the hiking season that it finally stopped bothering me, and by then, it was too late to plan. I’d also been struggling financially a bit since, and haven’t managed to take care of my debts from my hike last year. It would be unwise to head out there again and acquire more debt.
I also am considering moving to Vietnam for a season end of this year/early next year! What did you love about it?
Thanks for sharing. My son and I are part of the class of 2013 and it brings me to tears just reading your blog. Take care and have heart. Considering your injury you did the right thing. ~Stagecoach
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I know I did because, while off trail and taking it easy, it took a year to heal! Imagine I had tried to push on and hurt myself even more… the healing process might have been incredible longer, or the damage might have been permanent. I know know that I definitely did the right thing for my body, and it’s thanking me now. 🙂
I’m glad that you and your son have had the opportunity to experience the PCT. Those bittersweet memories will be a part of you forever. ❤
I have high respect for you to share your thoughts during those incredibly hard days for you. We know that everyone has his own reasons to hike the PCT, some, including me were looking for the reason. I always struggle being myself and not how people want me to be and for me, hiking mosty by myself helped me to be more myself.
Also, now looking back to that time.. I realized that it is not only really the time on the trail that changed me, it is mostly the time after the trail and how I continue, with those experience i have made and what I have learned.
I don’t know why you decided to share this now but you probably still needed that time after the trail to do so. I thank you for that, because I still struggle to share and talk about my deep thoughts and feelings but seeing the courage of others gives me also some to really be open.
I wish you all the best!
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I took so much time (an entire year, actually) to share this, because I needed to get to a place where I could think about my memories on the PCT and not feel swallowed up by feelings of loss and disappointment. I longed for the PCT fiercely, and I had to get over some post trail blues. Now I’m ready to share it all, as bittersweet as it is, without tears welling up in my eyes.
And I knew some of my reasons before I even set foot on the trail. Others, I discovered while out there.
For instance, in 2015, I hiked for 1 month in order to do something that I was extremely afraid of so that I could come home and conquer one of my biggest fears. I was in an abusive marriage but was afraid of being alone. Once I handled being alone in the woods and actually learned to enjoy it, signing the divorce papers and packing up and moving out and starting all over was a much easier process. I obtained the strength and courage to do so while hiking the PCT.
The next year, when I hiked for 3.5 months, I had other reasons, such as character traits that I did not like in myself, possibly stemming from my divorce. I was afraid of love (and the consequent falling out of love that sometimes occurs). Well, I fell in love on trail that year and was cured of that fear instantly! And when I had to say “goodbye” and walk away from it, I realized that the pain was worth it. It’s funny to think that you can go hiking to rid yourself of something like a fear of love, but it is true. Out there, you have so much time for reflection and contemplation, and I was able to assess my fears and figure out where they stem from and how to defeat them because of solitude, and as a result, time for introspection. I also learned so much about myself–such as that I still sometimes allowed people to manipulate me (some people on trail tried to convince me to hike with them by emotionally manipulating me; telling me how depressed they’ll be if I leave their side, etc.), and I realized that it was taking away from my experience and healing out there and that I had to learn to say, “no,” even when it made me seem like the bad guy. It was such a relief to discover that I had the wisdom to assess that something is not good for me and the strength to walk away, especially because I was always bad at that.
And yes, I’m still learning so much from my time on trail. I love that you understand completely. Thank you!
Your an awesome gal you did more all ready than most people do in a lifetime. I am proud to have shared the trail with you. Mad Dog