Leaving Snoqualmie Pass I heard from some SoBo's about yet another alternate which led down to hot springs. Funny side note about the PCT, it seems as if there are hot springs lining the entire trail. Even back in SoCal it seemed people had been mentioning side trails which led to some. So if you ever find yourself hiking the PCT and are afraid of missing out on hot springs, don't worry there will be another right around the corner.
The SoBo's also mentioned the alternate cut off about 8 miles of the actual PCT and didn't have nearly the elevation change. For those reasons I decided not to take the alternate and was thrilled about my decision in the end as the next few days ended up being some of my favorite on trail. Difficult elevation profiles might look intimidating on paper but on the PCT it's usually associated with spectacular views. Also, the thing is, I love hiking. Or to be more honest, I love walking. And the part of walking I love best is walking up hills. Of course I have some off days on trail where I just don't feel like doing anything, but the truth is, the majority of the days out there were the happiest of my life. Getting to spend all day in an environment I love, while doing something I love, surrounded by phenomenal people; I learned to put the bad days in perspective. The physical pain my body went through, the sometimes not so perfect weather and the occasional difficult days couldn't wipe the permanent smile that had become part of my expression.
I remember one day in particular, back near South Lake Tahoe. Around that area are a ton of side trails and for whatever reason I kept getting off trail. This day, I accidentally took three different side trails which can really add up quickly, both in time and mileage. The last time I went off trail, I didn't figure it out until I was 1.5 miles in which meant I had to walk the 1.5 miles back too. After finally getting back to the PCT, the frustration level with myself was at 100 percent. A term hikers like to use is 'rage hiking' - hiking fueled by some event wherein all trail norms go out the window. And while rage hiking can be effective in mentally processing situations or getting to camp four hours early, this time I could feel myself getting more and more worked up. For once, it seemed walking had been the problem not the solution, so I sat down on a medium sized, ordinary, mundane rock.
As I sat, I let my mind wonder, and as I wondered I let the feelings pass. Eventually I questioned why I was frustrated in the first place. Didn't I love walking? Had that changed at some point? No, I thought to myself, I was angry about going the wrong way not for having walk a few extra miles. It's like asking for two scoops of ice cream and getting an extra scoop for free, who complains about that? No one, especially when then 'extra' your getting is something you love. My mixup meant I'd get to camp a little later than I expected, but I'd get there.
There are many reasons why hikers get off trail. Injury, fatigue, lack of enjoyment or perhaps the one I secretly envy most - because they found what they were looking for. In many ways my decision to do the PCT was a variation of this. Although I finished the AT, a complete journey in itself, for one reason or another, there was still something left to find. It might take two trails, a little longer than I expected, but I'd get there.
Eventually, while sitting on that rock, I started to laugh. An awesome, deep, uncontrollable laugh. That overused quote I thought "Life is a journey, not a destination." Emerson, right? Whether life is or is not about the journey, I reasoned, I'm not sure it matters to me because ultimately it's the part I love, and that in itself makes all the difference. Out here, deep beneath the 'philosophical journey' everybody is seeking, the less poetic physical journey entails walking. If I love the fundamentals of the journey, then when a layer of frustration is added- go back to fundamentals, I thought. Put one foot in front of the other, and let that always bring joy.
The few days after Snoqualmie Pass where I decided to take the PCT not the alternate, with breathtaking views and wild landscapes, were some of my favorite on trail. But they were just that- some of my favorite days. Others were the times I sat on medium sized, ordinary, mundane rocks and found the extraordinary.