The misty fog weaved its way through the gnarled trees as the storm gave us a reprieve from the frigid rain. Although the hiking was cold, cold like a winter's stone, we were able to march along a wet trail and somehow find laughter in the storm. The Oregon high point came into view and the gray, heavy clouds blanketed the dank, yellow meadows. I found her at the sign post of the high point with her pants down. I shook my head with a huge grin on my face. I could see how much more hardened she had become. An hour or two ago, we hunkered down atop a hump of tree roots, the white pines towering above us providing rain protection. The YAMA Terraform tarp sheltered us from any more sinking cold and wetness. She said her hands were frozen. I kept quiet though I knew how cold the cold was, how it burrowed into your bones. Now she is posing humorously, oblivious to the cold. I thought how this day may be one of my favorites on trail.
We briskly hiked on in the rain trying to keep our generated heat alive. The storm was not a usual summer storm. The temperatures dipped down into the 40s and the rain just would not go away. We set up a damp camp at 5pm to sleep off the day and the storm. She laid down with the book Siddhartha and I stared under the tarp at the soggy pine cones. I memorized the setting from my lying position: the moss, the cones, the sticks, the bark, the mist. Time surprisingly went quickly and I would alternate sides to lay on. I frequently looked over at her and, at one point, I thought: If I could hang in a cramped environment with this woman for 15 freezing hours, then we can get through anything.
The thought of how different the same trail can be in different years floated through my mind. Earlier that soggy day, we filled up on water at Thielson Creek. Rain pelted our backs and the water tasted much colder than I thought it would. In 2011, I hiked from the Crater Lake lodge all-the-waterless-way to Thielson Creek only to find it frozen over with a 15ft snow field. I was there at the creek 3 years earlier but 2 weeks later in the summer. Yet as I ponder the differences of the trail I find that that does not matter. It is the difference, or I should say growth, in myself that matters the most. I again look over at her, curled up in her dry bag reading Siddhartha and I see all my experiences cumulative in her eyes. Within her almond brown eyes, I see growth.
Earlier in this thru-hike, I kept gauging my experience from my past thru-hike in 2011. The noticeable differences in water levels and the snow. Obviously, the snow. I trundled along the same footpath 3 years previous and though everything seemed so familiar things were different; I was different. I felt it unfair to let my past trail experience interfere with Bearclaw's first one, especially one that we are having together. Yet I couldn't escape the past of one where I felt it all began. I often thought: Why does one re-hike something they already know? Why does Lint, or Bink, keep doing what he does when there is other trails out there? What is the allure of doing something twice, or three times?
The rain comes down harder on the cuben fiber tarp. I take my gloves off and feel my sleeping bag. Our breaths are thick enough to condensate moisture on our sleeping bags. I lay down as close to the earth as possible to avoid any rubbing against the side walls of the tarp. My left hip becomes numb enough for me to turn away from her and avert my eyes back to the scene that I've committed to memory. The lime green moss, the burly, brown-black pine cones, the dank, rubbery sticks, the thick, gray and interwoven bark, the enveloping mist; every thing sinks down on us in our tight quarters. I turn back towards her, facing her, watching her eyes pace side-to-side in her book scanning the words of Hesse. I ask her: What word are you reading right now? She says, "and." I sneak a peek at a page and find the word 'emptiness.' A noun descriptively discreet, for the soggy air is suppressing, squeezing down upon us in our space yet we fill the 'emptiness' with each other, our spirits.
Often enough on trail she tells me that her trekking poles poke and jab at the slivers and talus of rock littered and strewn about on trail. That the rock detritus are remnants of past hikers' lives. The remnants are guilty memories, lies, problems, the dealings of our issues from our past. Sometimes they are good experiences, but mostly they are the coming to terms, an understanding, of events and of self of years and moments prior. The talus is like skin shaven and shed; with each step on trail we grow through erosion.
I hike to re-hike, to un-forget each and every trail I have ever hiked. And I hike to be with Bearclaw, which is a new path, a new trail of a constructed synergy pioneered by us. I had a dream the other night. I was following a trail using old photos from someone else's experience. The photos were the maps navigating the memories of one's being that remembered the trail from their eyes. I would look at the old photos, scoffed at the edges and the images blurred. The maps felt to be from the 1970s. I would hold them up in the landscape in front of me and see new growth of life, trees and shrubs, above a barely noticeable eroding land, creek beds and bluffs. Occasionally a map, or photo, would contain an image of a dog. Each one different and though they were missing from my 'now' landscape I could read the thread that held us all together through those images of the dog that led me forward along the path. In essence, I was never lost. The images told me a lot about the person who had once hiked this trail. The landscape told me a lot of the person, as well as the place. After all, amassed through each step we hike is a sense of place that connects us all interwoven in the metaphysical trail of existence.
Some places, or sections, on the PCT hold more value. Other sections create a block and my memory desists in creating an image I remember. I feel some sections charm there way into our personalities and make us more comfortable while some force us to deal with fears and a darkness hidden in the crevices of our being. I think that is why when I move through a particular area I say "I remember" or "there was" or I simply smile. I may feel calm, agitated, or warrior-like. Even if the trail is well-marked and easy to follow I still choose the way forward. A trail is a parallel universe to what we are dealing with inside. Though the landscape and names of places look the same it is what is inside us that has evolved. Then, a new-same trail appears.
Back in our cramped soggy space I feel at home though I'm stiff as hell and cramped and wet. A patience takes hold and I close my eyes, still staring at the soaked brown-black pine cone. I turn back over on my other hip and open my eyes at Bearclaw. She keeps reading. The air is silent, for the rain has calmed and the pelting of the tarp has ended. I doze into a half-awake, half-asleep slumber. This is my home. I'll always be re-hiking a new-same trail, walking forward as I evolve.
Home. Always has been.