I’ve been wanting to write a “year in review” for 2013, but I’ve felt stalled. The biggest reason is because there were so many amazing things that I saw, felt, touched, loved, lived and experienced in 2013. Where do I begin? I really didn’t know, and I still don’t know, but I’m trying not to hold back with what I need or want to say, especially the good stuff – so even if I ramble, I figure, “so what?”
Another reason I feel stalled even though I have the time to write today, is because it’s been a rather horrible day. I wasn’t sure I should be recapping an awesome year while in such a depressive mood. Then I thought that maybe this was the best time to do so. I know it will cheer me up. Even if my cheering up is only temporary, it’ll feel good… and I could use some “feel good,” so here I am.
I’m sitting at my computer, typing on a keyboard, listening to some relaxing music on my Pandora Jonsi channel. I’m already happier, having my musical ambiance and random flashes of mountains, flowers and so many smiling, happy people passing through my mind like a movie as I think back on the year. I’m slipping into my happy place. Okay, I’m ready.
SO… I love you, 2013.
The year started with a secret. A big secret that was going to shape my entire year… and a big part of my life forever. I was going to thru-hike the PCT. And after that I was going to change my career. I mean, completely change it… from a graphic designer to a semi-truck driver! The truck driving obsession would have to wait until 2014, though. First things first. I obsessed over PCT maps, books, plans, miles, blogs, advice, guides, gear, and winter weather conditions in the mountains. Looking back, this was one of the most incredible stages of a thru-hike. Exciting anticipation is a beautiful thing.
I finally explained to close friends, family and highly respected work associates that I was leaving my current, stable life for something more adventurous. I quit my great office job of 10 years to pursue this undying dream to thru-hike the PCT – a dream I’ve had for years. I hugged Kevin, the president of 4imprint, when I gave my notice. He said he was very sad to see me go, but wished me the best with a smile on his face and encouraging words. He is an amazing leader and person that I will never forget. I knew that I was leaving an amazing stepping stone in my life when I left that job, but I also knew it wouldn’t ever be left behind. Those 10 years will always be a huge part of my life, and temptations to return will always flicker in my mind because of some of the people that I met there.
Explaining my plans to friends, family and colleagues was scary, but totally exhilarating. My pits were sweating horribly each time I broke the news to someone. Thanks, adrenaline! The positive reaction and support I received from these people that I told of my plans reminded me of something really important – that I am loved.
After living in a small studio apartment for over a year in downtown Oshkosh, Adam and I placed important personal belongings in my parent’s basement and downsized to what we could fit in our car. Adam survived a bad roll-over accident caused by black ice with only a bump on his head – in my dad’s truck, totaling it and scattering bins of organized hiker food along the highway median. Eventually, after some road blocks, we finally hit the road and drove through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. Nineteen states. Nineteen! Our car needed several fixes during our travels that nearly broke my emotional strength, and our budget. We slept in the car at rest areas, camped in southern Louisiana, brushed my teeth under a Love’s Truck Stop sign before the sun came up, and drove and rode for hours on end. It was absolutely a fantastic time of the year. During this time on the road Adam and I were both reminded that traveling together is what we do best. We became closer and closer as the wheels turned underneath us.
I hiked. A lot. I loved it. Every step of it. If my feet hurt, I realized why my feet hurt. My feet hurt because I was thru-hiking the PCT. When I had heat rash on my legs and had to wear my long underwear pants in the desert, it was a hot challenge to overcome. And I loved it because I was thru-hiking the PCT. When there wasn’t as much water as I hoped there would be, I pushed on until I found water that I needed, and guess what? I loved the HECK out of that water! It reminded me of the basic necessities in life.
I survived hiking through a desert. I learned that I loved to survive hiking through a beautiful, sunny-skied desert. I was intrigued by rattlesnakes, poked by Joshua trees and cacti, had my shoes full of sand and released several gallons of sweat from my body while happily trapped between the unrelenting, beautiful sun and hot, soft sand.
I looked up at a bunch of mountains, smiled, then hiked into them. I hiked over them, around them, and continued northward through them. I climbed the highest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet – Mt. Whitney. I traveled by foot through several ecosystems. I visited a spitting, bubbling, steaming volcanic crack in the earth and realized how powerful this ground was that I took for granted every single day. I traveled past trees of all ages – tiny hemlocks only an inch high, others that were hundreds of feet towering over me like giants, and everything in between. I crossed rivers on rocks, branches, and sometimes just walked right through. I swam in shallow streams that filled my shorts with sand, jumped off of a huge boulder into an alpine lake, froze my ‘girls’ off in a couple of high Sierra lakes and waded through mud to bathe in a warm one. I followed a ribbon of dirt through meadows, over rocks, up switchbacks, down switchbacks, over sand and hills and flats and kept following it until I got where I needed to be for 165 incredible days.
I drank from mountain springs, crystal-clear alpine lakes, horse-poop infested ponds, milky glacial streams, and rocky rivers. I hiked through heat, sunshine, rain, huge hail, snow, and thought I was going to die during a lightning storm on a ridge. Looking back, I love that I had that experience. I felt more alive than ever – knowing I could be dead in a single moment. I was scared to tears when I was in that storm, but realizing how fragile I am compared to my surroundings, and how quickly it could all be over humbled me in a way I cannot explain. I’ve been there once before in my life… this was a good reminder.
I realized how much I love Nut Rolls, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, circus animal crackers, fresh fruit, Hostess fruit pies, Coca-cola, Take Five candy bars, Ramen, and chef salads with ranch dressing. I felt sadness when I didn’t crave a cheese burger, and also when I realized I was sick of oatmeal. I ate as much as my body asked for for over five months (which was a lot), and enjoyed not worrying and obsessing about my weight for that period of time. I learned the key to easily keep my weight under 160 pounds, staying lean and feeling incredible healthy and strong is to hike every day.
I carried 25-40 pounds on my back for months, and that was all I needed to survive and to live. I learned that surviving and living are two completely different things, and when you can combine the two into a simple lifestyle, a sense of freedom is acquired that cannot ever, ever be forgotten.
I completed 2,600 miles of a 2,660-mile trail. I was bothered with myself because I had small regrets about my last days on the trail, but took a lot of time to look back on the first 2,600 miles and realized those were the experiences I needed to let encompass my thru-hike. I left a beautiful section of the Pacific Crest Trail to go back to one day – an open invitation. I found myself holding out on a hope that I will have the time to completely rehike it in the future. Not at all because of a need to feel accomplished, but only because I would love to have the experience again in a totally different way.
Emotions that I experienced in 2013 were some of the most intense and raw I’ve felt in a very long time, and found that the best of them are brought out when immersed in something intense and beautiful while being surrounded by like-minded, happy people that were sharing the same struggles… and still loving it.
I left the trail behind with an emotional tie to it that will draw me back. I fell head over heels in love with the Pacific Crest Trail. I became a permanent part of its path and history.
I went home. I spent time with as many family members and friends as I could. I endured post-trail blues and tried like hell to not gain too much weight back. I tried and failed to come down off of a high created by freedom, majestic beauty and daily adventure. I struggled to deal with several relationships that, in one day, went from being close to long distance. I cried when I thought about some of the people I met and how much I missed them. I cried when I thought about how much I missed the trail. I laughed and smiled when I thought about why I missed both.
I began preparations to begin my next adventure in 2014. I enrolled in Fox Valley Technical College’s truck driving program so that I can receive my CDL and drive an 18-wheeler all over the country with my husband. I’ve focused a lot of thought on the challenges coming up and began mental preparations to deal with them, while imagining the great experiences I have yet to meet along the way.
When the clocked turned over to midnight, January 1, 2014, I was sitting on a couch with Adam, watching a movie. We kissed to a new year with hope in our hearts that our upcoming plans will go smoothly, knowing that they won’t, and glad we’ll be able to tackle the challenges and hardships as a team, while enjoying the highlights even more because of it all.
I know there’s a ton more that I haven’t mentioned, but by no means are any less special, but there ya’ have it. So long, 2013. I will miss you with an incredibly soft, strong and loving heart. You’ve been good to me. 2014, I am happy to see you. Let’s do this. I’m ready!
Happy New Year, and love to all of you!
Tonight I love new beginnings.