Day 0: Goodbye, comfort

I wake up early, but I can’t seem to get myself out of bed. This bed is just so comfortable and warm, and the knowledge that I won’t be able to sleep here at home again for an entire month fills me with apprehension.

What am I doing?

What am I doing what am I doing what am I doing

As I finally pull myself out of bed and begin to move through the morning, I am acutely aware of what lies ahead.

This afternoon my husband, Paul, will drive me down to a trailhead near the California/Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail, and tomorrow I will begin a 460-mile solo hike.

I walk slowly through the house. “Goodbye, bed! Goodbye, toilet! Goodbye, clean running water! Goodbye, refrigerator! Goodbye, fresh fruits and vegetables!”

What I’m really saying is this: “Goodbye, comfort!”

And: “Hello, uncertainty and fear!”

Over the past few days I’ve done a decent job of keeping my fear in check, but now that the beginning of my hike is really here, really happening, I am almost paralyzed with terror.

Why did I ever think this was a good idea? How the actual fuck am I going to survive alone in the wilderness for a month? What kind of idiot hikes 460 miles by choice?

Oh yeah, I’m in an excellent mental space this morning. A real treat to be with. Lucky Paul.

And yet, despite my anxiety I am able to finish gathering up my gear, take a long, hot shower (goodbye, shower!), drink a smoothie (goodbye, fancy amazing blender!) and all too soon the car is packed and it’s time to leave.

I burst into tears as I pick each of our cats up for one final snuggle, unable to stop sobbing as I stare into their perfect tiny cat faces. I can’t do this. How can I do this?

But I do it.

The garage door closes, and the drive begins.

It takes us over four hours to get down to the forest service road that the map says will lead us where we want to go, but once we’ve taken our little Honda Civic deep into rough road territory it becomes clear that the “road” we planned to take isn’t a road anymore. There have been rock slides and washouts, and this route is completely impassable.

This does not feel like a very good sign.

It’s past 7pm now, much later than we had originally planned to arrive, and I am starting to panic. We no longer have cell phone reception, so we’re stuck looking at the cached map on my phone, zooming in and out to try and find an alternative approach.

Poor Paul. He’s the one driving, which means that in addition to navigating my emotional rollercoaster he also needs to navigate the car through this rough terrain. With every minute that goes by I grow more fearful and anxious and am filled with increasingly debilitating self-doubt.

Eventually though, we make it. We pull up to a spot where a poorly-maintained dirt road crosses the PCT just past the California/Oregon border, and we park off to the side. There are a few flat spots to camp, but there are already four other hikers set up for the night.

As we get out of the car, my fear intensifies. These look like thru-hikers, hikers who started at the Southern Terminus of the PCT back in the spring and who have hiked almost 1700 miles to get to this spot. They look seasoned, weary but strong, like they know exactly what they’re doing.

I, on the other hand, know nothing.

I have been car-camping once, for one night, and backpacking once, for two nights, all in the couple of months proceeding this adventure. I’ve done my research and I’ve talked with more experienced hikers, but still. This, all of this, is completely foreign to me and I feel like an imposter.

The other hikers greet us as we pull our stuff from the car, and in my anxious imposter mindset I make a terrible first impression. I am too loud, too insecure, too self-centered, and as Paul and I find a spot to get ourselves set up I am already so embarrassed that I want to cry.

We pitch our tents in the last of the evening light, and I struggle mightily to get mine upright. I’ve only set this tent up a handful of times, and I still don’t really understand the best way to do it. The other hikers don’t care, intellectually I know that, but I can’t help feeling like a failure. I haven’t even hiked a single step and I already feel like I’m failing.

Paul and I kiss each other goodnight before climbing into our respective tents, and as I snuggle down into my sleeping bag I can feel my heart pounding with adrenaline. Holy shit, this is happening. This thing that I have been thinking about and planning for months is actually finally happening.

Over and over again my mind turns toward my fears, and over and over again I do a mental pivot back to a place of gratitude.

I think about how grateful I am for Paul, who drove me out here and who has been a supportive advocate every step of the way. He believes in me, and he loves me, and I know that this will be a source of strength when things get hard out on the trail.

And they will get hard. I know that. But isn’t that why I’m here? To test myself? To get to know myself? To experience freedom and resilience and, hopefully, to come out feeling stronger and more self-reliant than ever before.

But all of that is for tomorrow.

Right now, in the dark, amidst my fear of the unknown, I simply need to close my eyes and try to sleep.