Day 25: Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

23.4 miles
PCT mile 2106.5 – Eagle Creek Alternate mile 4.8
Total miles so far: 449

Another night, another relatively sleepless experience. I am so tired. I am just so tired.

My emotions are all over the place as I pack my things away. This is it, this is my last full day on trail. Tomorrow I will arrive in Cascade Locks, and I will be done. Am I excited to be done? I’m not sure. This hike has been awful, but it’s been amazing too. I feel like I spent the majority of every day in pain, crying, questioning, and having my ego shredded. But did I get what I came for? Do I have any more clarity about who I am and what I’m doing than before I left?

I think about this as I start hiking the 1,500 foot climb that begins just beyond my campsite. The morning is cool and lightly foggy, and the endorphins of hiking uphill are enough to halt my melancholy thought spiral.

At the top of the climb I put my headphones in, and as I hike up and down, up and down through the woods and along ridges I listen to the final chapters of Twilight. The book is ending, this hike is ending – what does it all mean?

I take two short breaks throughout the morning, once to filter water and once to eat a jam-filled tortilla, but I’m too restless to sit still for long. Cascade Locks is calling and I must go.

As morning turns to afternoon I find myself hiking into the wind along the edge of yet another rocky ridge, unable to untangle myself from the endless questions that are swirling in my mind. All of the sudden, when I reach what seems to be the exact midpoint of this particular ridge, the wind stops. It’s been whipping around me for hours, and just like that, the air is utterly still. I stop and look out at the mountains and trees and land below me, stretching out in every direction, and out of nowhere I remember a line from one of Mary Oliver’s poems, which I have not read since college, where she says, “Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

As I stand there on the edge of the ridge, I know that this is the truest question I could ever ask myself. Because of course the answer is yes, I am breathing just a little and calling it a life.

I have everything I need, I am safe and loved and free, but I am holding myself back. I am not fully open to myself, to others, to the world. I am not fully alive. I am on the sidelines. I am comfortable. I am breathing just a little, and calling it a life.

This hike, these past 25 days, this is the first time I have ever truly felt alive.

It has been unbearably miserable, more miserable than not, but I have felt alive. Which is why as happy as I am to go home tomorrow, I am also afraid of going home. Home is comfort. Home is where I have always been quick to take the easy path, the path of least resistance, to only be partially engaged in my life. It feels like I am having a moment of clarity right here, some kind of epiphany, but will it be enough to keep me awake once I get off the trail?

I hope so. I really hope so.

At 3pm I reach the Eagle Creek Trail Junction. This is where I had planned to camp for the night, but I am here much earlier than I expected. Checking my phone I see a text from Tux – they’re in Cascade Locks! Dragon and Neon are hiking out tonight or tomorrow morning, but Tux is staying until tomorrow afternoon to meet up with a friend. He might still be there when I arrive!

Armed with this new information I decide to hike on. I wander through the picnic tables to try and find the Indian Spring Trail, which will lead me down to the Eagle Creek Trail, an alternate to the PCT that goes directly into Cascade Locks and is apparently too beautiful to miss.

Almost immediately I regret my decision to take this route. The Indian Springs Trail is some kind of downhill rocky hell. It’s so steep that I find myself unsure of where to position my feet with every step, and I stop every few minutes to yell and curse. Of all the different types of hiking, I am worst at steep downhill hiking, and it’s only the fact that I can’t bear the thought of turning around and backtracking even a single step that prevents me from returning to the PCT.

When I finally reach the Eagle Creek Trail intersection the terrain flattens out, but I’m unsure which way to go. Left? Right? The GPS function on my phone’s map is wonky right now, so I pull out my paper maps and make my best semi-educated guess. I take a left at the fork; I think the trail goes this way?

For the next few miles I hike along a thin strip of trail with a feeling of mild panic. Will I be able to find a campsite? There is only vertical rock on one side of me and a steep drop-off on the other. Will that change soon? How long will I have to hike before I find a place to sleep? And what about water, will I find water on this alternate trail?

In the back of my mind I know that I will find water and a campsite – the map indicates an abundance of both – but I am too tired to be rational right now. I am just too tired.

A mile later the trail intersects with a small waterfall, and I collect one liter, just in case this is the only water I find before there’s a flat spot to camp. This is one of those days where everything is fine until it’s not, and I cannot express how DONE I suddenly am with hiking right now. No more hiking. I hate hiking. Done done done.

I pass one possible tentsite, but it’s well below the trail and the climb down looks pretty sketchy. I am too tired for sketchy climbs. The next flat area is already taken by two people who are cuddling and cooking dinner, and I don’t want to intrude, so I keep going. Am I ever going to be able to stop hiking? Is this the trail’s final test for me? Fuck, man.

Eventually I do find a place to camp, a big flat area with room for at least six tents, right by Eagle Creek. There’s one other woman there, who only speaks French, and she is sitting by the campfire she’s built, eating noodles and drying some wet clothing.

This woman and I exist in amicable silence as we do our evening chores, and I can’t believe that I hiked over 23 miles today. That was unexpected! It means I’ll be finished much earlier than I planned tomorrow, and that I’ll arrive in Cascade Locks before Paul gets there to pick me up, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll see Tux! And please, it’s not like I’m going to complain about getting to sit on a bench for a few hours. Sitting down for that long sounds orgasmic right now.

And so, filled with thoughts of tomorrow, of sitting down, of Paul, and of finally being done with this hike, I climb into my tent for the very last time. This is it, I tell myself. Just 11 miles to go.