Where other hikes have hinted at buds, new beginnings, springs, the coming of my Grand Enchantment Trail start date feels like an ending.
It is, in a way – this strange way of life I’ve had for the last year, living out of a car and camping and teaching, and even this “new” indoors life with friends and regular showers and a kitten named Asha that likes to sleep in my lap as I write, is coming to a close. It feels like too soon.
My last shower feels like a benediction – I use it as a transition point, make myself new through the love and generosity of my friends, become a blank slate, empty but for faint memories of the fullness of before. I didn’t think I’d miss it all that much, but that ache to be full again is real.
I answer a question about Pineapple over Instagram while toweling off and am reminded of my favorite picture of us: standing at the 1500-mile marker on the PCT, contorting our faces into ridiculousness for the benefit of the camera1.
It’s a wistful thought, laden with corrections – this will not be the PCT, we are different people than we were two years ago, the frontcountry world has changed us. Maybe we won’t fit together as well as we did before, and I have to leave room for that.
Maybe we won’t fit together as well hiking, either – we basically went the same pace on the PCT, and she’s been hiking for a year and I have been sitting in a car longing to go hiking for a year. Plus, my pack, at a 15lb baseweight with electronics and trash-collecting materials, is nearly twice as heavy as hers is. I try to give myself permission to be frustrated with myself, to feel the aches and pains and learning curve for this objectively harder trail without succumbing to them. Easy to say while hale and healthy and sparkling clean in a climate-controlled bathroom.
On with the trail shirt, trail pants, and I feel… different. Tired already. Is this what being Zuul felt like? It feels too heavy compared to the lightness I feel when I’m walking – which will come soon enough. No need to rush it by fixating on it.
And then I’m working a crossword and petting a cat with Spesh at my side – who’s going through his own private grief – and it’s time seems to stretch and contort to suspend itself in this one simple, beautiful moment. After a year of yearning, of dreaming, of waiting, the future is here, and it’s trying to show me that the now – these precious few moments before everything changes – the now is everything.
I’m sure I’ll feel my feelings about this at some point. But for now, there is a sort of peace inside me. At least, as close to peace as I’ll ever get.
And then time speeds up, gives me whiplash: it’s off to the big city for friends and Shake Shack and more surrealness, as I pretend this isn’t my last night in town for what feels like forever, and then morning comes, and I’m holding my heart together with what feels like calm steadiness while the emotion leaks through the cracks like sand slipping through my fingers. My airport timing is perfect, I get lucky checking my pack and manage to make it to my gate just as I’m supposed to board. My flight gets me in to Phoenix with me and my pack no worse for the wear, and I transition into the hands of my Phoenician friends with ease. The rest of the day is a blur, as Mark helps me run errands and I try to be a friendly, talkative houseguest who’s not concerned she’s doing the wrong thing, leaving all this comfort caring love for a desert and a route that doesn’t care if she lives or dies.
I curl up on the couch and know it in my dreams: after all the thinking, the planning, and the approach, all that’s left is the walking.
 For some reason, the WordPress app does not want me to upload new pictures. I’ll work on that in the coming days.