South of Crater Lake we encountered the bubble of northbound thru-hikers. We saw a few familiar faces again, such as Special Sauce, Smitty, Robin, Whistle, Swig, Pedi, Ms. Frizzle, Signal, Amtrak and Ladypantz. We chatted awhile with a few new ones: Go Go Gadget, Pollock, Mowgli, Doc, FD, Fourth Wave, Special Sauce (a different one) and Use It Up. Some folks we missed the second time around: Teddy Rose, Rocket Llama and Kaiser. I was saddened to learn that Kaiser’s brother, Off the Rails, was now “off the trail.”
Occasionally at a road crossing we see an inspirational note for thru-hikers pinned up. One such note near Little Hyatt Reservoir read: “You’ll never know your limits unless you push yourself to them.” That led me to reflect on the various ways in which the PCT had pushed me the closest to various limits, some of which I have expressed already.
My greatest doubts that I could not do a long distance hike came on the first day of hiking the PCT in 1977. That passed by the second day, but other challenges continued to loom: finding my way on my own without maps north of Sierra City; coming closest to death climbing the Castle Crags; the worst stretch of rain and the consequential mildew in the North Cascades; the heaviest pack I ever carried (102 pounds, weighed at an airport hangar) for the High Sierra; the thirstiest I’ve been and the consequential dizziness in the San Bernadino Mountains. There was my “moment of truth” which made the PCT my “coming of age” hike; more on that at a later time.
Now I face a different set of challenges. I’m not pushing myself towards any particular limits, though I’ve shed more tears the last two months than during the rest of our marriage. At times I feel like this finally will be it for me in terms of long distance hiking; at other times I still hold onto the dream of hiking around the world someday. As for Cindy, I know this will be her last long distance hike, but there are the Connecticut Blue Trails we can continue to hike upon our return. Those hikes hold the benefit of eliminating the worst part of this hike, helping Cindy “use the woods.”
Sometimes in life we choose opportunities to test our limits; sometimes we must simply deal with what is.