Yesterday we reached the PCT midpoint after 2 months and 3 weeks of hiking. We’d been looking forward to this moment because it marked the transition from counting up to counting down to the finish, the nearing completion of California, and the approach to more familiar volcanic land with lush forest and spongey pine needle covered trails. We feel as though we’ve done the hard work of getting through the dry desert, the high-altitude Sierra’s, and have ticked off the longest climb and descent that the PCT has to offer.
In the last couple weeks we have had visits from several friends, the most recent from Seattlites, Kari and Melissa. Melissa drove her VW van down and they spoiled us with glamping, slack-packing, growlers full of fresh beer from the PNW, delicious homemade food and delightful company. But during their visit we were aware that Tim’s dad had taken a turn for the worse having been in and out of the hospital twice in the previous week and was not doing well at home. Each time we recieved the news we grew weary in our hiking. We seriously questioned if it was the right thing to keep going, but with each reassuring report recieved we walked a little further north.
Until today. This morning I woke up feeling energetic and excited to tackle the second half of the PCT as we planned to enter Lassen National Park. As we neared a road, I checked my phone for service. The phone buzzed in my hand with all the text alerts and my heart began to sink. I read that Tim’s dad was in the hospital for a third time in a matter of a couple weeks and this time he was found to have brain bleeding and tumor growth. I knew that this news would activate our threshold for leaving the trail. I immediately reported the news to Tim and we made a plan to exit the trail at a convenient point just 1.5 miles away.
I walked those 1.5 miles with urgency but also intention. I felt how each step reverberated through my feet and legs up through my core, and I appreciated how simple and peaceful the act of thru-hiking is. The way my poles felt in my hands as they clicked each time they struck the ground was soothing and I admitted how blessed I was to be there to that point.
It seemed symbolic as I approached a massive tree fall that had completely blocked the trail. Tim and I had to crawl on our hands and knees through a 3-foot hole in the branches. The branches scraped my sides while my face got close to the black volcanic dirt, and I felt as though I was approaching a belly of darkness and sadness. My instinct was to run south as if going south would rewind time. I wish that were true.
Now I find myself heading to Las Vegas to share an intense time with family. I do not want to leave the trail. It feels like a break-up. I am hopeful but doubtful that I can get back soon. This is the thing we thought could happen but really hoped wouldn’t.
Complicating my feelings is that a beloved family member is very ill. And this beloved person is the person who gave life to the person who I love the most in the world-Tim. He is also the person who loved and cared for my sweet husband and helped him to turn into the most wonderful human being I know. So leaving the trail is difficult and unwanted but what lies ahead is even more so.