LET’S TALK ABOUT COURAGE
I have met two middle-aged women, on the trail, who have had cancer twice, survived, and instead of living in fear of a third time, decided hiking 2650 miles was a good way to spend their hard-earned, remaining time.
I have met a man, from Israel, on the trail, who has CP. He drags his right leg behind him while he hikes. He stumbles quite often. I have watched him rise from a sitting position and it is exhausting just to watch the effort involved.
I have met women who are sexual abuse survivors. Where they find the courage to slay their demons, daily, and venture into the wilderness, alone, is beyond my comprehension.
The clinically-depressed? I have met them. The raped? I have met them. The “I’m not good enough” crowd? I have met them.
And then let’s talk about those who arrived on our shores from distant lands, knowing no one, no safety net of nearby relatives, no clue how the American system works, how Americans really are in-person, what this mammoth of a country is like when she bares her teeth and tosses all manner of hardships their way, scrimping and saving for this one shot at a dream, many quitting their jobs, many saying goodbye to family, perhaps for the last time, goodbye to wives and husbands and children, and further burdened with a six-month visa window in which to accomplish what only 20% accomplish during a good PCT year.
And finally, yes, let’s talk about my wife, Bev, 62-years old, the longest hike under her belt a twenty-two miler, no experience at this at all, recently retired, trying to slay the self-doubt dragon, trying to prove to herself that she is more than a wife, more than a mother, more than an employee . . .
I’m talking about courage, my friends. This ain’t no Sunday stroll through the park. This is risk, pure and simple. This is about fear, and conquering it, about the chance to look in the mirror, and to hold with you forever, the knowledge that you have done something very few people on this planet will do, and you did it despite the overwhelming odds against you.
I am I awe of them all.
FACING THE ELEPHANT
It’s an odd saying, isn’t it? I don’t know the origins of it. The first time I heard it was in reference to the Oregon Trail pilgrims, and it means to face that which has the power to make you quit. As in “he faced the elephant and dropped off the Trail at Courthouse Rock, caught a ride back east with a grain supplier.”
I talked to a woman who is hiking this trail, someone I had seen before, someone whose videos I have seen, and she said she was thinking maybe she just isn’t mentally or physically fit for this test. She thought she was, but the trail was breaking her down.
Lost a casual friend yesterday, dropped out, the risk of hiking the snow section was more than he was willing to try. And another hiker, the tenth day of the hike, dropped off today.
This trail is no joke.
We are currently in Canyon Country, directly east of Santa Clarita, heading south, into the San Gabriel Mountains. I took a photo today of the trail head as the trail winds north out of Acton. It was a beautiful picture of the thin line of dirt, carved out of scrub brush, going gently down a hill towards the Santa Clara River, and then, in the background, is this thousand-foot wall of rock and dirt, rising straight up from the river. The stark contrast was definitely attention-getting, especially when you consider that is just one large hill of literally thousands of such hills.
And I was watching two hikers go down that section of the trail, and I could see them cross the river, and then the landscape just swallowed them. From a quarter-mile away, I could no longer see them, and I thought of that old saying, facing the elephant, and I realized the elephant was standing right in front of me.
Bev and tramily, as of today, have done 273-miles, and if you saw how tired they were/are, at the end of each day, you would realize how grueling those 273-miles have been, and yet even they will admit that the elephant is about to make an appearance in the next eight days. That is the amount of time it will take Bev, Leo, and friend Shawn to hike through the San Gabriels, and climb their first mountains, several over ten-thousand feet, and practically the entire eight days will be spent hiking in deep snow.
Or, as we used to say in college, the shit is about to get real.
IT HAPPENED AGAIN
I mention this not because I want you to know how cool I am. I mention it because it still catches me completely off-guard, and unable to comprehend.
Standing in the KOA office, paying for a reservation in Acton, and a hiker walked in and said to the room, “I saw the bus outside, and I had to come in and meet Bill Holland.”
Knock me over with a feather!
THE UNITED NATIONS PART TWO
I said goodbye to Bev and tramily this morning in Agua Dulce. The plan was for them to hike eight miles to Acton, where I would pick them up at the trailhead in Soledad Canyon, and then we would get a camping spot for the night at the Acton KOA.
I had very little to do this morning after saying goodbye, so I did a little cleaning and then drove directly to the pickup spot, which meant I was in for a two-hour wait, minimum, before Bev arrived.
As I was pulling off the road to settle in for the wait, I spied a fairly large group of hikers up ahead, and they were jumping up and down, waving at me, yelling out at me, laughing and having a splendid time. Turns out they were hitching for a ride into the city of Acton, five miles further down the road, and they saw the bus, knew it was Puddle Walker, and they were thrilled that Windmill was in that exact spot at the exact time they needed a ride.
The pleasure was all mine. There were ten of them, and after we squeezed the first five into the bus, gear included, the last five were looking quite crestfallen because it was not looking good for them to fit. I looked in the back of the bus, looked at the five still standing outside, and yelled “make room, we’re all going to Acton,” and you would have thought I had just declared them to be kings and queens of their respective nations.
And yes, it was a mixed bag . . . Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and it was such a great pleasure to talk to them, to see how excited they were, and to feel the special bond which can only arise from a shared experience like this one.
Linda, thank you so much. Being loved by a good person is extra special. Windmill? The person that gave me the name said it was because I create positive energy, like a windmill. It touched me.
Thank you, Andrea! The next adventure begins in July. Until then, we will try to “gear down” and enjoy a slower pace of life.
Sis, it’s weird being “home” for six weeks. Suddenly, Olympia is foreign to me, and I can’t wait to leave again. And never apologize to your brother. You are appreciated more than you think.
That’s funny, Peggy! The thoughth of me in any kind of politics is hilarious.
Perhaps after these experiences, you should get a job at the United Nations. You are certainly meeting folks from all around the world!
Bro….”In AWE of these heroes??” That’s the least of what I’m thinking and feeling! Reading of all your adventures, especially of the interesting and seriously mixed-bag of individuals you’ve been fortunate to meet…..I smile the whole time, as I picture it all. Bev is my new Patron Saint!! What a woman! Your love and support of Bev brings tears to my eyes! I apologize for being behind in my upkeep here, but KNOW always, you’re in my heart and on my mind! Love ya’all SIS
Good luck to Bev for the next challenge, I’m really enjoying reading about your journeys.
I don’t always comment, but I’m loving every post. And I didn’t think it possible, but I love you even more than before (in a sisterly way, of course). Windmill?
July, it is the chance of a lifetime, and I’m so happy I didn’t let it pass me by.
Well, Karen, thank you so much for following along.
Wow, what a cool experience. I love reading about your adventures. For some reason, I have missed all of your posts so I have a lot to catch up on. Thanks for sharing all of your adventures with the rest of us!
I’ve loved every post so far Bill. SO glad Bev is getting to do this with her guy fully supporting her. And how lucky to be meeting all these new people, all chasing the same dream.
Irish, I’m already itching to go. I was five minutes after arriving in Olympia. LOL I’m a nomad at heart, my friend.
What a wonderful mix of hikers you are meeting Bill, like the UN ! Glad you all made it back safe to wait out the snow and conditions in the Sierra’s. No doubt you will be itching to get on the road again.Enjoy your break !