What is the shape of a gutted apartment?
It is white walls, where a map and pictures once hung. It is a mattress on the floor where there once was a multi-generational bed frame. It is a carpet where there was a brown couch, a desk, a bookshelf and a plastic shoe holder which never really held shoes. It is a kitchen with the outside of a refrigerator wiped clean where there were once photos of family and a four-year-old’s rendition of a ladybug. It is a box of white wrapping paper I start to draw on. It is random bits and pieces of a year-and-a-half living in a multi-apartment building with a live oak outside, a cactus growing out the side of the wall, and a central pool. It is one of the last days of May, and a goodbye to our neighbors, to our colleagues and friends we were connected to while here. It is a drive up to Tahoe where a good friend is on a field project monitoring Spotted Owls, and a night-hike where humans hoot and carry mice to lure endangered owls. It is watching a female dive within spitting distance and pick up a mouse and fly back onto a branch and watch us while we watch her.
A gutted apartment is the shape of the unknown, which turns out to be the shape of our ambition.
Pre-planning for the Pacific Crest Trail had a different appearance. Jacob said we were harried, rushed, grasping more, and now we are submitting. A few years ago planning was an inhale, this year it is an exhale.
We looked at a map of the CDT on Postholer this morning, and saw pictures of Logan Pass, and Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, and saw that there was a lot of snow. So there will be snow when we start, probably.
Over memorial day we did two long walks at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, which is a couple of miles away from our apartment as the crow flies. As a human bikes, it’s about five miles away. We biked up to the edge of the park, chained our bikes up to a No Parking sign and walked up to Black Mountain, which is one of the higher points in this area and meanders through quintessential California golden grassy hillsides with oaks and chaparral and canyons with streams. On one flank of Black Mountain is Stevens Creek which runs near our apartment and spits out at the San Francisco Bay. In that small corridor are some of the last remaining coastal Doug Fir stands in this county. We walked and were greeted by many a Wrentit’s accelerating trill, stink beetles, California Kingsnakes, skinks, Alligator Lizards, Blue-Eyed Grass, California Poppies, ferns and deer and lot’s of large mammal scat. We retraced the steps on Sunday, and both days covered twenty miles on foot. It was a good reminder about what it feels like to walk for a large part of my day, a ‘hey, body, I’m doing this again.’
A four hundred and fifty pound shipment is in for us at Winco Foods. Dan, a kindly customer service rep, called the other day to let us know all the ingredients in three of their trail-mixes. He prefaced the message with, “I’m not sure how long I’ll have before I run out of time, but I’ll call back if need be.” He then listed all of the ingredients. There were a lot of ingredients in their Pacific Crest Trail Mix. I won’t name them here.
Some things are different from a few years ago in preparation. We aren’t baking hard tack. It was sad when we got shipments in August and September on the PCT, and the hard tack was rancid. It was also sad when we burned it at a designated campsite in Washington.
I’m carrying a different pack, and it is smaller and lighter. We are carrying a different stove. I’m not going to carry a broken poo-shovel handle for thousands of miles, which I did on the PCT. Pyrite made a new quilt. The old one is still in a garbage bag, and smells like it’s been under a bridge for a few years, but I don’t want to throw it away.
We aren’t carrying a locater beacon, so you’ll have to be patient to hear from us, but we are carrying a smartphone. We have maps. I’ll have a new pee rag which I’m excited about. Pyrite asked, “will you please try not to pee on your pants so much?” Although I take pride in my ability to pee standing up, I get lazy when I’ve been walking a lot and sometimes it sprays on my pants and shoes. After a few days, I start to smell like a real bag lady.
Two years ago when we arrived at the monument with those other fun folks I remember standing between the place where the trail reaches the monument, and where the trail continued into Canada, and it didn’t look any different. Arrival is such a misleading word. It implies so many things that I didn’t feel. Turns out what we were chasing all those 2600 miles wasn’t something that we could catch. But I did learn where I was headed when I got to the monument, mostly because I looked back and thought about the distance covered, which didn’t feel so far, and the time it took, which didn’t seem so long. And we wrote our final thoughts in the final trail register, and shared feelings of accomplishment, and felt good about being done, and felt sad about being done, and had dinner, went through our routine, got up the next morning, and then got lost.
The maps in Canada were more like cartoon maps and we got a little turned around on our way to Manning Park and stopped a car with a couple in it and said, “Hey, do you know where Manning Park resort is?” and the driver said, “About ten miles from here.” And we were like, ugh, ten miles! And they said, “where you coming from?” And we said, “Mexico.” and they said, “Oh, well ten miles is nothin!” and they drove off.
Where are we coming from and where are we going?
We are going to go through many states-Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado. We are also going to go through many other states-joy, fear, fatigue, boredom, serenity. Probably we’ll spend a lot of time in fatigue.
Maybe the shape of a thru-hike isn’t just ambition. Maybe it’s a container that reflects values. Maybe it reflects a deep, enduring, and not-so-easily pigeon-holed need. Or maybe it’s a container that reflects a wacked-out counterculture.
I don’t really know.
But I’m glad to know that what I want, and what is important is inexpressible and unattainable. It isn’t for sale, and it isn’t to keep. It is satisfying to know that it does exist and has a shape and a form, even if it is an amorphous blob.
There are oh-so-many shapes of the human experience.
Pyrite’s last day of work is today, and we’re moving out of this gutted apartment tomorrow. And I’m trying hard to not get too caught up in the future that I trip over the present. And I’m trying hard not to fill up with the past that I miss out all the small things that fill up the present that are fun and interesting and worthy of my attention.
And that, right now, is a peanut butter sandwich with cinnamon and a banana.