Here is the state of my preparations: between working, several hours of math homework each day, and a new puppy, not much. I read blogs, talk to other thru-hikers about resupply strategy and gear, and dream. I go into REI on the way home from work to look at stuff sacks, micro-spikes and ice axes. I lift an ice ax in my palm and appreciate the heft of it, the way the metal curves in my hand. But even REI doesn’t hold my attention, and I wander through aimlessly, because even this is consumerism. I don’t need any of this stuff.
Training hikes happen when I have a few hours of free time and good weather to disappear into the BLM land behind our house, up into the desert and the mountains. I leave our coult-de-sac with a loaded pack and take a left, then another left up towards the elementary school, following a strip of sagebrush along a ditch. Right before the school, I leave the sidewalk and cross the ditch, re-emerge on the other side of the dip, and I’m on public land.
I follow the ATV path as it curves around the school, and then follow another one up into the desert. If it’s the weekend, I can hear the distant popping of guns up near the base of the hills. It’s a form of recreation that I don’t fully understand. I know that this desert is riddled with dry stream beds and ATV tracks and old couches and rotting plywood, but all I can see from any point as I march to the hills is a broad, smooth sweep of Artemisia, Big Sagebrush, punctuated by juniper. I’ve seen some people openly call it brown and ugly, but I think it’s beautiful and definitely not brown. It alternates grey, pale mint, and dusty sage: purple, straw-yellow, rose, milk-coffee and at sunset, gold. Above everything is the huge pale blue of the sky.
The desert floor tilts steadily upwards to the mountains. Before I know it I’m at the point where the mountains rise, abrupt, from the relative flatness. I look back and see the turquoise roof of the elementary school, far away and below and small. I climb up the hills, my hills, feeling my calves burn. On this trip, snow softens the hillside. Spanish Springs, the elementary school, my house, grow smaller and the view of Reno and Sparks rises above the hills behind like the moon. Fresh storm clouds stream over the darkened Sierra, obscuring Mt. Rose in white.
When I’m out here alone, I feel calm. I know that I will never understand why I’m hiking the PCT until I take the first step out of the car at the Mexican border. All of the stress about getting there, and my incredulity about leaving behind a nice mattress and real food and AC and my family, will fall away. All I know is that I want to do this, I need to do this, and I just need to have the faith to start.