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William O. Douglas Wilderness
On the trail again this morning, after a good night's sleep at White Pass. We are hiking north about 40 miles west of Yakima, Washington, and the weather is fine. Hot, even. Wonderful.
News on the team front...Molly took a trail name yesterday. The name of "Trooper" from last year didn't quite suite her. She goes by "Contrail" now, representing her long time interest in airplanes and the extensive travelling she has done. We were watching the many contrails made by the aircraft coming and leaving Seattle area, and thinking of hiker friend Mollie's suggestion of "Passport" as a trail name for Molly. Contrail fits better on many points.
In this low country, below 5,000 ft, we encounter a lot of trees, lakes, slow-moving streams. It's a calm landscape of green tunnels, not demanding the attention that is needed on mountain slopes. That's okay. The mind wanders. Mine wanders to my inner journey, finding the tattered threads from the end of my hike last year. I'm deep in the woods and deep in thought. How cool is that?
Well, there is a downside to mind-wandering, as I soon discover. The body wanders, too. Molly (er, Contrail now) is hiking well ahead of me and I suddenly have the feeling the path I am walking doesn't match my map. I am descending to the west when I should be going north. I haven't seen a PCT sign for a while, but there are blazes on this trail every once in a while, small silver diamond shapes nailed to trees to indicate a route. But is it THE route? Finally, I convince myself to backtrack a mile to check for a wrong turn. Sure enough, I reach an intersection where I should have veered right instead of going straight. Fortunately, Contrail and I agreed on a meeting place ahead of time, so I know she is waiting for me there, no doubt gently shaking her head at the ways of her absent-minded trail partner.
As I approach our agreed meeting place, I pass a tall young man, about 20 years old, who is heading south. "Are you Journal?" he asks with a kindness. Yup. "Well, your daughter is waiting for you just over the next rise." He looks at me with direct eye contact for several seconds, like he's waiting for an answer. Thanks, I say, and explain about taking a wrong turn. What's your name? "Travis, from Reno, Nevada," and gives a genuine smile, "hiking south as far as I can get." We stand there like there is more to say, but I am conscious of keeping Molly waiting. I say goodbye and we go our ways, but I am suddenly curious about this young man. Don't know why.
Shortly after I find Molly, she says she spent the time waiting for me by talking with this south-bound hiker, Travis. "Funny guy..." Funny ha-ha or funny odd, I ask. "Just...different. He says he is hiking the PCT for his future wife and kids. He is trying to figure out what it takes to be a man." I'm immediately interested in his story.
"He said he realized he wasn't making grownup decisions in his life, so he asked a few men around Reno, where he's from, what he should do. The collective advice seemed to all point in the same direction: Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. That's why he's out here on the PCT," said Contrail.
She added, recalling her conversation with him, "One man wrote him a letter and Travis reads it every night. He said the letter still brings tears to his eyes. He's been constantly putting himself in uncomfortable situations, to learn more about himself. Travis said he was crossing a highway one time and noticed some police picking up trash. He walked over and asked if he could help, something he would never have done before. The police said they were done, but then offered to give him a ride into town where he could resupply."
I just sat and listened, admiring this young man and his simple quest.
"But Travis seemed so much like a kid sometimes, too. He said, 'Guess what I did in Seattle...I went to a movie all by myself. You know the best part? I got to sneak in snacks without getting judged, and didn't have to pay for a date.' As if going to the movies alone was outside his realm of experience. And he couldn't believe it when I told him I may or may not get married. Being unsure about that point just wasn't an option he had ever considered."
A young man on a quest of a lifetime, on the PCT as a way to challenge himself, seeking lessons whatever they might be. Generations may separate us, but I felt an immediate kinship with Travis. I spent the rest of the day imagining how his life might unfold by following such a path, and he ended up wise and happy. In my imagination, at least.