Stepping back: My post-trail voluntary resignation

I love what I do for work.  My career gives me a sense of purpose and I can see the effects in the lives of those with whom I work.  I feel lucky that I was able to get a job in my field shortly after I finished the Pacific Crest Trail.  I allowed myself a bit of a buffer to re-acclimate to my new home and started my new position in January of this year.

I quit after five months.

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I made a conscious decision to give one month of notice before having another job lined up.  It’s probably not what most reasonable people would do, but as I reflect on the last few months I have realized a few things.

  • I have a low tolerance for misery without meaning.  I have no trouble working hard, challenging myself, and being uncomfortable.  That is thru-hiking in its essence.  But I do need to be working toward something I believe in.  I found myself challenged in ways that were inhibiting my ability to effectively do my job.  Sure, I can tolerate annoyances and discomfort.  That’s how we grow.  But I can tell a healthy growth environment from one that will just result in bad habits.

 

  • I cannot just keep my head down.  I see the ways that poor and inconsistent management and lack of communication affect morale and the effective delivery of services.  They contribute to a toxic work environment.  I spent the better part of last year on my own, autonomous.  I don’t have the time or patience to be surrounded by bad systems and negative people with no improvement in sight.

 

  • I know my reinforcers.  Clinical quality and refining my skills; ways to further my professional development.  Learning from others with more experience.  Developing positive and functional work relationships with my colleagues and supervisees.  Seeing clients progress.  I was contacting some of these, but not all.  Not enough.

 

  • Yes. I am unemployed, but I will be fine.

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I had a hiccup around the same time last year; I didn’t think I would finish the PCT.  This situation is different, but not entirely.  I was asked in a recent job interview: “What do you think you learned the most from your hike?”

Historically, I take the steps necessary to get where I want to go.  I’m stepping back now and re-assessing for my next move.

I learned this: I will be fine.

 

 

 

 

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“Later Tang Problems”

I left Sonora Pass on September 21st, unsure of how I was going to get into Mammoth Lakes for my next resupply.  The shuttle from Red’s Meadow was discontinued for the season, and I didn’t want to count on a ride from the campground (which closed at the end of the month).  I looked out at my first view of the Sierra, and stopped fretting.  That was a Later Tang Problem.

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I decided to exit the trail via Devil’s Postpile Monument, as I figured it was still hiking tourist season: greater chances that someone could give me a ride into town.  I arrived at the parking lot around 9 or 10am on a Tuesday, and immediately realized my mistake.  Everyone was arriving, but no one was leaving yet.  I started walking around the parking lot, asked a gentleman getting into a truck.  He indicated they were going the opposite direction.  No one else was departing.

I opted to walk up the hill to the main road to see if my chances would be better up there.  As I walked, the same gentleman and his wife offered to at least give me a ride to the top of the hill.  I thanked them profusely.  And as I shut the truck door (simultaneously apologizing for my stench), he turned to his wife and said, “Honey, why don’t we just go into Mammoth?”  And they drove 13 miles out of their way to bring me to the hostel, declining any contribution for gas.


Two weeks ago: It was a cold Thursday morning following a heavy snow overnight, delaying my work day by two hours.  I planned to get a head start on the commute to hopefully allow for heavy Denver traffic, leaving at 8am with plenty of work to do in the extra time before clients arrived.

I put my car in reverse, backed out of my parking spot, and put my little Honda Fit in first gear.  The front end of my car shot up a curb, and I knew the sound of a ripped tire immediately: I’d done the same thing 2 years prior.  I pulled to the nearest safe spot to park, and cursed at myself.  I’ve changed a tire myself, so I waved a generous samaritan away.  Then found out that the lug nuts that have been on my wheels for over a year would not budge.


My attitude toward life inconveniences has changed since I spent the better part of last year hiking.  I ran into numerous situations on the trail that delayed me, caused extra stress, and required problem-solving.  I realized after several run-ins with potentially tricky logistics and hours spent worrying about how I was going to get from the trail to the next town, that the trail really does provide.  I could ruminate about my worries and stress about making it to the next resupply by my arbitrary deadline.  But ruminating and worrying wasn’t going to do anything.  And time after time, regardless of how much I turned over the possible outcomes, things always worked out.

So when I had to call my boyfriend (Mountain Goat; PCT NOBO ’17), to come help me loosen the lug nuts on my flat tire with his (far superior) tire iron, I realized the trail continued to provide even after I left the southern terminus almost 4 months ago.

What it has provided me with is my attitude.

I walked out of work 8 days after my flat tire to another flat tire.  And all I could do was laugh. (And think, “If I believed in God I would start to take this personally…”)

Life will always be full of stress, stressors, and weeks of walking through shit.  The trail provided me with a stronger sense of self-sufficiency but also a mindful belief that if I can’t do anything about it right now, it’s a “Later Tang Problem.”

 

 

 

An Ode to the Sky

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Everywhere and everything.

You’re powerful and unrelenting,

yet forgiving.

You shine ahead,

And growl for us to turn back.

You’re open and bright,

and closing in.

A deep and endless vortex,

with a purple snow-cast hue.

Soft feathers thrown from your hands,

Onto our cheeks.

Crisp but flushed, we lean into your forceful breath;

Turning back, we decide not to test you.

This time, you win.

 

Elevation Change

We obviously don’t have an elevation profile for our lives.  It wouldn’t be exciting that way.

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again.  So why bother in the first place?  Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.

One climbs, one sees.  One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.  There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.  When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

-Rene Daumal

I started a new job last week, and really I couldn’t have asked for a smoother transition into working life.  I’ve had over a month to settle in to a new place, I’ve made connections and I feel like I belong here.  My co-workers are welcoming, friendly, and interested in getting to know me. The job will be challenging, but it’s what I want and am qualified to do.  And I live in a beautiful place.  I am in awe of the trails in my backyard, and the sunshine is strong.

But I’ve descended from the Pacific Crest Trail.  I remind myself to look up at the stars, but then I’m sad because I have to remember to do it.  I drink my coffee on my way to work and remember how much I love to sit in my sleeping bag just cradling my collapsable mug, with silence and darkness as my morning company.  I’ve returned to my vegan diet, but fondly remember the hiker trash burger from the Cascade Locks Ale House.

I am not walking every day right now, but I remember the ascent of Mt. Whitney, Forester Pass, Glen Pass, coming out of Seiad Valley and Belden, climbing Mt. Baden Powell and Mt. San Jacinto.  In a sense I have climbed to where I am now, but I feel like I’ve descended from the PCT.

But descent is not a bad thing.  I don’t think of it as a “gain” or “loss.”  It’s a change.  And I hope to adapt to that and walk until I adapt again. Life doesn’t come with an elevation profile, and I didn’t look at it on the trail anyway. I don’t know what the upcoming elevation change will be, but an evening commute looking at the Rockies isn’t half bad.

 

 

Find it, keep it

The reason I started hiking the PCT evolved over the course of my northbound and southbound journey.  And I only knew what I was looking for when I found it.

Why did I hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

I wrote a little bit about this in a previous blog post from August: Oh, (not) my God.  In 2017 I held on to a lot of anger.  I made mistakes, I was manipulated, I lost a friendship, and I lost someone I loved to cancer.  I was angry with myself and angry with how the world worked.  But I don’t think that anger was unique or merely a product of what had happened that year.

In his book, Waking Up, Sam Harris talks about suffering: “Even while living safely between emergencies, most of us feel a wide range of painful emotions on a daily basis.  When you wake up in the morning, are you filled with joy?  How do you feel at work or when looking in the mirror?  How satisfied are you with what you have accomplished in life?…..Even for extraordinarily lucky people, life is difficult” (42).

Over the years I have been exposed to the practice of mindfulness and meditation but have not quite adopted it into my lifestyle.  I practiced “staying in the moment” during cross-country and track seasons in high school and college.  My mom has encouraged me to meditate even just 8 minutes a day, and I know there is value in daily mindfulness.  I have yet to establish a sustainable response pattern, but my thru-hike was a step (well, lots of steps) in that direction.

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I was sitting at a water cache in Southern California, huddled against the wind and eating Cheez-it snack mix at 10:30am.  My hiking companion at the time, Relish, was seated a little ways away and I broke the silence with the question: “Do you ever get the feeling out here that you’re doing exactly what you should be doing?”

In that moment, I did not want to be anywhere else.  I was sitting in the dirt airing out my sweaty feet, hadn’t showered in almost 2 weeks, and still had 15-20 miles left to walk that day.  But that’s exactly what peace feels like to me.


Why did I hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

It was a few days later that I realized I had found the answer to that question. I was about a day north of Tehachapi, California.  I had just gotten water for the evening and was walking the last 6 miles of the day.  It was quiet against the setting sun, and tears started streaming down my face.

I accepted the things that happened in 2017 and since then.  I had held them for a while, and I was ready to let them go.  I was ready to move forward with a different mindset about my interaction with the space around me, both on and off the trail.

I cried because I realized I wasn’t angry anymore.

Why did I hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

I needed physical and emotional space.  I needed to be surrounded by stillness and natural movement, the wind, the sun, sometimes the rain.  I needed to be able to choose the depth of my human interaction, on my own terms.  Did I find what I was looking for?  Yes.  I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I found peace.  And I’m going to try to keep it.

 

Engage All Glutei and Kick Ass

“I’m big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.” -Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation 

It has been a busy year.  I walked a lot.  I learned some important things, and have evolved through relationships with others and with myself.  I left a job on the east coast, attempted and halted a northbound thru-hike, attempted and completed a southbound thru-hike, and moved out west to start another chapter of my life.  As I have spent the last week or so reflecting on the ups and downs, I have gleaned three themes that I hope will also guide me in the next year.

I don’t really feel the need to come up with a list of things I want in 2019 as “New Year’s Resolutions.” Sure, I have my hopes and goals.  But instead of coming up with a number of hoped-for accomplishments, I would like to be patient, trust my gut, and engage all glutei to kick ass.

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Be patient.

This year was an exercise in patience.  I started my thru-hike attempt at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail in Campo, California on March 30th.  After a little less than 2 months and 800 miles, I exited the trail with a fourth metatarsal stress fracture in my left foot.  Seven weeks later I returned, but at the northern terminus to attempt a southbound thru-hike.  I learned more patience in those 7 weeks and the following 3.5 months.  I knew I had to listen to my body, only introducing more mileage when it was ready.

Starting my southbound thru-hike was terrifying.  I didn’t want to be sidelined with the same injury again, so I approached my return systematically.  I had to be patient.  And after completing my hike I have had to re-adopt that mentality.  I know I can hike 30, 35, and 40 miles a day.  Returning to running after my hike has proved to be another exercise in patience.  I simply can’t jump in where I left off after last fall’s marathon; my body is where it is now and I need to meet it there.  I’m ecstatic after a 3.5 mile run (with some walking), but cautious.  I’m building strength and staying active in other ways.  Ultra marathons aren’t going anywhere.  I need to be patient.

Trust my gut.

If it tells me to take a break, reach out, be alone, seek company.  Refuse a hitch.  Say “yes, please.” Say “no, thank you.”  Be unapologetic about the things I need.

“What’s important is that you make the leap.  Jump high and hard with intention and heart.  Pay no mind to the vision the committee made up.  You get to make your life.” – Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough

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Engage all glutei and kick ass.

There may be some tough climbs (literally, and metaphorically).  In the baking sun, with gnats flying in my mouth, nose, and ears.  Climbs that make me throw my trekking poles and shout at no one.  There will also be descents: ones that test my knees and footing, descents that bring me to the lowest of lows and to the start of another fucking climb.  Post-holing and blood might be involved.  As my friend, Darwin, would say, “Embrace the suck.”

I’m not sure who said it, but I am fond of the quote: “Never half ass anything.  Whatever you do, always use your whole ass.”  I reminded myself on the trail to focus on engaging my butt each step to prevent knee injury.   Each step added up, and allowed me to walk even more than I thought I could.

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions.  In 2019 I will try to be patient and trust my gut.  But mostly I would like to remind myself to engage all glutei and kick ass.

 

Thru-Privilege, Balancing Tension, and Fulfilling my Civic Duty

I sometimes struggle with the fact that I was able to complete a thru-hike.  It seems counter-intuitive.  Yes, I sacrificed life’s daily comforts, a steady paycheck, being near loved ones, and I stretched myself physically and mentally every day.  I like to agree that what I did was admirable.  I’m not second-guessing that, but I think it’s important to step back and acknowledge my privilege to attempt a thru-hike in the first place.

According to this year’s Annual PCT Survey, Halfway Anywhere found that 90.8% of reporting hikers were white.  Forty-nine and a half percent of reporting hikers had a bachelor’s degree, and 22% held a graduate degree.

I think these demographics matter.

There are multiple layers to my privilege.  I was born heterosexual and white, to a middle-class family in an upper-middle class community in the Northeast of the United States.  Both of my parents hold graduate degrees.  I received my undergraduate education from a prestigious women’s college and my graduate degree from a top behavior analysis program.  I have been taught and mentored by leaders in my field, and am not drowning in student loans.

I am proud of what I have accomplished and the career I have started.  But I am privileged.  And while I hope to continue embarking on adventures similar to my PCT thru-hike, I wish to look a bit more closely at what I call “thru-privilege.”

I will be okay.

I remember being told by someone after the 2016 election that “We will be okay,” and seeing comments on the internet, “We survived a Reagan presidency, so we can survive a Trump presidency.”  Yes, I will be okay.  But the fact of the matter is that so many people haven’t been okay and will not be okay; and many people did NOT survive the Reagan presidency.

As a thru-hiker, there were many times I walked alone into small towns throughout Washington, Oregon, and California.  Sure, I am cautious as a solo female hiker.  But I am white and I present as “gender normal.”  I simply don’t have to think about my safety in the same way that people of color or LGBTQ+ individuals do, especially in more conservative communities.

“It must have been awesome not reading the news every day.”  Yes, it was.  But I feel a little guilty that I am able to escape.  When I was back in the Northeast for 6 weeks while my stress fracture healed, children and babies were being held in cages at the border.  I remember enjoying my continental breakfast at a Best Western and learning the outcome of the Kavanaugh hearing and watching his subsequent Supreme Court appointment.

I feel lucky that I was able to save the money, quit my job, and embark on a thru-hike.  I think anyone who attempts such a thing should be proud.  But it is a privilege to be able to run away from financial, civil, and social responsibilities for a period of time.

Balancing Tension and Fulfilling my Civic Duty

I know many people wish to avoid talking about politics.  That bothers me.  But I understand it, to a certain extent.  People are angry and some don’t wish to stir up that anger in others.  I like to think there is a way to talk about these things in a constructive manner, but it requires effort.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette came out on Netflix while I was home before I started my southbound hike.  This comedy special is important in so many ways and I urge you to watch it.  Gadsby talks about “balancing tension” and how anger is not constructive.  With our current administration and public response (sometimes from both sides), we can see how anger unites a room.  But anger doesn’t get us anywhere.

Privilege allows some to maintain a certain amount of ignorance and apathy toward political issues.  I am not immune to this.  I often feel overwhelmed and at a loss for how I can make an impact.  Retreating for a little while can be a crucial form of self-care, especially for those whose rights are being attacked (and while I am certainly privileged, some of my rights as a woman, unfortunately, fall under this category).  As I continue to examine my experience as a thru-hiker and citizen of the United States, I hope to find a constructive way to deal with my emotional response to injustice and crimes against humanity.  Fulfilling my civic duty by voting in the mid-term elections was an important step, but it doesn’t end there.