When a young guy turned to me in the store today and said, “You’re Muk Muk who hiked the PCT in 2013,” it took me a second to register exactly who he was.
“Wait, who are you?” I asked in surprise, before recognising him as one of my fellow Australian thru-hikers who had treated me to a bowl of mouth-watering spaghetti bolognese in Oregon at a hostel in Ashland.
His trail name was Sir Poppins, and after Ashland I never saw him again until he showed up in the sleeping bag section of my store today. We embraced not as friends, but as family who had shared their home on the trail for half a year. He asked me about the dramatic events that unfolded in Washington amidst the almighty snowstorms he had missed having finished three weeks before me. He also asked if I thought about hiking the trail again, and I told him I still thought about it every other day.
“It becomes engrained in you,” he agreed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever have a proper relationship again because of my attachment to that trail.”
It was comforting to hear a fellow 2013 thru-hiker say this, as I sometimes wonder if I think back to that experience more often than I should. We laughed at the fact we had both returned to Canada to be closer to the mountains, and like me, he had found work selling outdoor gear while determining his next chapter of destiny. I guess it’s common for thru-hikers to feel such a strong pull to the pathway that was once our home. Everyone’s experience is unique, but the connection we have to each other and the wilderness we ventured through is the same. Both become part of our blood, and will live with us forever.
Tonight I took an evening stroll through the cemetery to walk off the enormous meal I’d consumed to celebrate the birthday of my dear friend Jill’s mother. The half moon was shining eerily between the thick fog of moving clouds, and it occurred to me that it was the first time in a long while that I was using the light of the moon to see where I was going. This became common practise on the trail, especially when the moon was full and you could walk without the assistance of your headlamp for light. It was also the first time in a while that I’d felt so alone walking at night. I figured my biggest threat was another human waiting to jump out from behind a tombstone, which was an unlikely scenario at best, allowing me to relax and enjoy the silence and solitude of the dimly lit pathway covered in a blanket of wet fallen leaves.
The summer has finally come to a close, and following my final field course of SUP (stand up paddle board) surfing in Tofino this year, I could feel the change of seasons alter my mood. I definitely fell into a funk of post trip blues, feeling much less motivated to get out on the water and paddle when its 12°C than when it was 24. But fall has painted the streets of Vancouver with the most incredible pinks, browns, yellows and reds, that I’m enamoured by the beauty of this city every day when I peddle my bike to work. I don’t feel like the seasons are as exaggerated back in Australia, but it’s also been a long time since I’ve spent an entire year in one hemisphere.
In a recent email from Fuller he reminded me it was my two-year anniversary of finishing the trail on October 7th. Considering how much I think about the trail I was surprised it hadn’t occurred to me, but that day I’d been returning from Tofino and my surfing trip, where I was once again treated to the spectacle of bioluminescence, and to one of the most magnificent sunsets I’d ever seen. In a way I was relieved that I hadn’t remembered, that after two years the trail wasn’t consuming my every thought. But after talking to Sir Poppins today, I realise it’s inevitable the memories will be ever present, returning through connections with its people, or those moments when we’re surrounded by the brilliance of nature.