People that have followed my blog since the spring of 2018 may have noticed a bit of an arch. I've noticed it as well. I've been there watching and wondering to myself, sometimes aloud, walking from seabeds to summits and trying to get a light grasp on things. I can't say that I really have, only that I've moved forward, learning as I go, which seems to be the only way I can sponge relevant information from the world. But I don't know what amount of wisdom the world has to offer at the end of the day. There are reams of data which can be interesting for sure, but I'm not really fond of data. I suppose I prefer to have my data with some kind of context.
There are guiding signs everywhere. The PCT continues to offer metaphor after quiet metaphor two years after it was completed. It sits still with me through everything. It remains the gold standard in terms of what it symbolized at that particular point in time where worlds were ending and beginning all at once. I haven't been able to just 'move on' and stick both of my feet in something socially acceptable. After the trail I thought I'd come back baptized by the forest in some way. I just didn't understand what that would mean and where it would take me. I didn't know it would cast light on the already-deepening divides between myself and The Past. Everything was on the table with a giant spot-light on it saying "William. Seriously." I can't quite describe to anyone how difficult it was to stand still at stop signs all of a sudden without sounding cuckoo...so I danced and skirted and hiked some more and whined to the heavens and blogged with a growing defiance and tried to assimilate back into society in some way. I'm not sure it worked at all.
I guess I keep writing about it because there's elements that I just won't ever be able to shake even two years later as we approach the AZT. These are hard bridges to bridge. While some relationships suffered, others became stronger than ever, but the most important one was the relationship I had to myself which had been compromised through years of habitual doing and not-doing, assuming I was on a path when I was often rather scouting the edge of life's most obvious pitfalls. I wake up almost stunned by some of these stories...over what I believed and took for granted, but this is what most people would roll their eyes at. "Yeah dummy, it's called growing up." That's a whole different book.
How do you blog about this stuff? The oddest thing is that I saw a healer at the behest of my sister, who is herself a counselor. We've both seen people using different modalities as we make sense of everything since 2018 (and before). Why is there still anger? Why does it matter? What have I carried with me and how far back does it go? We work with generational trauma and all kinds of interesting things to pinpoint and release blockages but on my very first visit to the healer she said "Hang on. Before we get started we've got to get rid of these other souls around you." Other souls? I didn't even bat an eyelash. It was in fact, the first thing that'd made sense in a long time. How else could you explain my life?
And then...back to work. There was editing on Time in the Year of the Bluebird, a book written from such a cockeyed precipice and released with such oblivious gusto. There were perspectives that needed cohesion. Tons of fat to cut. I realized people had to read the damn thing. So far I'd had overwhelmingly positive feedback but with one caveat: "kinda hard to follow sometimes". I get it. I think a lot of friends and family read it as "Will's PCT book" and others were too close to the material to stay truly objective, including myself. As I slung paragraphs together during that grey Zurich spring I was nearly in a frenzy for two reasons. 1.) It was keeping me grounded in a foreign country and 2.) I realized life was still happening at break-neck speed and the trail was becoming a series of memories that I'd be lucky to preserve with the right amount of reverence. So, I took care to include minor details that would probably only make sense to a seasoned thru-hiker. I scrambled the time-lines deliberately to reflect the reality of 2017-19. Time itself was like a Slinky, rolling on some kind of treadmill and I didn't have access to the controls. What I didn't tell people though, was that the entire story itself wasn't really about the PCT. It was about time itself, a subject that I've been long-fascinated with. Doing a thru-hike merely accentuates the elasticity of time in certain respects, but so does losing a loved one. So does meeting your wife. So do dreams and foreign countries...so, it has been edited for the 2nd edition with a little more respect for the reader. I honestly like it a lot more-as much as I wanted to drag people through my subjective reality. It reads like a real novel now.
So we've been saving. Reading. Accumulating all that nuanced peripheral data that comes in the form of 101 matters of hearsay when it comes thru-hikes. It's challenging to hold the vision when I'm more than three months out from something like this. Sometimes you wait for your paddle to float alongside the raft in the Great River at the right moment and things just start happening again. I felt an immediate connection to the AZT when I got to Flagstaff and was pretty pleased to realize I basically lived on it. It's more of a slow burn than a crazy leap into blind inspiration like the first one. You accumulate a massive set of 'things not to worry about' alongside all the other tactical planning that goes into it. For all its winding 800 miles the AZT basically puts us on the same parallel as South Kennedy Meadows. My gosh, just to remember how we felt that day. Hitching in from the Kern River with a group of fishermen in front of a trail of dust. The kindness of Scott and his wife-running the whole shindig, keeping the beer flowing beside mountains of pancakes...missing my first resupply box, finally finding it, and heading off toward the snow with all the extra gear on my back. I remember feeling like the pack was going to snap a vertebrae if I didn't manage my steps for the first five days. It was a long arduous slog, taking us to the top of Whitney and back down to guitar lack before tackling Forester Pass. Two days later we popped over Kearsarge. I'd have to say that was one of the most defining moments of the Socal Section. It really meant something.
We talk about the AZT; much shorter overall, but anyone who's done it knows what two months (let alone two weeks) can do to you. I suppose I have small regrets over the general administration of my post-PCT life but at the same time I was holding onto the reigns of something much larger than myself-at least it felt that way. Stories abound detailing the vain attempts to magically insert one's self back into your culture after one of the these. More often it's just the baffled view of society from askance. "What is this place?" You feel like a Saquatch who was dumb enough to be seen again. I've watched guys break down in tears on confessional Youtube videos because they sincerely don't know how to just 'get on with life' after the trail. Worst of all, you're tasked with the impossible inclination to share what you can't possibly share, but then you know. You know what the other side of a thru-hike is like. You know what to expect. Your delusions of grandeur are well-tempered, slightly integrated, honed at the edges. You've given yourself time to locate the sand-traps again. Boom. There's your paddle.
We don't know what the AZT will be like. That's part of the mystery. We know what walking a lot is like, sure, but you can't say anything about a long-distance hike that isn't going to come back and silently bite you between strides as soon as you hit the trail. I guess that's why I can't stand these "How to do a thru-hike" videos. "What NOT to do". "What I, personally would have done differently, etc." You walk. A ton. The rest is Your Journey and it's probably one of the most personal things you can imagine doing regardless of how many people you share it with. We all know the stories, struggles, hacks, and broken coin-op showers locations that are going to give you as much hot water as you want at Snoqualmie Pass (until they fix it) but we're basically out there with the earth and her elements as highly-adaptive hairless mammals. There's no doubt you'll find lifelong comraderie out there and your definitions and boundaries and labels of people will evolve but I don't know what to project for the AZT. There's a few hopes and quiet wishes bit I guess this time it comes down to a desire as much as a compulsion. Hanne and I agreed that when the PCT finally hit us both it wasn't a matter of if. There were no questions...it was more of a possession like: "Whoa, I'm doing This now so I better get prepared." Two years later it's something else. It's the madness of 2020 and the fact that despite our best efforts and all the beauty of the Alps and the hundreds of miles we've walked since, there's a kind of stark honesty about our ability to bullseye things all the time. Life comes in waves. We have paddles. Though we operated on inspiration for the past two years, it also required a ton of legal stuff that I was totally unfamiliar and totally intimidated by. It was like we spent all this time connecting to nature, and then here I was filling out fingerprint forms to get my residence in Switzerland and taking trains every which way to to make it all happen. Daunted is an under-statement, but that was just the way it was and it worked out. I guess regardless of the time since the first big trail, it's just always there like a seed that got planted. I know the AZT won't be the same at all. I go into these things will little to no expectations and I know coming back to civilization might suck even worse this time, but when you know, you just know. I don't know how many of these we'll end up doing though. Again, when you commit to these things you've got to have a rock-solid reason and I think what it comes down to is that we (like the rest of the world) need a serious break from 2020. At a time like this, when tempers and opinions and data are running in a red-hot cycle...it can be overwhelming and depressing and divisive and I'm so done with that.
I also know that as an Arizona native, I'll be passing through some of the state parks that we lived on as children, notably Oracle and Lost Dutchman. We were posted up at these ranger housing facilities before some of these parks were even open to the public. We'll also go past Reevis Mountain Canyon. I mean, these are some of the places I wrote about in Time in the Year of the Bluebird and as far as I know, Peter Bigfoot is still at it, just a little grayer. I can't imagine walking back through Oracle State park some 35 years later. All in all, these things are cathartic in a way I can't describe and we do it this time with a different kind of knowledge, a slightly-less touristy point of view, because in the end those weren't the things that made the trail. It was the things that I'll never be able to sufficiently portray with little books and blogs.