Mouth agape, my old roommate Chris looked at me like he’d just seen a ghost.
“You were just in California a second ago,” he said, straddling his bike on Main Street in downtown Boise. “What are you doing here???”
“I’m not really here,” I said, holding a finger up to my lips. “I’m going back to the trail on Thursday, I promise.”
Just two days before this, I looked despairingly at the landscape I love so much and have missed so dearly from my window seat on Horizon Airline’s Dash 8–a small commuter plane with twin propellers and two seats per row.
I walked through the nearly empty airport on Friday night and I waited on the curb alone until my grandpa pulled up.
This was not the homecoming I imagined.
It wasn’t a planned trip home. It’s not how I thought my journey on the PCT would end. Rewind only a few hours earlier, when I felt an overwhelming sense of dread for all things PCT-related. Storytime and I were on our way to New York to visit his family for the 4th of July. Without going into too much detail, I ultimately decided Flight 415 wasn’t the right flight for me. Instead, I bought an (expensive) ticket on Flight 2323, nonstop service to Boise, Idaho.
There was a lot of crying: on the phone with my mom, in the airport bathroom, into my bowl of steak fried rice.
My grandpa took me to a sushi restaurant for dinner after I landed. The waitress commented on my sunburned nose. I wanted to tell her she had no idea what I’ve been through. Instead, I listened to my grandpa tell me I should be proud of making it 942 miles. I didn’t feel proud. I felt rock bottom.
When we got home, my dog Marcy looked at me the same way Chris did: like she didn’t at first realize who she was seeing. A lot of people have looked at me like that this week. She approached me slowly, then jumped up on me a bunch, then went back to sniffing the floor around her.
Saturday was spent in a tired daze. Tessa gave me a big hug and we sipped coffee together outside, talked. I told her everything. She told me she was happy I was home. I took Marcy for a hike on my favorite loop. Two miles goes by fast. My mom and I stood in the pantry, the shelves still lined with my resupply boxes.
“Look at all these places you still get to go,”she said. “Sierra City. Ashland. Crater Lake.”
It’s not that I felt disappointed about not walking the full 2,650 miles. I walked nearly 1,000 miles through the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevada’s. I get the gist of it. I felt disappointed because I didn’t get out of the journey what I set out to get: greater confidence and self-assurance, independence, and the ability to find happiness and joy within the struggle.
Instead, I felt terrible about myself. I felt defeated. I felt like I had my ass kicked every day for some 70 days in a row. I didn’t find happiness or joy in the struggle. In fact, I struggled to find happiness and joy in anything my last few weeks on trail. My mom did come and walk with Storytime and I from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows–35 miles–and that was excellent.
My mom loved the beautiful scenery. She enjoyed our campfires and we surprised her with the makings for s’mores. She called my little tent cozy, but by the end of our three-day stretch, she was ready to be done.
In Tuolumne, she exhibited true thru-hiker form and wrangled us a ride with a gay Italian couple in a gigantic Cadillac Escalade to Highway 395. They ended up taking us all the way back to Mammoth Lakes, then we drove three hours north to Kings Beach and spent the next three days in a gorgeous vacation rental home on Lake Tahoe.
Those days were spent taking naps, spending time with my siblings, eating home-cooked meals, stumbling through a ropes course in Squaw Valley and watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the second time on trail.
But seeing her leave again left me with an even greater sense of homesickness. I gave in.
Fast forward a week later, to tonight. A small bag of provisions is resting beside my bedroom door. My plane ticket back to Reno is bought and the flight leaves at 9:20 a.m. tomorrow morning. From there, a bus to Lee Vining. From there, a hitchhike into Yosemite, back to Tuolumne.
I’m glad I came home. It restored in me a sense of strength. I went to my favorite yoga class. I kicked up dust on a high-intensity mountain bike ride. I ran on the treadmill for a half hour without even breaking a sweat. I reached my flow state on my wake surfboard. I saw my friends, hugged my family, kissed my dog. Complete strangers who heard of my journey reminded me of its bad-assery.
Whether I make it all the way to Canada, or another three days on the Pacific Crest Trail, I feel good about going back.