Near Defeat

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.

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Whether I make it all the way to Canada, or another three days on the Pacific Crest Trail, I feel good about going back.

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Photo Credit: Storytime
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13 thoughts on “Near Defeat

  1. Jessica, you shouldn’t feel bad or defeated for needing a respite from the grind of the trail. the PCT has broken many other hikers. I know there came a point I thought I would never get to finish the Idaho Centennial Trail. You just needed your batteries re-charged. We are all still rooting for you, no matter if you go all the way to Canada or whatever. We all know you will have given your very best. with much respect, Ron

  2. Jessica — obviously the badassery is in attempting the journey. Knocking down 1,000 miles is amazing. But that isn’t the point of my comment — I just wanted to say that many of us love reading your stories because you writing is so amazingly honest. Thanks for sharing so much with so many. I hope you find some joy in your trek because living the trip through your words brings a weekly smile to my face. Onward! — Ken Johnson

  3. Jessica, you are smart to know when you need a recharge and what you be better than in Boise with your dog, family and friends. Good luck on the journey wherever it takes you. I very much enjoy reading your stories. Doing to PCT is something I couldn not imagine for myself but now at least I can image what it would be like thru your wonderful writing and photos. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  4. What you have accomplished…so far…can never be taken away! What you have left to do will be at the very least well informed. I think you have more time on this journey…let go of expectations and enjoy the adventure (easy to say from my cool a/c in this heat wave!).
    You have a story to tell and you have a gift for storytelling….reminds me of a certain grandmother I know! (wink, wink LS).
    I wish you well as you continue this journey and I hope it takes you where you want to go!
    Cousin Diane

  5. Jessica,
    I will always cherish our three days together on the PCT! So peaceful and beautiful, and so much laughter and love. I was so happy to have a glimpse into your life on the trail, and to gain an appreciation of the extreme difficulty of this challenge you have undertaken. I’m proud and pleased about your ‘take two” on the PCT. You triumphantly return with more physical and emotional strength, with perspective and experience that only 1,000 miles in the wilderness can give you. I know you will meet amazing people, breathe in fresh mountain air, do sun salutations, power through the pain, and become your best self. I love you my darling daughter!
    Mom

  6. You are accomplishing something I would never even have the courage to consider, and I suspect there are many of us living a bit vicariously through your brave adventure. In time, I hope you come to appreciate the importance of taking the break to recharge and be Roth your family, seeing it not as weakness or failure but as the most courageous step in the journey. Thanks for sharing such incredible glimpses into your experience. Can’t wait for the next update.

    P.S. I meet you once, when you were a baby. You’ve grown into a remarkable person, no doubt in part because you have an amazing mom. Never be upset at yourself for needing another day with her.

  7. You go, girl. Go wherever you wanna go. Go back to the pain of the trail. Go back to Boise. Go back to bed. Just believe in yourself. And send the dispatches back to us – the triumphs and the failures and the joys and the disappointments. Nobody reading this is looking for a fairy tale. Thank for all the stories and pictures so far.

  8. It took lots of courage to know you needed to go home and reconnect, recharge & even more to go on to continue your journey & adventure. What a special time you & your Mom got to share. You’ve got the respect of many people who are cheering you on & looking forward to the next chapter in your PCT hike. Happy Trails!
    Love,
    Cousin Gail

  9. Don’t be bummed Jessica. Get back at it and drop it into overdrive, but don’t forget to smell the roses. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

  10. Amazing entry, Dirty Paws. You hiked 1000 miles. Now you know you can do the rest. Time to stop fighting that battle and just trust the journey. It will take you to the end if you stick with it and you will find what you are looking for. You already found the strength… Now you accept it and ride it out to the glorious finish. Canada or bust! Stoked for you.

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