In the summer of 2006 I lost my Mom.
I don’t think anyone takes losing a parent easily. My Mom had been sick for a very long time, and while I knew it was coming, I didn’t deal with it well. Like so often in my life then, if I was unhappy, sad, lost or whatever…I went hiking. Hiking was my therapy. My Mom had lost use of her kidneys the year my oldest son was born (1997), and had existed on dialysis for a long time after that. Because she lived on an island, she had done the waist portal, so she could do 2X a day at home. It allowed her a much wider range of life. When my oldest was little, I often would drive us to the mountains, and my Mom would come along. While Ford and I hiked, my Mom would do her mid-day transfer in my truck and nap. It’s a set of memories I hold tightly.
A few days after I lost her, I set out on a 75+ mile trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. I had planned the hike all winter, and I just wanted to go still. No one would have said anything had I backed out. But I felt that at least I wasn’t waiting for her to die anymore. Harsh, but reality. I knew she’d have wanted me to go. But 75 miles in 4 nights is many, many miles seeing inside your mind. I wasn’t feeling chatty, and I was unprepared for the hike we did. For one, it was supposed to be a few days longer. Somehow the days became longer, and the push to go farther became stronger. I didn’t have enough food. I wore shoes that ripped my feet up. I hurt. I was hungry. I was very lonely.
And I hated the world. The last night, I went to bed miserable, alongside one of the prettiest alpine lakes I have been to. I woke up before dawn, and was hiking long before the sun even came over the edges of the ridges. I was done. I had spent the previous day full of anger, while hiking in what should have been a life trip. The day in front of me would be 19 miles. I was ready to sit down and give up. By that point I was hiking alone from the group. They stopped in a very pretty area for a snack. I just kept walking. I didn’t want to be near anyone.
I sat on a boulder here. And had a horrible pity crying fest. I couldn’t quit crying. I was so miserable. I tried to call Kirk, I had one bar of cell reception and left a blubbery message.
Then I saw a baby mountain goat. It was so very upset. Because it was being weaned by Mom. It ran around crying. Finally it stopped. Then it went off to do whatever goats do (Pee? Eat bushes?) I had this moment of clarity. Life goes on. It just does. I felt myself relaxing. And for the first time on the trip I sat and looked around – and realized what an amazing trail I was on. The goats milled around under me. They didn’t care about me.
I pulled out my food bag and looked in. I had 3 small things left. I ate one. It was around Noon. I knew I needed to go home. I had at least 12 miles to go.
I said goodbye to the goats, and started hiking. A few miles later I called Kirk, this time not crying my eyes out. I asked if he’d pick me up at the trailhead and he said yes. And with that…the trail was a happy place to be. 7 miles from the trailhead I got water and ate my final food.
I went home and felt free. I’ve often wondered about the wee mountain goat all those years ago. Did it survive its first year? Is it still out there? But that little goat set me free.