I remember the first time I got angry on the trail. It was a couple weeks in and at some point in the morning I realized I was hiking, and had been hiking, southeast for quite a while. Southeast? I was supposed to be walking north to Canada. What was with this southeast stuff?! As the next couple miles continued I could feel myself getting angrier. There may have been a couple choice words said when I asked no one in particular (but very much out loud) why I was hiking south. “I’m supposed to be going NORTH”, I said to the cacti, lizards and general wilderness surrounding me.
This wasn’t the only time I got frustrated about the direction of the trail. In Northern California, near Mt. Shasta, there was stretch when I hiked west and southwest for around 70 miles. By that point on the trail I had gotten used to it but was still annoyed.
I have spent enough time in the wilderness to know that trails are never straight and often wind through the trees, around knolls, switch backing up and down grades, following the natural lay of the terrain, landmarks, rivers, and more. For some reason, this was really hard for me to remember when my goal was north and finishing the PCT. Going southeast for a day or 70 miles west was using a lot of my time and energy.
When I paid attention, though, and checked out my maps I could see the trail was heading a certain way to stay on national forest land, avoid private property, or travel along a specific mountain range. Sometimes when I looked back I would see huge cliffs or rock faces that the trail was skirting around in order to take the best and safest route. There were things I couldn’t see from my position on the trail and with my limited knowledge of what was beyond 50 feet of me. As I kept moving forward, the trail would make sense. It was as if some experienced people with all the needed info, maps, policies, and etc. created the trail and knew what they were doing! Imagine that!
Some days, especially in the desert, I could see miles of trail ahead of me. I could tell exactly where I was heading. I enjoyed those open expanses and ridges that allowed me to look both ahead to where I was going and behind to see how far I’d come.
And, then there were the days of hiking in continuous fog and mist, unable to see anything beyond 20 feet, not knowing what the views or terrain were like. Doing the hard work of hiking up and over a pass only to be rewarded with . . . More clouds and fog. Mentally, these foggy, cloudy days got to me. It was hard to hike for 10 hours just being able to see a short distance ahead. The scenery was such a big part of the PCT journey and I didn’t want to miss any of it. It was on one of these foggy days, about four weeks in, that I finally broke down and started listening to podcasts, needing a little something to help get me through the day.
I realized pretty quickly that I could either be frustrated by the sometimes non-north direction of the trail and these foggy days or trust that whoever created the path knew where it was headed, even if I didn’t. I could sit down and refuse to walk anymore because I wished it was another way or I could keep hiking. I made a conscious effort to stop trying to figure out every detail of the trail and just . . . Walk forward. The less I tried to control it the more I appreciated the trail and the views around each bend.
My state of life when hiking the PCT was fairly up in the air. I knew at the moment what my purpose and goal were–get to Canada and soak in what I was learning along the way. Once I got to Canada? I had no plans after that. As in, the path was completely fogged in with zero visibility and definitely not a straight path! That’s how it felt anyway. So, needless to say, I spent a lot of time reflecting on this as I hiked along the winding, foggy, and sometimes clear trail.
There was one moment in northern Yosemite when this “Lesson From the Trail” started to sink in deeper. I received some #trailwisdom from Sister Simone Campbell while listening to the OnBeing podcast one afternoon. She said, ” Looking to the future . . . It looks dark . . . Faith is walking through a mist with your eyes wide open. And that’s what it feels like when you are trying to find your place. But then the amazing thing is to look back; it looks like it all was a straight line. You can see the straight line of light that makes us who we are.”
I have experienced all of these along my life path–certainty, fog, and what seem like southbound routes when I think I should be heading north. I have also experienced the looking back and seeing the straight line after what felt like a tremendously curvy trail. I look back and see that things make sense after all; that the questions I had about how different pieces of my journey would come together have been answered. And, that the Creator of my life path knows what they are doing. “A straight line of light that makes us who we are” . . . I love this line as it recognizes how all the parts of our journey–good and hard, joyful and devastating, common and extraordinary–are constantly shaping us into our present person.
Now that I am back from the PCT, the path ahead still seems foggy with limited visibility. I had hoped for clarity about my next job by the time I left the PCT. I really wanted to hone in on what my career path was going to be specifically. While I do have a greater understanding of my vocation and calling after the PCT, I did not walk away with any tangible, clear-path-ahead vision. This has made it difficult in the job hunt as I daily look for jobs that can help support how I want to live and give me the freedom to pursue what I’m interested in.
I look forward to a time ahead when the fog lifts and I clearly see the path ahead of me, as well as that line of Light that has led me perfectly. Lately, I have been praying, quite persistently, that the clouds would clear up . . . Even just for a little while.
A big part of my role in this journey is about having the faith to keep walking forward, trusting the Creator and making decisions, even when things don’t make sense and are unknown. Sister Simone Campbell refers to this as, “the groping in the dark, that piece of listening to the nudges and paying attention . . . You’ll know the right way forward.”
What is your path looking like right now? Foggy or clear? Winding or straight? Certain or uncertain? Some days I feel like I’m experiencing all of these things at the same time! Whatever the trail is like for you right now, may you find the faith to keep walking forward “through the mist with your eyes wide open.” May you have the experience one day of looking back and seeing a straight line of light. And, in all of it may you find joy and peace in the present moments.