It was her celebratory graduation trip. After years of studying as she held down two jobs, on-going volunteer work, and a jam-packed schedule, it was time for a break. But when Carolyn told me her plan, I was speechless. While some graduates take off to relax on the beach and others venture out with their backpack around Europe, she wanted to take a hike of another kind – 2,650 miles that stretched from Mexico to Canada. Yes, it is the Pacific Crest Trail, the one that is now infamous as the backdrop for the movie Wild. (Based on the suggestion of many friends, I decided not to watch that show until Carolyn’s return.)
So off she flew at 5 a.m. the morning after graduation, carrying only a 30-pound backpack of supplies for her five-month adventure. She had been planning this trip for the past year and – during finals week – had assembled 10 food replenishment boxes that would be sent during the trip. Since she was traveling solo, I bought her a GPS with satellite communication and a 911 emergency button. Once a day my phone would ping with the standard message: “Still alive, still hiking.” That was it – just four words. For the first week, that was our only communication.
When Carolyn finally arrived to a town with cell phone reception, she shared stories of her “trail family;” a terrifying, stormy night sleeping on a rock ledge; and discovering a beautiful lake amidst the scorching desert. Tales of “trail angels” made me smile, especially “Hiker Heaven,” complete with a shower, fresh water, grills, guitars on the owner’s back porch, and plenty of room in their backyard to pitch tents. We even FaceTimed as she hiked so I could experience a front-row glimpse of the narrow, dusty path. She was glowing and in her element, despite the challenges.
Our next call was not as encouraging. A hiker a few miles behind her had been chased down by a mountain lion, and a wildfire was currently blazing on the trail she had just crossed hours earlier. Carolyn could have been caught in the “Stone Fire” which devoured thousand of acres, but because of the 100+ degree days, she opted to wait to hike until that evening. At 6 p.m., she and a few others forged on until 1 a.m., then stopped for a three-hour nap before continuing. Had they not ventured out on that night hike, her group likely would have been caught in the midst of the fire. Coincidence, I think not! I knew God was protecting her and her fellow hikers.
There were also desert dust storms, tarantulas, snakes, and large scorpions. “The tarantulas aren’t that bad, but the bugs that eat them are pretty scary,” Carolyn explained. “I saw lots of snakes on the trail but only two rattlesnakes, and one was shaking his tail at me. I just waited until it passed and then started running.” As she shared her stories I was dumbfounded, thinking, “This was supposed to be a break!” Not only did Carolyn have to endure these creepy creatures, but the extreme conditions through the desert had resulted in little sleep and a continual quest for shade and water. On top of that, she had already lost 15 pounds and was concerned her weight loss would continue in the months ahead.
So after hiking 500 miles through the desert while wildfires continued to blaze in the distance, I was relieved to receive this text, “Hey Mama. I’m off trail today and for a whole bunch of reasons think this is the end of this part of the adventure for me. … I think my body needs a little recuperation time.” The next day Carolyn arrived home exhausted to a feast, a clean comfy bed, hot shower, and lots of hugs from me and Toto.
And as she rests now, her GPS is silent. I will no longer receive daily messages from the trail, because she is “Still alive, now home."