I crossed the US Border into Manning Park, BC on October 1st, 2012 at 4:17pm. I would like to say I walked the past 2668 miles but it was a bit more involved than that. I crawled, limped, danced, agonized, glided, soared, ran, jumped, scooted, forded, fell, slipped, funambulated, hopped, and generally strolled for 156 days from the metal corrugated fence along the Mexican/US border to the Canada/US border almost 2700 miles later. The past two days in Washington State were cold and misty. North Cascades National Park is the beauideal of natural wonder with its rugged and jagged peaks. Recently, the leaves have been changing into their fall line of fiery reds, resplendent yellows, and every shade of imagination in between. I have come to think of hiking long distance trails in the same way I eat huckleberries. I know that if I eat those purplish-blue, delicious morsels of tasty goodness that eventually I will be absquatulating from my sleeping bag at 5am with my headlamp and filling a makeshift cat hole with huckleberry seeds and the remnants of peanut butter and Raman noodles from the day before. So it is with hiking. I know that re-entry into normal life after hiking for 5 months is a very difficult and uncomfortable time. Yet I can’t resist the call of the wild despite how hard I try.
How remarkable a feat by simply moving my feet one in front of the other! My senses have all sharpened to razor like precision. I noticed my heightened sense of touch as I plaintively walked the last few kilometers with my hands outstretched running along the fall foliage across thimbleberry leaves, transuding fern leaves, and sap eructing from the Western Lurch and cedar trees. I felt similar to what a sports icon must feel as he runs off the field through a swath of high fives, and congratulating fans after his final game. My sharpened physical senses allowed me to feel as close to feral as I have ever been. More importantly, was the realization of my other senses. My sense of belonging, connection, camaraderie, and wonder. I think I may have raised a few eyebrows with the title of this blog. To me the name came from watching Tom and Jerry cartoons as a kid. Sometimes when Tom had a moral dilemma two caricatured manifestations of his conscience would suddenly appear on his shoulders. An angel with a halo on one side representing the right thing to do and a devil with a pitchfork on the other side representing the wrong thing to do. Most of the time in my life I have done the right thing. Obviously quitting my job to go walk in the wilderness would probably fall in the department of the guy with the tail and the horns, hence the title.
I mostly hiked to recharge my creative battery. After working 8 years in energy research and production with the majority of those under a nano-managing boss in a windowless, unventilated building full of coal dust; I was becoming uncreative and depressed. I ran to the trail for sanctuary and to hike against the dying of my light. The trail provided much more than what I sought. I was afforded an opportunity to peer underneath the frippery and thin veneer of modernity. I shut off my phone, listened, observed, walked, and thought. I thought about everything. I thought about the importance of recess as adults. I thought about the importance of simply moving and interacting with our surroundings instead of blankly gazing at a twinkling screen for innumerable hours a day. I thought about all my friends, family, jobs, ideas, book outlines, movies, and memories. It is amazing the things I remembered. Things that I have not thought about in decades came rushing to me: like the neighborhood water, snowball, and firework fights I experienced as a kid. I thought about getting busted for cheating in church school. I thought about my old Siamese cat, Kitsy and my grandparent’s dog, Jake. I thought about playing old Atari video games on my family’s black and white television in the basement with my best friend Johnny. I thought about watching The Price is Right with my Mom when I was very young and how I wanted the alpine climber to make it to the top of the mountain even though I had nary a clue as to how the game worked. I thought about a really early memory of my father modeling play dough on the kitchen, dinner table into a raft with a knapsack and a sleeping bag. I figured this was probably my first introduction into the possibility of sleeping in the woods. I thought about television, mobile phones, Facebook and other indicia of American ennui. I thought about the quote from Chief Seattle, “The earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.” I thought that maybe the converse of this could be true. Perhaps if we adore the earth and hold her in the highest esteem, reverence, and escalate our environmental stewardship than maybe that respect and love will also befall us. I thought about how much I hate the sound of chainsaws. I thought about how little of respect I have for hunters no matter how nice they all always treated me and my fellow hikers. I discovered how intimate the CO2 to O2 exchange between me and the plants and trees (some of them over 500 years old) can be. I thought about how my 5 month long beard felt as the brisk autumnal breeze coursed through it. I thought about the delicate thorax of a recently metamorphic and endangered Laguna Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis lagunae) as it perched itself on my arm for 20 minutes flapping its wings together and not moving. I watched as it was content there like I was a natural part of its daily routine. I thought about all the great people I met along the way and how I came to know more about them in a thousand miles than most of their family, spouses and friends will ever know. I discovered patience is more than a mere virtue, its a survival mechanism. I thought about how I didn’t experience a single migraine headache precursor or “”aura”” the entire time I was on the trail except the last night before the border. I discovered the best connections are not artificial or virtual but rather visceral, tangible, and symbiotic. I learned to look up and enjoy the view instead of staring down all the time at the trail or a phone. Most of all, I discovered the importance of actually making time to smell the proverbial roses. It is in regards to these journeys of realization that I will always be profoundly and indelibly aware. Peace out. -Skeeter PCT class of 2012