Class of 2019, Welcome to the PCT Southern Terminus

Imagine learning about a challenge that somehow calls to you. It might be a mountain you’d like to climb, a sea you’d like to sail, a trail you’d like to hike. You research, study, plan and execute. You make arrangements, your life is changed, career perhaps put on hold, relationships interrupted. But that challenge is before you, like a beacon. It becomes your cause. You work toward it. And the day to set forth is finally upon you.

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As the PCT Southern Terminus hosts for the 2019 season, we are fortunate enough to see hikers who dreamed of a challenge on the Pacific Crest Trail. They have worked for this moment of arriving at the Southern Terminus. This is the traditional trailhead for the northbound thru-hikers. Some come by bus or a hired car, some are dropped off by trail angels, friends or parents; and some of those parents are in tears, scared of the dangers they fear may lay ahead for their child. Some come to solo, some will hike with friends. It seems to us that even strangers make friends quickly. They mostly all have smiles on their faces. Some admit nervousness but everyone seems excited. Many take in the scene and linger and take pictures for up to an hour. Others take a quick selfie and walk directly to the trail, determination already set in.

It’s exciting to see the hikers leave. Each time someone takes off, we think he or she takes a little piece of us as we wish we, too, could be on the trail. But hosting at the Southern Terminus gives us a great opportunity to be part of so many people’s incredible experiences. They are engaging in a challenge they once could only dream about.

Posing

Getting just the right picture is serious business for PCT thru-hikers. Many of the hikers will linger for an hour taking shots that capture the moment, embracing the magic.

Our main focus is to reinforce Leave No Trace (LNT) principles for hikers, day and section hikers, included. The impact hikers have on the trail can be significant, especially the first 100 or so miles. This islikely one of the most used sections. With each hiker we meet, we try to discuss concepts that include respecting the rich riparian areas along the trail, including the ethic of pitching tents 200 feet away from water. This allows plants to grow and animals a chance to get water and thrive in the desert. We discuss the importance of packing out used toilet paper. We speak about fire safety and about respecting wildlife and each other. We also illustrate what is the best ground type for setting up camp. Another priority is reinforcing safety education as part of the PCTA’s “safe and responsible use” campaign. We go over the water report and where to access it. We advise worried hikers on what they need to know for their first miles on the trail. Additionally, as part of an effort to assess and improve the permitting system, we ask if hikers have permits and if they have come to the trailhead on their assigned date. We’re volunteers who care about sustainable use, and we’re not here to enforce the permits. We are gathering accurate information so that the U.S. Forest Service and the PCTA can meaningfully assess how the federal inter-agency permit system is working. We encourage all hikers to be honest with their responses.

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This has also been a wonderful opportunity to meet, work with and learn from the staff of both the U.S. Forest Service and the PCTA. These organizations collaborate to make this volunteer position possible. We are learning that there is nuance and detail in forest management well beyond what we imagined.

If we all could follow LNT principles and commit to becoming good stewards of the PCT and the outdoors, we will preserve the trail’s legacy while assuring its continued existence. It’s our great hope that as all of you in the Class of 2019 travel north, you will enjoy your time, fall in love with the trail and join us in stewarding it for future generations of hikers.

This post is being published concurrently by the Pacific Crest Trail Association – PCTA.org
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Hiking Transitions

I have, after a nine-month “cancer vacation,” returned to work. I never had, before cancer, anxiety or considered myself to be an emotional person. My nature was easy going, happy.

I dealt with anxiety through the first tough chemo doses and radiation. I was finally starting to feel even keeled. I rarely needed the Xanax anymore or anything for sleep.  Every now and then though that anxiety monster creeps back in and I can’t hold the door to keep it from coming in.

I had my 13th chemo treatment July 25. I handled the last six treatments with no problems except fatigue afterwards. I went in with a book to read to keep myself entertained for 90 minutes. I joked with the chemo nurses. I was happy I wasn’t getting the heavy stuff anymore. But with this dose, the overwhelming idea that I needed to quit became pervasive in my mind. I am so over this cancer. Not counting my ear surgery appointments, at this point, I had 32 MD appointments and 102 procedures. 102!!! I wanted to quit. I really really wanted to quit.

Friends, family, the nurse practitioner, Katrina, all said, “But you are so close.” I know I am but I didn’t care. One friend did give me a sympathetic “ You must be so tired of it all”. Going into the appointment I had a list of questions. My B12 levels were low and we needed to discuss injections. I was still anemic. My white counts and neutrophils were still low. The first question on my list, but the last one I asked, was “Can I quit?” I burst into tears with that question. Katrina says, “You know I can’t tell you to do that. What do you want?” “I want you to tell me that it’s ok to quit. That studies say nine months of treatments is just as good as 12.” I hate it when I cry at the clinic. I feel defeated when anxiety and emotions get the better of me when I am trying to present myself intelligently.

I did more research after that appointment. Studies on Herceptin were done at six, 12, and 24 months, not nine. The odds of this damn thing returning are significantly reduced with 12 months, with no more benefit gained at 24 months. At least there’s that. Although I feel powerless, it would make no logical sense to quit when I have come this far. But emotions don’t play by logic.

And as aside, if I hear one more cancer peep tell me that I am “lucky” to get Herceptin, I’ll scream. Really? You of all people should get how hard it is to emotionally set yourself up for a treatment. While most are four or six treatments, mine is 17. I will make 17 fucking trips to the chemo clinic for intravenous treatments. Thanks for allowing me to rant.

With my latest treatment, the desire to quit was not as strong, but the emotional roller coaster geared up again and I found myself crying at a drop of a hat: a verse in a song, being in the moment watching butterflies with my cousin, writing this. UGH.

In my conversation with Katrina, she did say something that hit home, that I was in transition. I hadn’t heard or thought of that. I had been so focused, working hard just to get through the last ten months. That was who I was. Cancer patient. Wife. Mom. PCT hiker. Cancer is not my focus, or my first or last thought of the day anymore. It is nice to have more and more days that cancer isn’t discussed.

So I’ve been thinking about transitions. The physical transition of going back to work has been easier than I thought it would be. Yes, I am tired by the end of the day. I probably would have been without cancer. My fatigue again is different. It’s not so much feeling tired during the day as it is that I really sleep a lot at night to make up for it. I tend to power through the fatigue, denying it, instead of surrendering to it, like I probably should. But that just isn’t me. I do admit I feel frustrated that I am not doing the things I want to because I am just too tired, either physically or emotionally, to make it.

On an emotional level, it’s harder to describe. Being a cancer patient has been my identity the last ten months and it will be for ten more years. I look forward to shedding that identity. This anxiety may be related to fear of recurrence. I’m not so sure that’s the root. You get use to a lot of attention, it’s like I’m trying to remember what its like to be normal again. I know I’ll be ok. It’s honestly been less than a handful of times that I thought I might not make it through this bout. But it isn’t realistic that I won’t think about cancer coming back. Especially since “they” don’t know a prognosis percentage, due to aggressive factors like HER2+ and LCIS. I can’t focus on that. I can’t live my life in fear. I cannot worry about things that may never happen.

I was asked what my take away from all this was. I don’t know. I did not gain any spirituality or wisdom from this. Maybe later. I have three more treatments. And a couple more hikes planned, because the hike still remains my escape.

Patti (Glow in the Dark)
August 23, 2013

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My treatment tree, early on and now. Each flower represents a chemo treatment, each leaf a radiation treatment. Appointment cards are on the glass bottom vase. A picture of our dog, Cleo, victim of cancer herself, and me in our scarves. Behind the picture is a card of all my prescriptions. ID Bracelets are the procedures I had at the hospital.