Shadows Shall Reappear

By J.J. King, 2017 P3 Hiker

“If all is right within you; if you have enthusiasm; if you have curiosity; if you can take it all as a great adventure; just see what you can do about it, while you are here.”

~ Mardy Murie

Our grand and memorable endeavors can be unique opportunities to bolster one’s indomitable inner spirit. Epic adventures, perhaps never to be experienced again because of one’s finite amount of privileged time can assume a hallowed and sacred place in our hearts. In our minds. In our immortal souls.

Sometimes, for reasons beyond our control or understanding, these aspiring and noble goals are not fully realized. Traversing the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in a single season is certainly an ambitious and grand dream. It demands unwavering commitment, solid determination and purposeful resolve. I believe that I departed Campo well-prepared as an experienced long-distance hiker. However, my pursuit of sauntering this hailed earthen path and reaching its vaulted terminus before the dawning of autumn ended as a stiff breeze kept Old Glory flying above my backpack at mile 517. Because of an injury, my march needed to end. (I anticipate a full recovery.) There simply was no stirring rendition by Souza that could sustain my ambitious trek toward Canada. To continue further into the searing Mojave Desert would have been foolish. To contemplate fording the many powerfully surging creeks in the Sierra was not practical.

Coachella Valley. Photo by Brad Sniderman.

But by fully absorbing what was experienced for one-fifth of the trail, my spirit has not been marginalized. Rather, I am humbly grateful, and my malleable inner core has been further emboldened. Our bodies have an remarkable way of healing if a good measure of time is patiently observed. I am determined to return to Campo next year. To return to deserts and forests and wilderness. To reconnect with fauna and flora alike. How can I be so confidently assured and certain? Simple. Because shadows shall reappear.

“The Scales of Nature will always seek equilibrium. A feather can tip the balance.”

~ Terry Tempest Williams

I will see shadows reappear again for at least 517 compelling reasons. (Of course, brevity necessitates sharing a limited sampling.) Foremost is to be completely immersed again in God’s purest and most perfect creation—nature. In all her eternal and infinite glory. A never-ending colorful palette of fragrant blooms crowning an array of cacti. Intoxicatingly pungent mellowness of “puzzle pieces” of bark, encasing towering Ponderosa Pines. The aerobatic flight patterns of olive hummingbirds effortlessly nuzzling nectar from proudly swaying purple penstemons. Life-sustaining and terrain-sculpting clear water flowing in an otherwise barren landscape. And photons of visually inspiring, twinkling lights in the celestial heavens above, to reverently draw another rewarding day of hiking to a solemn close.

“To ask me whether I could endure to live without friends is absurd … to live without human love is impossible.”

~ John Muir

My shadows will reappear for I yearn to experience again and again, not only these impossibly stunning wonders of nature, but those friendships forged among the hiking community—indeed an international community. A solid and true reaffirmation of goodwill among people need not be delayed until prescribed winter holidays on a calendar. One simply walks a trail and witnesses genuine fellowship and good-hearted intentions amongst brethren. Recollection of a trail name may be challenged with advancing time. But a hiker hailing from Missouri whose kind offer of a bottle of chilled water is affixed in my mind.

Encouraging words. Helpful advice. Shared meals. Kindled friendships. The PCT is much more than a glorious pathway traversing a series of protected ecosystems and treasured lands. Not only is it a community of good-hearted souls in constant flux as they independently move forward. But it is also a community that weaves a common tapestry of bonded cheerfulness over several months. (And we hikers would be wise to remember that our community includes those countless volunteers who compassionately and skillfully maintain this iconic National Scenic Trail for our pleasure.)

“Your thoughts and attitudes today chart your destiny tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.”

 ~ Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Indeed, shadows will reappear again. For to not return to Campo would impart a seemingly unsolvable mystery in my mind. The introductory chapters of this classic volume have already been “read.” Desert tranquility, as quiet and stark as a university’s library, in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Tumbling waters of Deep Creek, mimicking a beating and restless heart, in the San Bernardino National Forest. Juvenile sequoia groves, patiently waiting for their place to earn the title of world’s most massive trees, in the Angeles National Forest.

Desert rainbow. Photo by Robin Grapa.

What awaits this hiker in subsequent chapters further north? I wish not to experience a mystery, but rather be fully absorbed and engulfed in this compelling novel. A best-selling novel  of beckoning sights and placid sounds well beyond mile 517. With the blessings of medical care and answered prayers, I shall resume my journal of this hiking adventure. A journal that will allow future revisitation.

“Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eatand sleep with the earth.”

~ Walt Whitman

Shadows can be characteristically dark. However, in the hiking community along the PCT, shadows can easily be sensed as more luminescent than bleak. Shadows were cast under a road bridge at Scissors Crossing, where I was befriended by a jovial and most spirited band of young hikers. Our unexpected and happy reunions further north were a highlight of my hike. Thank you, my friends. At Big Bear City, a chilly shadow was cast on the storefront sidewalk by two pints of deliciously refreshing ice cream. I enjoyed these hard-earned treats with another hiker who shared a keen sense of hiking wisdom, gleaned in her arid desert home of Utah. A scattered shadow of shyness when a kind hiker identified me as “Silent J,” as I was impressed by her commanding level of knowledge of our nation’s presidents. A storm front of shadows cast among blinding snow and howling winds, as my friend provided sound guidance to safely and expeditiously traverse a blustery cold, Fuller Ridge. Welcoming only the fairest shadows cast by high, wispy cirrus clouds, a young couple invited me to join in a fine Mexican lunch in Agua Dulce. It was a rewarding afternoon.

To every hiker along our beloved PCT, I wish you success on your incredible journey. Regardless of your intended or actual duration; whether you are sauntering for a day, completing a section, or attempting a thru-hike—I sincerely hope that you sense your own unique shadows. May you embark on more epic hikes in the years ahead. Godspeed.

Flowers near Fuller Ridge. Photo by Jason Bren.