At 30 years old, I am yet to discover what going with the flow means exactly. If I am not busy executing a plan, you will likely find me in the middle of hatching one. When I decided I would hike 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, I knew it would be impossible to be in control the entire time, however. So I prepared mentally.
Fire closures? No problem, we’ll find an alternative route. Current too strong to cross? No big deal, we’ll just turn around. Injured? When our bodies heal, we’ll continue. Whatever the trail would throw my way, I was ready to take it on and adjust my plans accordingly. Oh, how wonderfully flexible I thought I had become.
Just when I believed I had mastered the skill of expecting the unexpected, my newfound stoicism was put to the test. Words like travel ban, coronavirus, self-isolation and lockdown quickly made their way into every conversation. In the blink of an eye, an ever-growing list of temporary measures was put in place, with the word 'temporary’ still up for definition.
While researching the Pacific Crest Trail, I had read thru-hikers’ testimonies of post-trail depression, yet none had warned me of pre-trail despair. The kind that results from quitting your job, uprooting your life, and preparing mentally and physically, only to wake up to a world you no longer recognise.
In the face of adversity, my coping mechanisms of choice tend to be lists and scenarios. Only this time, the nature of the crisis did not allow me to rely on my old ways. As I found myself stuck in limbo, I scrolled through my pre-trail mental prep notes:
While these lessons are now brought to me by COVID-19 instead of by the trail, they ultimately remain the same. And so, I try to apply them to my new circumstances, as it is looking less and less likely that my feet will touch the trail anytime soon. Other concerns will have to take priority, while we collectively overcome unprecedented hurdles and hope that better times lie ahead. So for now, I wash my hands, set my mini goals and embrace the suck.
I first learnt about the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) by the deserted ticket booth at the back entrance to world heritage site Petra. Living in Amman at the time, I was walking a section of the Jordan Trail when a bearded hiker asked: “Is this where we show our Jordan Pass?”
Mitch had travelled from Australia to thru-hike the Jordan Trail as a warm-up for the PCT. Having spent the last couple of nights by himself in the desert, he seemed happy to have found some company. When he told me about his aspiration to hike all the way through California, Oregon and Washington for five months, I thought he was out of his mind. My five-day stint from Dana to Petra had seemed rather heroic to me at the time; five months, on the other hand, unfathomable.
And yet somehow here I was, standing in line outside the U.S. embassy in London on a cold, but sunny morning a year and a half later. After handing over my documents, I queued for the final hurdle: the visa interview. The consular officer smiled sympathetically at the young couple in front of me, struggling to contain their toddler’s inexhaustible energy reserves.
When it was my turn to approach the window, her smile quickly turned into a frown.
Her blank stare made me wonder whether I was conveying my desire to walk all the way from Mexico to Canada adequately enough. “We will fly to San Diego, make our way to Campo and then walk for 2,650 miles until we reach the Canadian border,” I rushed to clarify, without appearing to alleviate any confusion.
Fortunately, the wish to travel the length of the United States on foot is insane enough for it to have to be true. So after a multitude of questions, her verdict was reached: “Your visa application has been approved and will take three to five working days to process.”
And just like that, my attempt at thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail became a reality.