From Stalker Mom to Walker Mom

I sat on the plane to Vegas, a full flight, in the middle seat, again. Last-minute plans, we were lucky to get any seats at all for a decent price. The Hubby had the window. The crew shut the door as the last of the passengers walked by. The flight attendants closed the overhead compartments.

The aisle seat next to me was empty. YES!

“Oh thank God,” I said, a little too loudly, switching seats before someone else got the same idea. The fear of being sandwiched next to some big guy for the next five hours vanished. I smiled at the couple across the aisle, who knowingly smiled back.

I put on my seat belt and settled in. Ah, the space, the legroom, the luxury of not having to share two armrests. I could even lie down across the middle seat and sleep if I wanted, which I desperately desired after getting up at 4:00 am to catch our flight out of San Juan.

“Hey, I want to sit there,” said The Hubby, who normally sits in the aisle.

“No way,” I said, twisting from side-to-side, stretching my legs, reveling in the space, “I’ve been stuck in the middle for the last eight flights we’ve taken. I’m sitting here. Take my picture.” I struck a pose, waiting for him to get his phone ready. Such a stroke of luck, a sign from the universe that this trip was meant to be.

As The Hubby took my victory photo for Facebook, a voice behind me said, “Excuse me.” I turned to see a nice, big gentleman standing in the aisle. “I have seat 16C, sorry,” he smiled. He knew. He understood.

“Awwww,” I said. The jig was up, my moment of victory snatched by defeat. I joked about it to alleviate awkwardness and wedged myself back into that wretched middle seat, shoving my daypack harder underfoot to eke out more legroom.

But the funny thing was, I still felt happy, because I was going to see my baby girl and hike with her for a few weeks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Wildchild had been on the trail since its origin at the Mexican border. Nearly two months and 650 miles later, as she approached Kennedy Meadows, a chance decision separated her from her trail mate, who ended up hiking on ahead. Happy to be done with the desert, she entered the glorious Sierra Nevada on her own. She texted me from the Delorme: I wish you were here.

I cried. Yeah, me too. Hiking the PCT has been my dream since the mid-nineties when I first read about it in Backpacker Magazine. How incredible that my youngest had taken up that same dream and made it a reality just this year. I was in awe.

I wanted to be there, but it seemed so impossible. I lived in Puerto Rico. I hadn’t trained. It cost money. The Hubby was against it. Going just wasn’t practical.

Instead I took up internet stalking to track her adventure. I joined PCT Facebook groups and followed the PCT Class of 2016 trail blogs, living vicariously through them, trying to feel what Wildchild was going through. I combed Instagram, Tumblr and the PCTA journal feed for pictures or mentions of my daughter or her trail mate. I wished she’d find a blogger to hike with so that I could virtually go with her.

This trail became my obsession. I couldn’t put it down, let it go or shake it off.

The Hubby, originally horrified at the prospect of his daughter hiking 2650 miles on some dirty, disgusting trail full of rapists and killers, insisted that she hike with someone as a condition of his support. When her trail mate went on ahead, I volunteered to take her place. He said no. I checked flights, anyway, just in case.

Vegas flights were surprisingly cheap. I could take buses to Kennedy Meadows or rent a car one-way to Mammoth for about the same price. It was crazy to think I could go. But other mothers were joining their daughters on the trail (well, at least one anyway… go Mamabear) and the logistics were all laid out right there on Facebook. I took it as a sign from the universe. I was meant to go.

I asked The Hubby again. Citing many practical reasons, he said no. Every objection made perfect sense. I tried to stop thinking about it and failed. I finally broke down and sent him an epic email, 2727 words pleading my case for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, joining my baby on the PCT before I grow too old and die, more words than there are actual trail miles. Long story short, I got my yes.

Woo-hoo, I was going on the trail!

With only two weeks to train, I Amazoned myself some Altra Lone Peaks and started doing bigger walks around the neighborhood, first with a light pack, then a more substantial one. Switching to the heavier pack unexpectedly killed my arches, requiring a whole day of rest to recover.

Crap, was I too old for this? How are my feet breaking down so easily? Am I doomed before I start? I scaled back, did some research and figured I need better arch support. We’d stay a day Las Vegas, hit up REI for random equipment needs, and get myself some Superfeet. Hopefully that would do the trick.

My PCT trail permit miraculously arrived the night before we flew, yet another sign from the universe. I declared my endpoint to be Canada, just in case.

As Wildchild trekked past Whitney, we rented a car and drove to Mammoth, where we planned to stay a week, waiting for her to arrive. I’d have time to acclimate to the altitude, do some training hikes and get my last bits of equipment and food together. From there I’d join her on the trail and hike as far as I could.

But the altitude was taking its toll on her. She started slowing down. She worried about not making it to Mammoth while we were there. Then she started running out of food, needing to do an unexpected resupply in Bishop. Could we pick her up at the trailhead? Absolutely! We were excited to see her sooner than expected.

In the car on the way down, I lectured The Hubby about how she’d be stinky and dirty coming off the trail and to not say anything about it. He made me spread a nylon tarp on the back seat to protect the car. I said it’s a rental, who cares? He said he had to live with this thing after I was gone. Fine, whatever makes you happy.

We found our baby girl on the ground by some bushes, huddled under her solar umbrella looking like some grubby homeless person.

Hiker Trash

Ecstatic to see her, we ran over like dorks and took pictures for Facebook. The poor thing was too tired to protest. She looked so skinny! We hugged her like crazy and took her out for Texas BBQ in Bishop on the way back to Mammoth. She didn’t even smell that bad.

I wondered what she’d decide to do next. Get right back on the trail? Take a few days off with us? I decided not to worry about it, surrendering to fate.

On the plane coming over, I’d been so happy that instant I thought I’d won the aisle seat, happier than I’d been in a long, long time.

Despite having to give it back, I relished the joy of those moments, putting them in my pocket like treasured keepsakes. The seat didn’t matter. The guy was nice, we had a smooth flight, we got to Vegas on time in one piece—I had so much to be grateful for.

At the trailhead, I was happy to see Wildchild, to hug her, to tell her how proud we are of how far she’s come. And I’m sooooo excited to get on the trail and walk with her for as long as I possibly can.

Will my feet fail? Will I make it 10 miles or 100? Or will the whole experience be ripped out from underneath me like the aisle seat was? I don’t know. I don’t care. All I can do is feel the joy in these moments. And be ever so thankful for following my heart, because that’s what led me to them.