Not-Hiking

I crest a ridge and am greeted by the morning – the sky above is laced with deep, dark storm clouds, but underneath them shines the dawn, the sun hanging heavy just above the lip of the world. Everything’s painted a brilliant orange, the road in front of me threading over rolling hills, slinking off into the distance. I’ve got more than 700 miles to drive today – right around 12 hours – but I wish I could stop and enjoy this. It’s one of the prettiest sunrises I’ve ever seen1.

I’m headed home for a breath, back to the Midwest, passing on my car and my cat to people better able to take care of both while Spesh and I are on the road for a year. It’s two weeks before our crazy Leave No Trace adventure begins, and I’ve been working eight hour days and then some; ironically, this seventeen-hour road trip is something of a break for me. Less so for my cat, Clyde – he’s still in his hour of yelling at everything, pissed about the change in circumstance, although he settled into the hotel last night quickly enough. I’m hoping he’ll settle in as quickly to his year-long digs in Maine.

Maybe it’s the sunrise or the time of year or the scenery or the way this morning in particular feels like something, something akin to jumping up and down and waving its arms for attention, but Kansas won’t stop reminding me of the Pacific Crest Trail. It doesn’t help that I keep passing signs for the California National Historic Trail, which the PCT overlaps for a while around Donner Pass. It’s different, seeing those signs at 55 miles an hour instead of just under three, but no less feelsy for that.

I find myself dreading the inevitable moment when the sun’ll get high enough in the sky to hide its radiance behind those storm clouds, now spitting lightning in an effort to be threatening. I drive closer and closer to a distinct U-shape in the clouds, which may or may not be rotating, though for the moment it seems to be content to be an anomaly uninterested in touching the ground. Everything’s still so orange, land trees cars glowing from the inside; there’s so much to drink in.

When I’ve finally drunk my fill, feel ready for the darkness of driving in the rain, it doesn’t come – there’s a bit of a pitter patter on the windshield, but before it the sky can really open up, I’m out in the sunlight, rising sun seeming to push the clouds westward as I make my way east. Soon enough, I’m squinting against the merry morning.

Yesterday, the distraction was podcasts, and today, it’s music, but neither distract me from my surroundings or the deep-seated longing for the trail they’re inspiring. I know part of it is all the current-year hikers all over the book of many faces, shiny and clean in their starting photos; part of it is also all the start-date anniversaries from last year’s hikers, so many humans near and dear to my heart. I’m also nearing my own trailiversary, and yet another different-exciting departure. The time between getting the Leave No Trace job and leaving for it has left me feeling more and more pregnant with possibility, and honestly, I’ve been trying to ignore that feeling as much as possible. Staying focused at the jobs that now feel meaningless has meant ignoring this looming adventure, not allowing myself to get excited for what’s to come. Still, it’s almost here – I’ve finished up all of my classes and I’m wrapping up with my last student, though it doesn’t quite feel real yet. I feel like I should feel impatient, constantly tapping my foot, waiting to go, but I’m kind of enjoying the fact that I’ve got a 17-hour road trip to force me to be present.

Being present helps me detect an absence, the absence of noise – Clyde’s settled in for the ride, and I feel a pang of betrayal at abandoning him for a full year. He’s had one previous owner, and given that 21-pound cats are apparently not normal people’s idea of a great housepet, he spent a full month at the Humane Society; he knows something’s up, and it pains me that this feels like abandoning him all over again. He is a precious cinnamon bun, too good for this world, and he doesn’t deserve this. I’m ameliorating the pain by putting him in the care of one of the best human beings I know, but it doesn’t seem like enough. But it has to be.

The wind turns violent, shoving the car this way and that, forcing me to compensate, to focus. Well. I’m glad I know my car as well as I do, and there are only 500 miles – two weeks? – to go.


 

[1] This sunrise is not the sunrise I saw – I was driving, and taking a picture while driving is unsafe, and I didn’t want to stop and take a picture – but it’s the closest picture I’ve taken to what it looks like.

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