Meister Eckhart was an ancient German mystic that said we should “trust the magic of beginnings.” I’d like to join those who charged Eckhart with heresy, because as I look back at the first day on the trail I’ve realized it was a bit less than magical. This is me, standing at the trailhead. A 3 foot tall post in the ground off of a small dirt road marking our starting point on the PCT at Donner Pass. That is my nervous smile.
Within 2 minutes of starting the trail I was hiking unmistakably uphill. At the top of the incline we got to see Roller Pass, where beleaguered pioneers had struggled to guide their wagon trains over the mountain years ago. We also began to get views of Donner Lake, a classic mountain lake where snowbound members of the Donner Party had resorted to cannibalism to survive in these mountains.
But we were doing much better; we hiked almost 3 miles before we got lost! After standing on top of Mt Judah and wondering why we were on top of Mt. Judah we backtracked to this trail junction and tried again. Yes, it was a magical beginning.
In camp that night I threw up once and was barely able to force myself to eat a granola bar and drink the bottle of Gatorade that I’d mixed up. To preserve my dignity I’d like to say it was because of the altitude and argue that nausea and a loss of appetite are very common symptoms of altitude sickness. In all honesty, I think it had more to do with my nerves and the fact that I was a bit overwhelmed by this undertaking of mine.
However, the crowning event of the day was in camp that night when Rich slipped and fell as he went to get water from the creek. The x-rays would confirm, 6 days later, he had broken a rib. Magical.
So our first day was filled with reminiscences of cannibalism, lost trails, puke and a broken bone, but oddly enough that’s not quite the tone I truly remember the first day in. I remember the gorgeous weather, bright and sunny but cool with a nice breeze.
I remember the amazing friendship of Ann who hiked in lunch for us before she turned around and hiked back home, spoiling us with sandwiches, fresh strawberries and even a slice of apple pie. And the flowers. I remember the flowers. We hiked across ridgelines up above all of the clamor of the cities and highways we’d left behind. We were surrounded by sky and peaks and an ocean of yellow Mule’s Ears that was in the peak of bloom. I felt like Heidi gladly tromping through the mountains. That’s really what I remember.
Yes, I remember being nervous and a bit daunted by this enterprise, but I also remember the advice my dad gave me when I hugged him goodbye in Lake Tahoe: “Take it one day at a time.” I’m forever grateful for those words because there were many times on this trip that I survived by reminding myself I wasn’t hiking 450 miles, I was just hiking 12 miles today. I survived by only allowing myself to mentally hike 1 day at a time, or one hill at a time, or one switchback at a time. For me, the beginning of a venture is the hardest. The first part of my half marathon was hard because I still had so many miles to run. The first day of this trip was hard because I still had so many miles to hike.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
For me that first step is often the hardest. Having finished this 400+ mile journey with a new understanding of the phrase “walking distance” I’m amazed at how the beginning is just one step, and the next day starts with just one step, and the ascent of the next hill starts with just one step and before you know it, the end comes with one last step. And maybe that is sort of magical.
Are beginnings as hard for you as they are for me? Or do you find them magical?