Two years ago, I joined nine other students from my high school’s Hiking Club on our 22nd annual “Summer Trip.” Known by this name at my high school, this ten day, 128 mile backpacking excursion was my first long hiking trip. Chaperoned by two brave teachers, twelve of us ranging in age from incoming freshman to seniors hiked our Washington Cascade Mountains along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), famous for it’s reach from the Canadian border in Washington to the border of the United States and Mexico. We chose our stretch of the trail during weekly lunch meetings, and agreed on our longest trip to date–from Snoqualmie Pass north to Glacier Peak, aptly described by our chaperone’s book as the second hardest stretch of the PCT to hike. But with this thought far from our minds, we prepared to leave our mark on the high crest of the Cascades. Little did I know it was going to instead leave it’s mark on me.
On our fourth day hiking, three of us were collapsed on the side of the trail in the midst of Oregon Grape and huckleberries, taking a much-needed break. A lone hiker soon appeared coming our direction, looking like John Muir himself. After talking a few minutes with him, he left us with this gem of advice: Enjoy each other’s company, because when the trip ends, the pain won’t be what you remember most. It’s the company of those around you that you will.
When I didn’t take his advice, one evening found me at the end of a brutal 15 mile day, drenched in a downpour, and drenched in frustration. By the time I got into camp, I looked in the face of my teacher with tears dripping and said, from his quote of me later, “I shouldn’t have done this.”
I shed many tears on the trip. And when I got home, I found out how true the old hiker’s words were, because I’ve forgotten most of the pain. Now, what I do remember are our adventures. The forest fire. The inside jokes. Mrs. Gardner’s broken ankle. Jumping off the rock into Lake Valhalla. Going more than the extra mile. The bear. Sneaking off and washing our hair straight in the creek. The pain meds. Dirt. Sweat. The unbalance after taking packs off. Playing cards. Singing, “It’s a long way to the top…” Counting switchbacks. Chocolate pop-tarts. Cutting pieces off the block of Velveeta before the pasta was done. Cheesecake. Fields of purple lupine. Wet feet. The mosquitoes. Bushwhacking. The man who gave free samples of washcloths. Hot Kool-Aid. Blisters. That huge rock at Deep Lake. The beautiful sunsets.
When we loaded our dirty gear into the vans, and drove home, I watched the Cascades slowly recede into the clouds and quietly shed more tears. They were similar to the tears of before: I was regretting what I’d done. But this time, I was regretting the tears of before.
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