Dreaming of Life on Foot

Once upon a time when I was going through a rough patch in my life, I considered just taking off and walking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail. I figured by the end of the hike, things would be different, or I would.

The rough patch passed, as bad times often do, but I have retained that image of hiking the length of the trail. I don’t remember why I chose the Pacific Crest Trail since I was also enamored with the idea of the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps I was confusing the Pacific Crest Trail with the Pacific Coast Highway, and envisioned a walk along the trailscoastline. Surprising to me now is that although I lived in Colorado, I wasn’t aware of the Continental Divide Trail, or if I was aware of it, perhaps it was too close to home to seem romantic.

And that’s what the idea was — romantic. I know this now. Recently I’ve been on a couple of short hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail (a thrilling taste of that old dream), and I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories, suggestions, cautions from my fellow hikers. For example, my idea of hiking without any sort of preparation, just finding the start of the trail and heading out, is not practical. Through hikers, those who hike the entire trail from top to bottom (or rather, bottom to top — they generally start out at the Mexican border and walk up to the Canadian border) often spend months in preparation, drying foods, mapping water holes, sending ahead care packages to themselves at various places along the trail. They need to be prepared for emergencies, all weather conditions, and whatever might overtake them on the trail. (Apparently, most through hikers make the trek alone, so my idea of walking solo was not too farfetched.)

Someday my current responsibilities — looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with my perhaps bipolar brother — will end, and then what? What will I do? Who will I become? I’ve been checking out various trails in the US, and if I were so inclined, I could spend the rest of my life on foot. Thirty different trails comprise the National Trails system, and many states seem to have additional trails, such as the Oregon Coast Trail that extends for 400 miles from the Columbia River to the California Border, and the Colorado Trail that runs 486 miles from Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango.

A friend of mine recently bought a motor home, and she plans to live on the road until she finds a place to settle down. That, too, is a romantic idea (also practical), but not for me. I prefer to be less cumbered, to go lightly through life. But so lightly as to live with only that which I can carry or send on ahead? I don’t know. Still, I can’t help wondering. And dreaming . . .

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.