I used to think ours was a dystopian world, a world where the rich own us; the corporations control us; the alphabet agencies spy on us and perform experiments on us; and the government keeps us in perpetual wars so that we never see the truth of what is being done to us.
Well, I still think that’s true, but now I wonder if we are more like the way Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
It’s possible we are living in the worst of times and living in the best of times. A dystopia for sure, but also a utopia. Our sphere of freedom might be narrowing, but within that narrow sphere, we can still find the freedom to be who we want to be, to think what we want to think, to dream what we want to dream and to try to make those dreams come true.
Notice I say we have the freedom to try to make our dreams come true. Not all things are possible. Sometimes we don’t have the money or the knowledge or the health or the courage or the willingness to sacrifice to make those dreams come true, but we do have the freedom to try.
My dream, the impossible dream that has me in its clutches, makes ours seem not such a dystopian world after all (as long as I stay away from political rants on Facebook, anyway).
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is not an impossible dream for many people — they have the strength, the money, the knowledge, the courage. For some, such as recent college graduates, it isn’t even much of a sacrifice because they don’t have spouses and children to leave behind.
In my case, even though I might have the time, the money (at least temporarily), and maybe even the courage, I have doubts about my fitness level even for a long section hike. To make the logistics work, I’d have to be able to hike at least ten miles a day carrying a pack, and I simply don’t know if that would ever be possible. And I don’t know if I have mental stamina. Last night before I fell asleep, a feeling of horror came over me. “You’re thinking of doing what?” I screeched to myself. “Are you out of your mind?”
Whether it’s an impossible utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare waiting to happen, a long saunter on the Pacific Crest Trail has truly captured my imagination.
The PCT is such a perfect thing in and of itself. As Danny DeVito said in Other People’s Money, “It don’t care whether I’m good or not. It don’t care whether I snore or not. It don’t care which God I pray to.” He was talking about money, of course (money and donuts were his two obsessions), but the trail doesn’t care. It doesn’t care who trods its soil, doesn’t care how fat you are, doesn’t care how slow you go, doesn’t care about anything at all. It just is.
Think of it. A viable walking path that extends all the way from Mexico to Canada. Isn’t that utterly amazing? The Appalachian Trail starts in Georgia, the Continental Divide Trail has not yet been completed, though experienced hikers do manage to find their way from top to bottom. But the Pacific Crest Trail is completed, and even neophytes can (and do) attempt to hike the whole thing. And we each, individually, own it. Or at least, we own the bit of land we happen to be standing on at any given moment. We own the dreams the trail engenders. We own the views we can claim. We own the experience of a wilderness that is still mostly pristine.
Sounds to me like utopia, a utopia that is available to anyone who wishes to escape the dystopia the media consistently foists on us.
Interestingly, in the past couple of days, I have found inspiration from two separate sources — and on Facebook of all places.
John Smith, a LASHer (Long A** Section Hiker) responded to my concerns about how PCT thru hikers treat those who don’t fit the usual mold of hikers. He wrote:
You are likely to find your ‘trail family’ out there but I have to be honest, you might not. Receive the gifts you find on the trail in those you meet, the sights you see, and the challenges you overcome. Add to the peace and joy of others as you connect with them and as you disconnect as well. In all that you do, on the trail or off, grow and stretch and grasp for the next life-altering experience. It will be challenging, hard, uplifting and at times tear you apart inside but as you close your eyes each night you can reflect on the growth of the day and the strength you can bring to the world around you.
I found those words so beautiful I asked permission to post them here, and luckily for all of us, John agreed.
The second thing that moved me is the image attached to this article, a gift from my dear and so very wise friend Nanna Murakami.
Whether I ever actually go backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail seems unimportant right now. What is important is that I walk with love in my steps and receive the gifts that each of those steps bring.
There is more than a bit of utopia in that.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.