On Forgetting an Uncomfortable Life

Here’s what the Pacific Crest Trail feels like: Heat so intense you worry about passing out. Cold so bitter you lose feeling in your hands and feet. Sitting on rocks. Sitting on the ground. Sitting on snow. Socks so caked with dirt that they have become hardened shells. Dirt so thick on your legs that you don’t have to use sunscreen. Sweat everywhere. Walking. Walking. Walking. Up and down but seemingly mostly up. Pain.

I loved it.

I miss it.

I’m forgetting it.

As I’m writing this I’ve been home for about two months after completing 1,833.3 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the trail. My backpacking gear now sits in a box in my room, no longer attached to my frame each day. I’m forgetting what it’s like to have everything I need to survive in my possession at all times. The map I used to plan out my resupply strategy on trail now hangs on my wall. I’m forgetting what it feels like to agonize over whether I’ve bought enough food (or too much food) to last me the next few days. A slideshow of pictures from this past summer displays on my computer monitors at work. I’m forgetting why I ever had a bad day on that incredible trail.

I used to crave showers. These were the kind of showers you had after living in the woods for 10 days. I once told Indigo on a big climb that the single biggest motivation I had was the promise of a shower in the next town. I’d watch dark brown water wash down the drain. I liked feeling fresh. I liked the way my hair bounced back to its normal curly state, no longer weighed down by grease or hastily thrown up in a pony tail. We used to joke about how as soon as we stepped out of the shower, we smelled bad again. Any non-PCT friends we met up with on trail used to lie and say we didn’t smell that bad. But we knew the truth. The miles we had walked had left their mark on us in the form of dirt, sweat, and, of course, body odor. Now I wish I had better appreciated being dirty, downright filthy. These days, showers are routine, no longer a treat. I’m forgetting.

I’m forgetting these feelings of pain, of discomfort, of utter grossness. The stark contrast of the trail life and my current non-trail life initially shocked my senses: the sheer number of people, the constant noise, the whirr of activity after sunset. But these things eventually became normal again. My body initially remained sore and in its usual trail pain, but after a week, this too faded.

Yet even after two months, my left big toe is still numb. I consider it a badge of honor. I’m nostalgic for the pain my feet used to bring me on trail. It forced me to recognize every single day the journey we were putting our bodies, hearts, and souls through. So, I’m oddly thankful for my toe’s numbness, as a reality pinch that the PCT really did happen, that it wasn’t just a dream.

But I know eventually it too will fade, and I will forget the feeling.

For the past two months, I’ve tried everything I can think of to desperately resist this force of receding memory. I write down all my thoughts, whether tiny details about small moments or grander connections futilely trying to craft a single thesis from the adventure of a lifetime. I scour my trail family’s blogs to collect pictures and videos that I didn’t think to capture in our shared days. And I think. I think about the trail every single day. But with all these things, I am still forgetting.

That’s okay.

I know that I might forget the novelty of a shower, of the brief feeling of relief that it can bring, of the momentary pause on pain. But I resolve myself to remember the lessons that the trail taught me through a life of discomfort.

I will remember a gratitude for small treasures and a disregard for small problems.

I will remember a wonder over the vast beauty of the world and of humanity.

I will remember an appreciation for life that is impossible to learn in otherwise comfortable existence.

Photo credit:  Isko Salminen
Photo credit: Isko Salminen

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