Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From Hiking to Crawling: Lessons Learned on a Long Walk

 * * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *

Recently, I wrote an article for my park's--Tryon Creek State Natural Area, Portland, Oregon--newsletter, "The Trillium Times."  It forced me to reflect on my thru-hike (and made me cry a few times), so I thought I'd share.  Enjoy!

“From Hiking to Crawling:  Lessons Learned on a Long Walk”

For nearly three years, walking has been my greatest obsession.  Last spring, I tackled my first long trail—a thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.  From the day I finally resolved to attempt it in 2010 to my first steps away from the corrugated metal fence that is the Mexican border on April 30, 2012, I obsessed with the idea of walking—planning and preparing for a journey I could not comprehend from my temperature-controlled home in Silverton.  For the next 151 days, I was immersed in the act of walking—traveling an average of 20 miles a day to reach Canada before the Washington snows hit.  And every day since those final steps on September 28, 2012, my time and thoughts have been filled with reflecting on and recovering from walking. 

Today, I look out the windows of the Tryon Creek Nature Center where I have just started working as an Interpretive Park Ranger, and I see countless people walking.  All hours of the day, all days of the week.

And so, it is in this light that I would like to write today about walking. 

Let me begin with a few of the lessons I learned during my six-million step journey:
My new park includes "Willamette Stone," the surveyor's monument that is
 the point of origin for  all of Oregon and Washington's public land surveys.  
So, in a round about way, this historic place led me through Oregon & Washington!
  • A good long walk takes the weight of years and worries off your shoulders.  You’ll lose as many pounds of actual weight as you do of worry.
  • Nothing is so worrisome that you can bear to worry about it for 14 waking/walking hours a day, 7 days a week. 
  • Rest is as important as anything else in the world . . . as is water and nourishment.  Without these three, nothing is important.
  • Nothing tastes as good as anything after a long day’s walk.
  • Anywhere really IS walking distance if you have the time.
  • “Walk it off,” is more than just a coaching cliché.  Many ailments, physical and mental, can be cured by a nice long walk.
  • Walking is for everyone.  The tall and the small, the young and the old, the injured and the well, the elk, the porcupine, and the goat.  I found them all traveling the PCT.
  • If you walk far enough, you will find answers.  You will not find all of them.  Rather, you will find answers you were not looking for and questions you did not know you had.  Rest easy knowing that your question to answer ratio will remain the same.
  • You cannot walk away from your problems, only into them.
  • Clarity rides on the shirttails of fresh air.
  • Christopher Robin was right when he said, “... we ought to eat all of our provisions now, so that we shan’t have so much to carry.” 

And last, but not least, for all those of us who have neither the time nor energy for an expedition-length walk:
  • A long walk is nothing more than a series of short ones.

My slowly-healing feet recently walked me around
Mammoth Hot Springs in northern Yellowstone National Park.
The above is what I learned while walking the PCT.  My most valuable lesson, however, came post-trail.

Since finishing the PCT, I have had a limited ability to walk.  In northern California, I developed plantar fasciitis.  1000 miles later, upon finishing the trail, I found I could walk no more than 100 yards—and at a snail’s pace as I attempted to balance pain with distance and pretend that everything was fine.  When I awoke at night with no one watching, I would opt to crawl to the bathroom rather than put weight on my feet.  This drastic transition from hiking 25 miles a day to hobbling to the kitchen has been one of the  most humbling experiences of my life.  My appreciation for the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has increased tenfold.  As has my awe and respect for all of you walkers—tall and small, young and old, injured and well—who make the time and effort to do it.  It has only been through reflecting on and recovering from the PCT that I have fully grasped the final lesson of a long walk, which is this:
  • Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is the most difficult thing you can do.  It is sometimes also the only thing you can do.
And with that, I bid you farewell.  I am out for a short ramble on my new favorite Tryon Creek trail, Big Fir.  Perhaps I’ll see you out there.


  1. Beautifully written. Glad to see you are still a deep thinker Dor.
    -- Ethan

  2. I really enjoy reading your comments and thoughts! Thanks for sharing details that also reflect your spiritual and emotional journeys for they too, are so interesting and insightful! Glad to hear your feet are healing and you are back to doing some walking.

  3. This is awesome! I'm so glad that I stumbled across your blog, Dorothy. I'm an aspiring 2013 PCT thru hiker (April 25th start date) and would LOVE to get in touch with you while I'm in Silverton in a couple weeks. I grew up in Silverton, and will be visiting my parents later this month. Can I buy you a beer and ask you a million questions?


    1. Thanks for catching up, Kayla! Be sure to send me your resupply schedule and put me on your Oregon emergency contacts list!

  4. Bacon Bit, I loved your presentation at the OC Library this evening. Thank you for being so open with us - you didn't even know most of us, and yet you were so honest and vulnerable. I appreciate your trail stories, and your heart. Welcome to Oregon City!

    1. Thank you for coming! I was surprised and touched to see so many faces that I did not recognize; yet, it all felt somehow familiar. I am happy to be a part of the Oregon City community!

  5. I also enjoyed your presentation in OC this past week. My wife and I are going to do some section hiking over the next several years, so it's always fun to hear about other folks and their unique experiences. One thing I would have like to share: We were up in the MT Adams area the night the fire started up there that closed the trail for a while. We were just day hiking and met some really great people both through hiking and section hiking that day before the fire. We had shared some apples and other treats with several hikers (I remember Panama Red was one) and that night as we slept in our pop up tent trailer listening to the thunder and lightning (that would eventually start a fire) how worried we were about the hikers we had met that day. We thought about them every day until that fire was under control and the trail was back open.

    1. You're a trail angel, Ted! And enjoy your section hiking -- it's a treat to meet people like you and your wife on the trail. You'd be amazed how a little fresh conversation boosts the morale. Fruit and treats are just a bonus!

  6. Thanks for the fab blog and especially the gear reviews. It's one thing to hear what someone got and another to read why they liked, disliked, woulda', coulda'. Your reviews definitely dida'!. And your 'style' is beautiful. KEEP writing :>)