The first night of the girl crew wasn’t planned. Dimples and I had agreed to hike together at White Pass, our most recent town stop. Agreeing to hike with anyone was hard for me, I had just hiked Oregon solo and the freedom to come and go from town on my own schedule and camp where ever I want was worth cost of camping alone sometimes and the annoyance that most pictures of me hiking were ‘selfies’. Or so I thought. Soon enough though on my zeroes I noticed how enjoyable it was just to have company and be reassured by conversation that I wasn’t the only one who felt the same way about the challenges and the rewards that the trail dishes out so generously. When I hiked into White Pass after camping two out of three nights alone, I was starving for company.
I had recently come off a five-day delay due to a shin splint. At this point in the game that meant the shiny October 1st finish date everyone was striving for was probably not going happen for me. It took time and frustration, but I was beginning to be ok with that. I stumbled into White Pass frustrated and lonely, but I was met with excellent company. A much-needed three days of giggling and shenanigans later we realized we should hike to a stop with more than a tiny store, deep fryer, and single hotel. Dimples and I had been friends, but become closer friends at White Pass and we decided to hike together.
No more camping alone, and someone to share conversation with over jet boil dinners was the change that I needed. Coming off of the shin splint my hiking pace was slow and I often showed up to camp after Dimples. The third night was the hardest, it was about sunset and I still had two miles to go at least. That’s about 45 minutes in the dark. I’m not sure how they plan this, but the best camping spots are always within the first 0.5 miles after you’ve made the decision to night hike. I fought and fought the longing to get out my tent and curl up in my warm sleeping bag, rather than walk alone through the dark. But I stuck with it, and I stuck with the decision I made about having a hiking partner.
I survived the 45 minutes, and was so happy to find a little note on the trail that read “Blueberry!” with an arrow. I followed the side trail and came up to Dimples and Handstand who welcomed me to a campfire. Not just any campfire but one with wine, chocolate, and endless giggles. What a night, and the start of a week that had more in store for us than we ever could have asked for. We stayed up late, relaxed and enjoyed coffee in the morning while waiting out the rain and eventually packed all our stuff and hiked out. The following days were nothing but detour-adventures and giggling. Who wants to hike in the rain anyways? We finagled a ride to town, filled up on pizza, and camped in a place that most definitely wasn’t a campground.
The guy-girl ratio on trial is much heavier on the guy side. The guys are awesome, but being with girls was such a fun change. Nothing was a race, everything was a conversation, and of course they have been craving a pumpkin spice latte too, duh. I could write for hours about nothing but reasons behind the conclusion everyone shared after meeting Madison, Meghan, and Makenna: three girls who just hiked to Washington all the way from Mexico. The unanimous “you girls are crazy” followed by a slow headshake. Maybe sometime I will, but this isn’t about what I learned about adventure, it’s about what I learned about friendship.
The intensity of friendship on the trail is high. You’re with your hiking partner all day, and even though you sleep in your own tent at night if anyone snores you’ll know exactly who. You get to know people in a way that means you know what their grandma is like and the name of their childhood dog long before you know their last name. This is true for guys and girls, and any hiker could tell you why the friendships that they made on the trail are meaningful. But especially in the time I spent with Handstand and Dimples, I feel like I was afforded the privilege of growing a lot. We are all likeminded, smart, driven women. We all worked hard in the years leading up to the PCT to be able to be there, and we all have the tendency to be a little too hard on ourselves sometimes. I felt so confident encouraging them. It was easy to say things like “Of course you should text him and see where he is! It’s cute, and I’m sure that any guy in his right mind would be pumped that you asked- you’re awesome”
Pushing myself, however, was way less easy. Surely the guy receiving the same text form me would think I was a total weirdo. But the more I shared my insecurities with them, the more they knocked them down. Slowly I started to see myself the way that they see me. So much differently- and actually almost identical to the way I look at them. It began to occur to me that if I wouldn’t say something to Handstand or Dimples I shouldn’t be saying it to myself either. I would never tell them that they were idiots, that they really should have had it together in town and shaved their legs. I wouldn’t say that they need to hike at least 20 miles today and that dark, cold, being hungry, and rain are not excuses. I would never mention that the waist belt on their pack made them look kind of fat. But that’s stuff I said to myself all the time.
I’m so happy that I’m not the only one who caught on here. If Dimples caught me zooming in on myself in pictures she kindly took my phone or camera from my hand and shut the screen off. When I came to her with a problem or a concern that was rooted in the fact that “I’m such an idiot” she was never late to stop me and say, “Blueberry, you are not an idiot” followed with a reason why that made a lot more logical sense than the reason I originally had. Her persistence to correct all of my negative comments turned out to be even stronger than my persistence to keep making them. I know that not hearing “I’m such an idiot” was a nice break for her, but the difference it made for me to learn not to say it is immeasurable.
With their encouragement I started to see that what I look like in pictures is just fine, and I quit hesitating about posting them. I stopped myself before saying I was an idiot. When I saw myself in the mirror, my body smaller than its been since high school, rather than thinking of all the places I still saw room left for improvement I thought “My body has hiked over 1,000 miles, that’s incredible” and I continued with my day, refusing to spend any more time on that.
What I learned from hiking with women is all about friendship, it’s all about encouragement, and it’s all about real beauty and where that comes from. The way that women, that friends, talk to each other is so important. Dimples, Handstand and I all could have critiqued each other, we could have raced everywhere and been defensive about all the challenges from the summer. But we weren’t. We were kind, respectful, and understanding. Instead of seeing each other as competition we saw each other as allies, and we stood in each other’s corner. I know that the time we were together was special because we all still talk, but I feel so especially lucky to have experienced friendship like that. To realize the difference that it makes in friendship when you build a person up despite their efforts to tear themselves down, and to see firsthand how it can change the way that person looks at themselves.
This isn’t what I expected to learn on the PCT. Three months post-hike though, it’s something that has stuck with me the most. The way I choose to look at myself is something that I truly have control of. So seriously, think about the way that you talk to yourself. Think about how you would sound saying things like that to your friends. You probably wouldn’t have many friends left. Remember that all of those things that aren’t true about your friends aren’t true about you either.
When I finished the trail I was on the phone with a friend who asked if I was skinnier. I responded “I don’t know” and I honestly didn’t, having not been on a scale in four months, so I finished with “but I’m happier, and I respect my body a lot more”. Hearing myself say that and knowing that it was true was a bigger relief to me than any number flashing on a scale could be. So I’m happier and I respect my body. I have incredible friends and lessons in friendship to thank for that. Like everything else I experienced on the trial, this left me with overflowing gratitude. Rather than letting it well up inside me though, I’m trying to be the kind of friend to others that Dimples and Handstand are to me.
I hope that you think about it too, and see that time spent tearing yourself down is time wasted. Realizing how untrue all of those horrible things are is liberating. I’d even say its as liberating as standing somewhere on a trail with five days of food and nothing to do but keep walking and discovering the breathtaking places just ahead of you. Plus it doesn’t require that you quit your job or buy any one-way tickets. So give it a shot.
And if you need any help, just ask Taylor. She knows all about it