part iii: the problem pile

If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

Regina Brett

My weird obsession with uncomplicated words strung together to form simple thoughts meant to provide profound inspiration and motivation began with my 8th grade English teacher’s daily scrawls on the chalkboard. I’d walk into class and immediately check the board for life tips, smile silently at the ones I understood and shake my head in amazement at the ones that took me a bit longer to fully comprehend, so true! I’d think, continually impressed by the incredible wisdom of the chalk.

As the years passed and plastering home is where the heart is and the mountains are calling and I must go on literally anything and everything somehow became an okay thing to do (put a bird on it), they had more of a vomit-inducing, eye-rolling affect, yet often I couldn’t help but secretly smile and approve of the poetic cliché message.

img_0644
Fun, cancelled.

Tomorrow was supposed to be my last day of work. On April 29, I was supposed to board a flight to Tucson, Arizona. From Tucson, I was to take a train to Lordsburg, New Mexico and wait for a truck to pick me up at the McDonalds to transfer me to Hachita. At dawn on May 1, that same truck was supposed to take me three hours down the choppy, unmaintained jeep road to the Mexican border. And I was supposed to take those glorious first forward steps on the Continental Divide Trail, chipping away at the 3,100 miles between me and Canada, on my way to the coveted Triple Crown.

Coronavirus entered my vocabulary somewhat regularly back on January when my colleague mentioned her mother was worried about her flying without a mask. We work in healthcare IT, travel a lot and were scheduled to be in the Seattle area the last week in February and the first week of March. We joked about it of course, at that point, the whole thing was more of a boogie man than a reality. 

img_0444
Never clarified if her friend wipes down the seat or plugs her nose

Two days later in Portland, we saw the news of Washington’s first coronavirus patient located in the very same neighborhood we were supposed to visit in February. A little more real now, but still, a month was a forever away. Besides, it was like the flu, right? I continued to keep tabs on the virus spread, mostly out of curiosity. Our first trip to Seattle went as planned on February 24. By Tuesday of the next week, everything was cancelled: our second trip to Washington, healthcare summits, all non-essential in person meetings for our west coast client. By March 3, it was no longer a textual joke. It was very real.

At first it was kind of, dare I say…exciting? Like watching a horror movie play out, only we’re in it. The newness, the drama, the unknown. I remember briefly wondering if this would affect my thru-hike this summer. In hindsight, pretty sure I entered the 5 stages of grief the moment my work trip was cancelled.

Denial: What a great time to escape reality! May 1 can’t come soon enough! I mean, thru-hiking really is the ultimate social distancing…right?

Anger: Seriously? First the year of Fire & Ice on the PCT in 2017 and now COVID 2020? And 2020 was supposed to be the year I #buildmycommunity! WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME, UNIVERSE??! (we’ve fought before)

Bargaining: Ugh, if only I’d stuck to my every-other-year thru-hike plan and hiked in 2019. Why didn’t I? **quick side-eye at Freddie**

03E5E902-320A-41E5-AAF2-9F3F30BD1CC1
Oh ya, you.

Depression: I mean…will people even stop to pick up hikers? We rely on hitchhiking for resupply and already look homeless. Now we might be diseased too? Are these little towns even gonna be open? Wait, oh man, I could have it and not even know it? And give it to someone else? I COULD CARRY THIS UP THE TRAIL AND BE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOMEONE’S DEATH AND NEVER KNOW IT?

Acceptance:

img_0737
Acceptance olive branch

img_0738
Acceptance olive branch, accepted

I was equally saddened and uplifted by the reactions of the thru-hiking community as I soul searched on whether or not it was appropriate, feasible or responsible to complete a thru-hike this year. For the most part, the community has been amazing, as per usual. This is a tough choice to make, the decision process itself is exhausting. People spend years saving and preparing, quitting jobs, selling homes, making sacrifices. As I was working things out in my own brain, I made a poor judgement call to engage in one Insta-dialogue on a picture posted by one of the outdoor groups I follow. The caption of the photo read:

“If the collective class of 2020 – including hikers from the AT, PCT, CDT and beyond – can put the health and safety of others before themselves at great logistical and financial sacrifice following years of planning, then it proves what an incredible community we’re lucky to be a part of.”

And this guy was absolutely losing his shit over why he had the right to stay on trail, how it was the safest place for him, how he 100% knew he couldn’t be a carrier without ever being tested, you know, the usual intelligence you find on the internet. The user has since deleted his more abusive comments, but the remaining ones contain creative insults like hippy dippy fuck and libtard, which quite frankly, I identify with neither. Most people are simply trying to do the right thing in a difficult to understand, shitty situation, that no one asked to be in.

75508e9a-c866-49a7-b68e-31b092c9d54f
Happier days on the Wonderland Trail

This sucks for everyone. Everyone. Yes some people have it a lot worse, but that’s true in good ole fashioned regular life too, is it not? People have varying degrees of problems and issues and concerns and anxieties and a smattering of shitty situations. This affects us all. Every last one of us.

It sucks for parents who have to go to work and find childcare, it sucks for parents who have to suddenly work from home and also take care of their children at home, it sucks for parents who lost their job and have to figure out how to afford to take care of their children. It sucks for everyone who lost their job, took a pay cut, every furloughed employee. It sucks for people who can’t pay their rent, can’t feed themselves or their families, those with no place to go.

It sucks for the kids who rely on schools for their meals. It sucks for the high school seniors robbed of their last year of being a kid; the last soccer season, prom, turning 18, walking across the graduation stage. It sucks for my nephew who plays on the USA National Hockey Development Team and had the second half of his season cancelled, games where NHL scouts can quite literally determine your future. It sucks for college students just learning what it means to be an adult, you can’t get those glory days back, no matter how hard you try.

august-20-2018-monday-barking-7-of-8
Wanted to break up all this suckiness with a cute dog, perhaps the only benefactors of our current state.

It sucks for people, old and young, who live alone, who rely on their community for their livelihood. It’s sucks for the recluses who decided to make 2020 their year. It sucks for couples who have no outlet to unleash their frustrations and angers aside from each other. It sucks for all the soon to be alcoholics and mental health sufferers that are sure to emerge as a result.

It sucks for the restaurants who’ve had to shut their the doors, for the farmers watching their crops rot in their field because their farm-to-table has no table. It sucks for all the small businesses who will never recover. 

It sucks for the caregivers working the frontlines, over-exhausted and still risking their lives for us. It sucks for the sick who can’t get the regular care they need because the healthcare system is focused on treating or preventing COVID-19. It sucks for my friend’s family who lost their grandmother and had to have a modified funeral amidst all this chaos. It sucks for those who contracted the virus, especially those with underlying health issues and for the families who take care of them. It sucks for every single person who knows someone taken too soon by the virus, it sucks for every person no longer with us because of the virus.

And this is just the tip of the ItSucks-berg.

**slowly reaches into pile and takes back problems**

Maybe you’re one of the hikers that falls into many of these sucky buckets, and that sucks, it really does. But the mere fact we were in *some* sort of position to even have a thru-hike to postpone this year means we’re pretty damn fortunate, all things considered. Thru-hiking is a privilege. If you were plucky enough to figure out how to fund and take on a multi-month hike, I gotta believe you’re plucky enough to figure out what steps to take now; because as much as we wish it would last forever, the trail always ends. And life goes on.

december 25, 2018 - texas big bends white sands (29 of 95)
There’s always an end.

God? God’s fucking plan? Do you believe in Santa Clause too? I think humanity is a thin layer of bacteria, a ball of mud hurling through the void. I think if there was a God, he would’ve given up on us long ago. He gave us a paradise and we used everything up. We dug up every ounce of energy and we burned it. We consume and excrete, use and destroy, then we sit here on this little pile of ashes, having squeezed anything of value from this planet and we ask ourselves…why are we here?

~ William AKA The Man in Black But Now White? on Westworld: Decoherence

5 thoughts on “part iii: the problem pile

  1. Well Tosha…

    I gotta be honest. I heard about your blog about a year or two ago, but had never read it. After reading this post, I am kicking myself for not checking it out earlier.

    I have struggled with anxiety on and off for the past several years and like so many other people, it’s become an issue for me again during this whole mess. However, after reading this (even though I am not a hiker), I was able to take a deep breath and look at this through a whole new perspective. Thank you for giving me a chance to actually feel more relaxed for the first time in weeks.

    You are an incredible writer and I can’t wait to go back and read your past postings.

    All my best!

    Like

    1. Aw, Justin, thank you, your words mean everything. I wouldn’t go too crazy On the backlog though, there’s like 6 years of material here. Who has time for that? Oh wait…. 🙂

      Like

  2. As ever, Tosha, you’ve hit so many nails on their heads that you’ve pretty much built a house here, or some other structure which holds up and offers sanctuary. We’re all allowed to feel sucky about our life and about the lives – and deaths – of all those others. I get irate when I hear people complaining about not being able to get the precise brand and colour of toilet roll they requested in their supermarket delivery, and about having to self-isolate in general. What about people who don’t have a toilet or a place where they can choose to self-isolate or be able to afford food? I started my 7th week of isolation on Tuesday, and although I miss hiking and being able go outside even if it’s not for an essential errand, but I do also feel privileged to be able to do this, and to be one of the lucky ones who found information on how to protect myself at the right time (I returned home from northern Italy on 18th February, and already pharmacies all had signs saying ‘no masks, no sanitiser). But I’m still allowed to feel the suckiness of it all – for me, for you, for everyone (except our animals: my cat is thrilled to have me here with her 23.5/7). Stay safe, stay well, stay hopeful. xx

    Like

    1. It’s incredibly difficult to comprehend this entire situation, feels very twilight zone-ish, doesn’t it? Everyone has their own way of dealing, I get that, but I struggle with the continued inability or unwillingness to see outside of me, myself and I. Glad you’re hanging in there and good to hear from you!

      Like

Leave a Reply to Susan Bittker Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.