I am awed by people who do what seem to me impossible feats. My friend Ed Cole, for example, who, bit by bit, is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to Canada through the western states. This to me is just this side of nuts, but Ed, who is now 72, has been hiking all his life, mostly in the Sierra. The first 700 miles of the PCT are through desert, though, and anyone who’s hiked those bloody awful miles will tell you that they’re not for sissies.
Not that there’s any doubt, but Ed Cole is no sissy. Look at him hefting his heavy pack, getting ready to get back on the trail after his lunch break.
He’s hiked long sections of the trail in past summers that took him from California’s southern border to Castle Crags, south of Dunsmuir, California. He went back on the trail at Castle Crags June 8 and hopes to make it all the way to Canada this summer, hiking 10 to 15 miles a day and carrying a 35- to 40-pound pack. On his first days of hiking this month he reacquainted himself with the trees and increasingly rocky landscape as well as rattlesnakes on the trail. He also saw two bears closer than most people would like. Unfortunately, he did not yet have his bear canister for his food with him. Fortunately, the bears and the snakes moved on and didn’t bother Ed.
That’s where I came in. Five days into his hike, I brought Ed his bear canister (which looks like a big plastic container filled with food that bears allegedly cannot break into) at the Parks Creek Summit PCT crossing in the mountains northwest of Weed, California. I was pleased to be Ed’s first resupply person on this leg of his journey. And because I arrived with a gallon of water, a foot-long Subway sandwich and two lawn chairs so he could briefly sit on something with a back on it, I am now an official Trail Angel, as they call them on the PCT.
Ed made a friend in his first days on the trail, as hikers often do. Phil Carter of Roseville also recently went back on the trail, so they teamed up for a bit. But Phil injured his knee, and though Ed taped up Phil’s knee for him, Phil needed to come off the trail. (Ed is a big believer in the power of taping various parts of his legs for support.) So it was that I came down the mountain with a PCT hiker in my car to get him to Mt. Shasta City where he could arrange a ride home. I was sorry that Phil had to give up his hike for now but glad that Ed was continuing his. He’s been stymied by weather conditions in recent summers (too much snow for too long), and he’s been itching to get back out there.
Now Ed’s out there somewhere in those mountains, nearing the Oregon border. He’ll be met at the Etna summit by church friends bringing food and supplies, and after that his sweetheart, Cheryl Fuller, will meet him in Ashland where he’ll take a rest day or two off the trail before he continues.
Ed has a novel that my new publishing company, River Rock Books, will publish this fall called “The Love Song of Pinky Wollerman.” It’s a great story about a man named Pinky Wollerman who lives and ranches in California’s great central valley in the 1950s who becomes entranced with the idea of Australia and travels there, not realizing that he’s a suspect in a murder. Pinky undertakes a great journey and does, indeed, find love in surprising ways. But one of Pinky’s greatest loves (which Ed writes about beautifully) is for the land that he lives on, ranches and traverses in the outback before returning to California.
It’s no coincidence that as Ed was working through many drafts of Pinky (which is Ed’s nom de plume on Facebook, by the way, and what we sometimes call him in the writing groups I host), Ed began making plans to hike the PCT. It’s a serious undertaking that yields great lessons—one of which Ed has long known: You’ve got to hike your own hike, at your own pace, often alone, which is just fine. And when others come along with whom you’d like to spend time, you hike with them for a time, and when they go, that’s fine, too. Always, though, it’s the magnificent landscape with all of its challenges of weather and critters that keeps you company along the way, which is a very fine thing. He reminds me that we all need to stop, turn and view the place from which we’ve just come as well as look toward the direction we’re headed, take a few deep breaths, appreciate the steps we’ve taken to get there, and then keep going.
So many people who know and love Ed wish him well on his journey, one of those explorations of the heart as much as one of land and space and sky and trees. What he finds out there this time will become part of his inner life as the rest of his travels have. We should all undertake such explorations in our lives—not necessarily the PCT but ones that suit our particular paths—that take us away from our everyday selves and allow our hearts to be enriched in the process.