The Long Trail: My Life in the West


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I believed that people with cancer lingered. I decided to leave the hospital for one night so I could find him and bring him to the hospital once and for all. I looked over at Eddie, half lying on the little vinyl couch. None of us will leave. I rode the elevator and went out to the cold street and walked along the sidewalk. I passed a bar packed with people I could see through a big plate-glass window. They were all wearing shiny green paper hats and green shirts and green suspenders and drinking green beer. A man inside met my eye and pointed at me drunkenly, his face breaking into silent laughter.

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I drove home and fed the horses and hens and got on the phone, the dogs gratefully licking my hands, our cat nudging his way onto my lap. I called everyone who might know where my brother was. He was drinking a lot, some said.

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Cloud named Sue. At midnight the phone rang and I told him that this was it. I wanted to scream at him when he walked in the door a half hour later, to shake him and rage and accuse, but when I saw him, all I could do was hold him and cry. He seemed so old to me that night, and so very young too. We lay together in his single bed talking and crying into the wee hours until, side by side, we drifted off to sleep. I woke a few hours later and, before waking Leif, fed the animals and loaded bags full of food we could eat during our vigil at the hospital. We listened intently to the music without talking, the low sun cutting brightly into the snow on the sides of the road.

This was a new thing, but I assumed it was only a procedural matter. When I opened the door, Eddie stood and came for us with his arms outstretched, but I swerved away and dove for my mom. Her arms lay waxen at her sides, yellow and white and black and blue, the needles and tubes removed.

Her eyes were covered by two surgical gloves packed with ice, their fat fingers lolling clownishly across her face. When I grabbed her, the gloves slid off. Bouncing onto the bed, then onto the floor. I howled and howled and howled, rooting my face into her body like an animal. Her limbs had cooled, but her belly was still an island of warm. I pressed my face into the warmth and howled some more. I dreamed of her incessantly. In the dreams I was always with her when she died. It was me who would kill her. Again and again and again. She commanded me to do it, and each time I would get down on my knees and cry, begging her not to make me, but she would not relent, and each time, like a good daughter, I ultimately complied.


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I tied her to a tree in our front yard and poured gasoline over her head, then lit her on fire. I dragged her body, caught on a jagged piece of metal underneath, until it came loose, and then I put my truck in reverse and ran her over again. I took a miniature baseball bat and beat her to death with it, slow and hard and sad. These dreams were not surreal.

They took place in plain, ordinary light. They were the documentary films of my subconscious and felt as real to me as life. My truck was really my truck; our front yard was our actual front yard; the miniature baseball bat sat in our closet among the umbrellas.

I woke shrieking. Paul grabbed me and held me until I was quiet. He wetted a washcloth with cool water and put it over my face. Nothing did. Nothing would. Nothing could ever bring my mother back or make it okay that she was gone. Nothing would put me beside her the moment she died. It broke me up. It cut me off. It tumbled me end over end. It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again. To be the woman my mother raised. To remember how she said honey and picture her particular gaze. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were.

The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. It was a place called the Bridge of the Gods. To Texas and back. To New York City and back. To Wyoming and back. To Portland, Oregon, and back.

To Port- land and back again. And again. The map would illuminate all the places I ran to, but not all the ways I tried to stay. It would only seem like that rough star, its every bright line shooting out. Which meant that no one would.

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I finally had no choice but to leave her grave to go back to the weeds and blown-down tree branches and fallen pinecones. To snow and whatever the ants and deer and black bears and ground wasps wanted to do with her. I lay down in the mother ash dirt among the crocuses and told her it was okay. That since she died, everything had changed. My words came out low and steadfast. I was so sad it felt as if someone were choking me, and yet it seemed my whole life depended on my getting those words out.

She would always be my mother, I told her, but I had to go. The only place I could reach her. In me. The next day I left Minnesota forever. I was going to hike the PCT. It was the first week of June. I drove to Portland in my Chevy Luv pickup truck loaded with a dozen boxes filled with dehydrated food and backpacking supplies. We pulled into town in the early evening, the sun dipping into the Tehachapi Mountains a dozen miles behind us to the west.

The town of Mojave is at an altitude of nearly 2, feet, though it felt to me as if I were at the bottom of something instead, the signs for gas stations, restaurants, and motels rising higher than the highest tree. By the worn look of the building, I guessed it was the cheapest place in town. Perfect for me. I watched him drive away. The hot air tasted like dust, the dry wind whipping my hair into my eyes. The parking lot was a field of tiny white pebbles cemented into place; the motel, a long row of doors and win- dows shuttered by shabby curtains.

I slung my backpack over my shoul- ders and gathered the bags. It seemed strange to have only these things. I felt suddenly exposed, less exuberant than I had thought I would. Go inside, I had to tell myself before I could move toward the motel office. Ask for a room. I pulled a twenty- dollar bill from the pocket of my shorts and slid it across the counter to her. She took my money and handed me two dollars and a card to fill out with a pen attached to a bead chain.

Leif and Karen and I were inextricably bound as siblings, but we spoke and saw one another rarely, our lives profoundly different. Paul and I had finalized our divorce the month before, after a harrowing yearlong separation. I had beloved friends whom I sometimes referred to as family, but our commitments to each other were informal and intermittent, more familial in word than in deed. They both flowed out of my cupped palms. She was watching a small television that sat on a table behind the coun- ter.

The evening news. Something about the O. Simpson trial. When she finally gave me a key, I walked across the parking lot to a door at the far end of the building, unlocked it and went inside, and set my things down and sat on the soft bed. I was in the Mojave Desert, but the room was strangely dank, smelling of wet carpet and Lysol. A vented white metal box in the corner roared to life—a swamp cooler that blew icy air for a few minutes and then turned itself off with a dramatic clatter that only exacerbated my sense of uneasy solitude.

I thought about going out and finding myself a companion. It was such an easy thing to do. The previous years had been a veritable feast of one-and two-and three-night stands. I stood up from the bed to shake off the longing, to stop my mind from its hungry whir: I could go to a bar. I could let a man buy me a drink. We could be back here in a flash. Just behind that longing was the urge to call Paul. He was my ex- husband now, but he was still my best friend. The vented metal box in the corner turned itself on again and I went to stand before it, letting the frigid air blow against my bare legs.

The Long Trail: My Life in the West

Wool socks beneath a pair of leather hiking boots with metal fasts. Navy blue shorts with important-looking pockets that closed with Velcro tabs. Under- wear made of a special quick-dry fabric and a plain white T-shirt over a sports bra. In spite of my recent forays into edgy urban life, I was easily someone who could be described as outdoorsy. I had, after all, spent my teen years roughing it in the Minnesota northwoods.

But now, here, having only these clothes at hand, I felt sud- denly like a fraud. Not even once. I thought with a rueful hilarity now. My backpack was forest green and trimmed with black, its body composed of three large compartments rimmed by fat pockets of mesh and nylon that sat on either side like big ears. It stood of its own volition, sup- ported by the unique plastic shelf that jutted out along its bottom.

That it stood like that instead of slumping over onto its side as other packs did provided me a small, strange comfort. My trial run would be tomorrow—my first day on the trail. Was I supposed to hike wearing it like this? I took it off and tied it to the frame of my pack, so it would dangle over my shoulder when I hiked. There, it would be easy to reach, should I need it. Would I need it? I wondered meekly, bleakly, flopping down on the bed. It was well past dinnertime, but I was too anxious to feel hungry, my aloneness an uncomfortable thunk that filled my gut.

What I had to have when it came to love was beyond explanation, it seemed. It was for Paul. Fresh as my grief was, I still dashed excitedly into our bedroom and handed it to him when I saw the return address. Back in mid-January, the idea of living in New York City had seemed like the most exciting thing in the world. There was the woman I was before my mom died and the one I was now, my old life sitting on the surface of me like a bruise. The real me was beneath that, pulsing under all the things I used to think I knew. All of that was impossible now, regardless of what the letter said.

My mom was dead.

Everything I ever imagined about myself had disappeared into the crack of her last breath. My family needed me. Who would help Leif finish growing up? Who would be there for Eddie in his loneliness? Who would make Thanksgiving dinner and carry on our family traditions? Someone had to keep what remained of our family together. And that someone had to be me. I owed at least that much to my mother. And I said it again and again as we talked throughout the next weeks, my conviction growing by the day. Part of me was terrified by the idea of him leaving me; another part of me desperately hoped he would.

If he left, the door of our marriage would swing shut without my having to kick it.


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I would be free and nothing would be my fault. My grief obliterated my ability to hold back. So much had been denied me, I reasoned. Why should I deny myself? My mom had been dead a week when I kissed another man. And another a week after that. I only made out with them and the others that followed—vowing not to cross a sexual line that held some meaning to me—but still I knew I was wrong to cheat and lie. I felt trapped by my own inability to either leave Paul or stay true, so I waited for him to leave me, to go off to graduate school alone, though of course he refused.

Without her, Eddie slowly became a stranger. Leif and Karen and I drifted into our own lives. I never did make that Thanksgiving dinner. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around eight months after my mom died, my family was something I spoke of in the past tense. There, I could have a fresh start. I would stop messing around with men. I would stop grieving so fiercely. I would stop raging over the family I used to have. I would be a writer who lived in New York City. I would walk around wearing cool boots and an adorable knitted hat. I was who I was: the same woman who pulsed beneath the bruise of her old life, only now I was somewhere else.

During the day I wrote stories; at night I waited tables and made out with one of the two men I was simultaneously not crossing the line with. Six months later, we left altogether, returning briefly to Minnesota before departing on a months-long working road trip all across the West, making a wide circle that included the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, Big Sur and San Francisco. We pulled the futon from our truck and slept on it in the living room under a big wide window that looked out over a filbert orchard. We took long walks and picked berries and made love. Two of the hikers escaped, with Mr.

Jordan in pursuit, according to the affidavit. He returned to the campsite and began arguing with another hiker, fatally stabbing him in the upper part of his body, it said. The woman who was with him ran, but Mr. Jordan caught up to her, the affidavit said. She turned to face him and raised her arms as if to surrender, but Mr. Jordan stabbed her until she fell to the ground and played dead, according to the affidavit.

After he left to find his dog, she ran down the trail and found other hikers who helped her hike six miles to safety, it said. It was a pit bull mix and GPS coordinates that led to Mr.


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Sheriff Dunagan said that before dawn on Saturday, his deputies were informed of the S. They set off into the forest and encountered other hikers who said they had been unnerved by a man who had talked to them during the night, trying to get them to unzip their tent so he could borrow a flashlight, Sheriff Dunagan said. The dog approached them, the sheriff said. Click here for photos and trip notes. Cam Honan on the final ascent up Mt. To the best of our knowledge, it was the first time that such a trip had been undertaken. Totalling some 14, miles 23, km and taking a little under eighteen months, my journey took me through 29 states, 4 Canadian provinces and 28 pairs of trail running shoes!

Email Address. Sign Me Up. Skip to primary content. Skip to secondary content. Crossing the Salar de Uyuni. Sajama NP, Bolivia. Lowest 2 Highest Route. Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy, Colombia. Sunset in the Gobi Desert Mongolia. Cordillera Blanca Traverse Peru, Assiniboine Great Divide Trail, Canada, Mike Towne "The Wave", Arizona, Goat Rocks Pacific Crest Trail, Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon,

The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West
The Long Trail: My Life in the West The Long Trail: My Life in the West

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