“A friend told me that one of the hardest things about losing someone was having love with no place to put it.”
Korongo writer and CDT thru-hiker Mary Anderson is now in Montana's Scapegoat Wilderness. She reports that she is making good time: three 17-mile days in a row, with steep ups and downs carrying five to six pounds of water. She expects to reach Helena on July 17, depending on the weather. For Mary, a big day is 15 miles, while some younger hikers can manage twice that. Her post is about coping with the loss of friends and loved ones. —ST
There is a social aspect to many long-distance hikes. People meet for the first time and end up spending weeks or months together. It is such an important part of some of these hikes that there is a special name for these bonds. The folks you hike with for long periods of time become your tramily, which is short for trail family.
I had a tramily on my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, before the name was even coined. When I did the AT the second time I had no tramily, as I hiked in winter. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail long before it became popular, and so there were only a handful of thru-hikers out that year. I had a partner I was hiking with, and for a while we formed a tramily of three with one other hiker.
I knew last year when I began this trail I would be out of sync with the main body of thru-hikers. I camped alone for all but three nights of my three-and-a-half month journey. I knew I would be more in sync with the bubble of thru-hikers this year, and I knew that most of them would be hiking a lot faster than I was, but I was not prepared for how much I would be saying good-bye.
This year is a record year for the number of hikers attempting to thru-hike the CDT. I’ve heard there are some section hikers in their seventies out here, but so far most of the hikers I have met are in their twenties and thirties. I’ve met a few in their late teens, and some in their early fifties, and all of them hike considerably faster than I do.
I met Chim, Lost Keiz and James, Elvis, and others in East Glacier. I managed to keep up for a day, but then they were gone. I met Breezy, Gaia, Road Kill, and Caribou at a campsite one night. We shared a lovely evening together, and I managed to keep up until late morning. Then they, too, pulled ahead and were gone. Tonight I am with RoadRunner and Fetch, whom I first met in East Glacier. They left town after I did, so I managed to pull ahead for a short while. It has been great to see them again, but I know tomorrow I will again be saying good-bye.
It is common for tramilies to part when one member needs to stop for a day or two, but often they meet up again miles down the trail. I have no illusions about meeting up with most of them again. I am an old lady hiking this trail, and I am not a fast hiker. I have had too many injuries in my life and haven’t stayed in top shape to be able to hike twenty- and thirty-mile days. A big day for me is anything over fifteen miles.
This means I am constantly saying good-bye. I have to work hard not to get down on myself for not being able to keep up. I just physically can't. And each time I lose yet another tramily I feel a twinge of sadness. It kicks up the deep aloneness I have felt since early childhood.
I feel like this is preparing me for older age. I have a number of friends in their eighties and nineties, and I know that one of the things they find the hardest is constantly saying good-bye as those they love die before them. Many of my friends are at least ten years older than I am, so I suspect I will have a lot more good-byes farther down the road. I know that losing people I meet on the CNT doesn't compare to the loss of a longtime partner or close friend, but when I have seen no one for days, the connection seems pretty iimportant. I am trying to be grateful for meeting each unique individual and not get swamped in mourning the loss I feel once they move on.
I hope I can meet the partings I may well face in the years to come with the same grace as my ninety-year-old friends. A friend told me that one of the hardest things about losing someone for her was the feeling of having love with no place to put it. I understand this and am working to find ways to share love in the world, especially when I feel lonely.
Mary Anderson is a weaver, farmer, tele skier, teacher, and counselor. She is writing a book about hiking the Continental Divide Trail, a journey of healing that she began in her sixties. Working title: Becoming Mary Badass.