I’ve often been asked how the death on the Pacific Crest Trail of my husband, “No Way Ray” Echols, has changed me. Ray and I were approximately 300 miles into a northbound PCT thru-hike when he apparently lost his footing and fell about 200 feet to his death. I was hiking about 20 feet behind him when he went around a corner and disappeared.
That cliff marks a sudden turn in my life. But I’ve come to see it as symbolic of how the trail changes each of us.
At Ray’s memorial service, someone asked me whether I would hike again. Instinctively, I said, “Yes.”
Less than two months after Ray’s death I was back on the trail in Oregon, hoping for solace in making miles. The main strength I found was a new acquaintance with fearlessness; I had already faced the worst the trail could deliver and walked through it.
We come to the trail for lots of reasons. Beneath them all, we want to find out what’s really important in our lives. The PCT answers us by stripping life down to its essentials. We shed not only ounces and grams, but also the mental clutter of our ordinary lives.
In the silence of the wilderness, we wrestle with the demons of our past and discover they are phantoms. In every hot, tired step we are undeniably physical beings. At the same time, our spiritual selves soar.
Undeniably, the PCT strings together some of the most amazing wilderness on this planet. Our time on it satisfies our need to belong to the Earth. We will always hold close to our hearts the Milky Way seen from a tiny sleeping bag on some improbable campsite at the edge of nowhere.
Every year you will find me on the PCT. Each time I return, I recharge my soul. What draws me is reconnecting to what is most important in life – the people and the wilderness.
Alice “Stone Dancer” Tulloch is a retired civil engineer and wilderness primitive skills instructor. She has hiked all over the world and is the publisher of A Thru-Hiker’s Heart written by her late husband, “No Way Ray” Echols. This piece is adapted from an article that appeared in the PCT Communicator in September 2010.