Hiking Old Trails Again for the First Time

We stepped off the Upper Big Quilcene Trail in the Olympic National Forest to find a spot for lunch where we could see the water tumbling over rocks and under logs. Our newest guide, Meg, scrambled down to the water to snap a photo in the same spot I did a few months ago when I hiked this trail with Daniel. White water cascaded over mossy rocks much as it had before, but I was the only one who had seen it then.

So much had happened since the last time I was on the Big Quilcene. We’d circled the Olympic National Park on various trails, split and merged our groups a couple of times, and even lost one of our veteran guides to the Pacific Crest Trail. Clients had come and gone and now I was climbing up the Big Quilcene with a whole new group with all-new stories.

It’s tempting to point out all the things I remember about the trail to Meg, to try and relive my last experience to some degree. Maybe that gives me a sense of control and importance, but it also leaves me walking with ghosts instead of being present with those around me.

Big Quil wasn’t letting me get away with it. Gently, quietly, he stood aside from my memories of being here before and invited me to let this hike be its own hike. For a moment, I could see Big Quil on his own apart from my experiences then and now. My experiences were no longer one and the same with the trail in my mind.

In some interesting way, seeing the trail apart from my past experiences made me open to new experiences for myself and others. The Big Quil was no longer just this one trail where this one thing happened, but it was its own trail where all these things happen to all these people. It was a certain kind of detachment that ironically made me more fully connected, to the trail, to the group I was currently with, and even to all the other hikers we were sharing the trail with.

I began to wonder if I could bring that mindset home. Could I let people and places from my past stand aside from my experiences with them like the Big Quil did? Could I walk through my home town without tying new experiences to old ones? Could I hike the Camino again without trying to relive the last time? If I could, how might that open me up to new experiences and opportunities moving forward? What relationships might flourish?

The Big Quil climbs up to Marmot Pass at about 6,000 feet where it meets up with Tubal Cain Trail and plenty of options for exploring. Our group didn’t make it quite that far, but we did manage to get high enough for we some stunning views among the foggy mountains.

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