When Land Before Time Hits Too Close to Home
or, why can't we all be more like Ducky
Do you remember Cera (Sarah) from The Land Before Time?
There’s a scene in the Land Before Time where the kid dinosaurs (Little Foot, Spike, Ducky & Petrie) are hunting for the Great Valley. They're in the middle of the desert and decide to put up camp for the night. The sun sets, it's chilly, and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night abound.
Cera hasn’t been getting along with Little Foot, so she's sleeping on her own. Ducky, not one to pick sides, sleeps by Cera because she's wary of sleeping in the literal footprint of Sharptooth. Spike and Petrie join, and Little Foot is left alone. He is stubborn and proud and sleeps alone. A lonely sleep alone, judging by the look on his dinosaur face.
In the middle of the night, circumstances take a turn in Little Foot's favor. In the Cera camp, there's a bit too much snoring for Ducky. Burying her head in Spike's belly doesn't produce sufficient sound damping. Ducky hops back over to Little Foot and, as before, Spike and Petrie follow.
Then, the moment when Cera realizes she's alone.
The look on her face is one she would never show the group. The pure, unadulterated pain of being left out. All the other dinosaurs cozy up together to stay warm in the cold, barren desert night. Cera is too stubborn and proud, and curls up alone, shivering all the while.
It's a scene that strikes a cord with me. Every time I've been too proud to admit I'm wrong. Because how does it end? The moment Cera lets her guard down she enables Little Foot to let her in, and acceptance resolves the scene.
I picture that very scene happening to me on the PCT.
Why? I’ve been planning, since 2015, to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail with my partner of now four years. Two years ago I was thrilled to plan this adventure. In the interim, I took a month to hike the Camino de Santiago alone.
The Camino de Santiago transformed my mindset.
Hiking through Spain gave me perspective on long walks and the importance of doing them alone. In that month the seed of my anxiety was sewn. The unshakeable feeling of impending doom tightens in my chest when I think of walking with another person. It's not a fear of spending 6 months with another person. It's the worry of needing autonomy bad enough to push away from someone dear to me.
I’ve talked to friends that have thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I have been reassured that I’ll have plenty of alone time, it’s just at lunch and bedtime that I’ll usually gather with others. That reassurance hasn’t helped.
I’ve considered getting a bivy sack in case I want to sleep independently. That’s when the mental image of Cera challenged my anxiety. The thought of a chilly night in the desert curled up alone with my autonomy. Great for thinking about the universe. Change the context of that scene and I'm sourly shivering in my bivy sack while my partner is warm inside a tent, ready to welcome me.
Am I too damn proud to crawl into the tent? Because I chose this? Because I wanted the independence? Because I made my decision and god forbid I go back on it?
Cue The Land Before Time and a little self-reflection.
Let's talk about pride. Pride gets in the way when it translates to an unwillingness to appear weak or needy. I definitely have that streak. I don't ever want to appear weak, needy, or as a burden. I don't want to show the chinks in my armor. I don't want anyone to tell me something about myself that I don't openly admit, proudly wearing it branded across my chest.
My pride doesn't always get in the way, but when it does, it leaves me shivering and cold. Wondering why I couldn't let my guard down. What it really boils down to, and what that look on Cera's face so vividly communicates, is wanting to be part of the tribe. Not wanting to be the chink in the tribe's armor. Not wanting to be left behind. As independent and self-aware as I strive to be, I still want acceptance from my tribe.
Leaving the tribe behind
There is intense growth that comes as a part of living completely autonomously for an extended period of time. Every decision is yours, and yours alone. There is no supervisor, no group to please, no unmissable event. When you're walking it's you, your shoes, the weight on your shoulders, and the road. It's clarity.
I don't want either of us to miss out on that intense growth. I've been adamant that the inability to consult another person is vital to my independent thru-hike experience. Completely leaving the tribe behind. Nobody to keep me in my comfort zone.
But maybe, just maybe, the truth lies with those little dinosaurs on a long walk to the Great Valley. Little Foot, learning to listen to his inner voice and stick to his convictions even in a group of peers. Cera learning that letting her guard down didn't mean giving in or giving up. And Ducky, lovely little Ducky, who seemed to know exactly where her true north was the entire time. She was silly, authentic, candid, and all the more endearing for it.
I have a month and a half left before taking my first step on the Pacific Crest Trail. I have a month and a half to find healthy perspective on thru-hiking the PCT with another human being. To teach myself that this trail will be an opportunity to recognize pride and fitting in as the distractions they are. To practice listening to my inner voice no matter who is around. To get over my Cera and hopefully come off the trail a little bit more like Ducky.
Or better yet, more like me!