Trail Dancing

I just spent seven days on the Pacific Crest Trail with my very good friend KT and her husband Stephen. KT, still on the trail now, is on the way to fulfill her dream of running and hiking through Washington on the PCT while Stephen provides support along the way. I supported by hiking with KT for five out of those seven days and helping Stephen however I could for the other two.

This intensive multi-day type of adventure is a first for both of them. They had planned and prepared meticulously for months. KT had done the physical training and was as ready as she could be. Stephen primed their Honda Fit, Greyson, for car camping and backroad adventure, compiled multiple booklets with printed info on all the meeting waypoints along the way, and he came prepared to cook up a storm. By the time we made our way up the long, winding gravel dirt road (with a precipitous drop off to one side) to the approach at Hart’s Pass, all that was left to do was the thing itself.

How everything unfolded (and how it is still unfolding) isn’t my story to tell. I’m sure KT will want to share it in her own words when she is finished. If you want a little taste, Stephen has been writing brief daily-ish recaps through their newsletter Trail Notes, of which I just wrote a guest entry for Days 6 and 7.

What I will share, and what I’ve learned through some of my experiences, is that it’s rare for things like this to go as planned… and that’s the beauty of it! How much do you learn about yourself in the way you react, pivot, or overcome the obstacles thrown at you? How much can you learn, grow, and stretch yourself to do things that once might have seemed impossible? How brave can you be to declare, “I want this!” then take the first steps to get there?

One of my favorite moments on the trail came at the end of day six with KT. We had listed out four potential campsites to reach by the end of the day, and we were motivated to make it to one of the farthest out so we’d have fewer miles to hike to the next road, where Stephen would be waiting the next day. While we had hit a lull through a burn section in the hot afternoon sun a few hours earlier, we found our groove again in a nice, shady, forested section of trail. KT allowed me to lead and she was game to follow along.

Up until last summer when I attempted an FKT on the Appalachian Trail, I had never been much of a hiker or a walker. I was runner! If the southern Appalachians weren’t already enough to humble me, however, the White Mountains up in New Hampshire completely schooled me. I had to learn how to hike quickly and efficiently, and in time, those mountains turned me into a lean, mean, hiking machine.

Back to that evening with KT, I got into some kind of zone reminiscent of the summer before, shuffling along downhills, skipping over rocks and roots, hopping parkour-style over blowdowns (in my mind anyway), and just having fun with it. KT went along with it and matched me step for step like it was no big deal. We picked up a SOBO thru-hiker along the way and we chit-chatted merrily through the miles.

It brought me back to a feeling I had during some of my practice runs on the AT, like being a kid in a playground. Except this time it wasn’t running, but we didn’t need to run. All we had to do was hike, and we were really hiking. Even better, it was like we were trail dancing, with the trail as our partner. And like with any dance partner, one can’t force a certain pace or rhythm; you have to go with what the trail offers you. Sometimes that means you’re dancing with rocks, roots, ascents, descents, fords, blowdowns, swamps, or my favorite, the “backwards bear shuffle”. And when the trail does open up and invites you to tango, it’s an awful shame not to roll with it and let your legs fly.

We reached our campsite of choice with daylight and energy to spare, and decided to save it for an early start the next morning. I was reminded of why long days on trails have become my favorite thing in the world: the simplicity in the task, the forward motion, discovering what’s around the next bend, the satisfaction of doing a really hard thing, appreciating the comforts we take for granted like a hot shower and a warm bed, the friends we meet along the way, and the truths we learn about ourselves.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my writing and if this resonated with you in some way, please consider buying me a coffee. If you look forward to reading these letters every week as much as I enjoy writing them, you can now support Mercury on the Run on a monthly basis with the membership option. The default is $5 per month, or about the cost of one shmancy coffee. Your support helps to keep this newsletter going, for which I am so grateful. ‘Til next week! ~M


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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