“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“What’s on your bucket list?”

Two questions to bookend a life. Both ask, what are your aspirations. I wanted a pony when I was five years old. By the time I was fifty-five I had the ability to earn enough money to support a horse, had the knowledge to take good care of one if I had it, and knew how to ride. When I was a pre-teen, I wanted to be a mad scientist. In my twenties I got jobs working in laboratories. Maybe not a mad scientist, but perhaps a disgruntled one. When I was in high school, I had the idea I might like to write. Throughout my life I’ve written a lot of technical and business documents, but my first novel wasn’t published until I was in my sixties.

At some point, I got the insane idea that it would be really great to hike the Triple Crown of backpacking–the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. I’ve never once in my life done an overnight backpacking trip. I’ve owned a Kelty Tioga backpack for decades and used it along with a Eurail pass to travel all over Europe, but that was another time and another aspiration. I’ve seen the movie and read the book Wild multiple times, listened to hiking podcasts, dreamed a lot. But my knees don’t think this long distance hiking with a heavy pack is a good idea. The days when I could even consider these treks is past. In fact, my sleeping in tent days seem to be over. And yet….

When I was in California on family business, my husband and I took a break one afternoon and drove an hour and a half up into the mountains. There, for the first, and maybe the only time, I got to set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail. I “hiked” about one hundred yards down and back along a trail that begins at the the U.S. border with Mexico and ends just over the border into Canada. To hike its 2650 mile length usually takes a through hiker many months. I’ll never do that, but I consider the aspiration to walk on that trail satisfied. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I set foot on it.

Not all aspirations, hopes, dreams will be fully realized, and sometimes it takes decades to accomplish even a part of a goal. But that doesn’t mean it has to be abandoned. Or that the whole trail needs to be hiked. I suppose over my lifetime I’ve come to be happy with adjusted expectations. And my bucket list keeps growing. Some items have been scratched off as complete, some removed as no longer important to me. It would be kind of nice to learn to juggle and to weld, but those aren’t really high on my list any more.

I think that I may yet set foot on the Continental Divide and the Appalachian Trails–not to hike their length, but to see them, walk a bit. My new aspiration is to earn the Jackson County Parks Department’s badge for hiking all the zone trails. That is doable, I think. And what do I want to be when I grow up? Well, I’m still working on that one.

Image: Me on the PCT. By Jonathan Hutchins