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Facing down the big issues on the Pacific Crest Trail

October 12, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Andrew Lyon on the trail.
Andrew Lyon on the trail.

While the voters argued over who won which debate, while the presidential conventions produced their speeches, while Californians pondered tax initiatives and condom use in the pornography industry, and the shuttle Endeavour wowed us as it flew over our heads but angered the people on the ground whose trees would make way for its slow procession through Los Angeles, Andrew Lyon was out of the picture, thinking about issues as immediate as whether he had enough water and as vast as the meaning of life and death.

The 23-year-old Laguna Beach man was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma while he was a freshman at UC Berkeley. He went through rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant but suffered two recurrences anyway -- and decided that nature had more to offer him at that point than the doctors did. He began hiking the 2,650-mile  Pacific Crest Trail on April 7 at the U.S.-Mexico border, and has kept walking -- except for one emergency, which I’ll get to in a moment -- ever since. He should reach his goal of the Canadian border in about a week.

This blog is a place for commentary on current events, but Lyon’s story, learned via a friend of a friend on Facebook, reminds me that beyond the arguments and putdowns that often mark public discourse, there are bigger moments in life that tend to bind us rather than divide us.

Fellow hikers -- I’m one of them, but not on this scale -- will understand exactly why a marathon trek through nature seemed just right for Lyon at the time. The repetitive trudging can put a person into an almost meditative trance. At the same time, being that close to nature, noticing it in slow motion, keeps us in the moment, as yoga instructors put it, without fretting about the past or the future. But then there also is the uninterrupted time to ponder our lives and where the end of the trail will lead us.

At the point where I first read about Lyon’s hike, just a little more than a week ago, he had reached a particularly vulnerable moment. His leg was giving out on him and he was forced to go to the emergency room in Yakima, Wash. There, doctors discovered that a tumor was pressing on his spine. Yet, since Lyon had last undergone chemo, a new treatment had been found that rapidly shrinks, and sometimes banishes, such tumors. While the young hiker underwent treatment, the hospital staff was so inspired by his story that they arranged for a horse and wrangler to take him as much of the rest of the way as he needed. But the tumor shrank so quickly and dramatically that he declined the offer and was back on the trail within two days.

There’s more -- like the company that makes the new medication putting trail angels in Lyon’s path --  but the best person to tell about it is his mother, Elizabeth Gosselin, via her blog. Of course, over the next week, we’ll all have plenty of issues to debate and comment on -- but maybe we’ll also remember a young man who is nearing his goal on an epic quest.


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