She stared out at the snow gently falling and thought about how movies could never quite capture the feeling of snow.
In movies, there were only two feelings that were associated with snow. The first was that of happiness; it was snowing at the end of a Christmas movie, and the characters were triumphant and now living their happily ever afters.
The second was dread; danger was afoot, and the snow foreshadowed someone's death.
Movie's never managed to get the feeling in the middle.
She wasn't sure how they would. There was no way to describe standing in the snowy tundra, how she knew that everything around her was dead for miles, and yet, she was alive. In a strange way, she felt empowered.. More empowered than she had in her regular life, certainly.
But, her regular life was 750 miles and six months ago. She'd started her trek across the PCT and she hadn't looked back. Now, she lived off of the land and the kindness of strangers.
The Pacific Crest Trail started in Mexico and ended in Canada. It was popularized by the likes of Cheryl Strayed and the subsequent movie based on the book about her hike. A challenge for most hikers, they set out to do what was called a 'thru-hike', which was the goal to hike all 2,650 miles from start to finish.
But, Cindy wasn't looking to do a thru-hike. She'd won the lottery nearly a year and a half ago, and knew instantly what she wanted to do with the money. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was enough to quit her old job and supply her with enough supplies and equipment to keep hiking until her body gave out in fifty some odd years.
But, her supplies were currently running low. The last road into town had been socked in by snow, and so she'd been forced to continue on.
Now, she stared at the frozen river.
It certainly wasn't her first obstacle, but it might very well be her last. The idea of crossing the frozen river was a tempting one, but the idea of falling in and getting carried away by the current, not to be found until Spring had thawed the rivers enough for them to find her body, made her pause.
She already knew there was no way around it. She'd spent the past hour studying the map to see if there was a way she could bypass it somehow, but the river was too long and she didn't have the extra hours it would take to hike to a part of the river that would be skinny enough where she could simply run across.
There was no way around this.
Cindy thought about her life leading her up to this point. It hadn't been a bad life. She'd worked in a nine to five office job, with steady benefits and an even steadier income. She'd had a few friends, like Steve and Rachel, who cracked jokes like they cracked open their beers after work. Weekends were filled with hiking the small trails that littered the valleys near her home, occasionally getting dinner with Steve and Rachel, and, on a rare occasion, entering the bar alone and exiting with a companion to share the night with.
It hadn't been a bad life. But, it hadn't been her life.
For as long as she could remember, there was only one thing that Cindy had wanted: freedom. The outdoors had given her that, an escape from the dull meetings and the nine to fives and the thought that this would be the rest of her life, shuffling herself from her office to her apartment and vice versa, stuck in a life that was safety more than anything else.
She'd hiked the trails near her home, excitement thrumming through her veins during the mile or quarter mile or 5k's she sometimes drove out to Los Angeles to run, because it was during these moments that she never felt more alive.
Staring at the frozen river, Cindy thought how funny it was, the circumstances leading her here.
She didn't even play the lottery. Steve and Rachel had goaded her into it when the Mega Millions had been at one of the ridiculously high jackpots, half a billion, or something, and she'd bought a ticket because they had been, and they'd all had a good laugh around beers that night.
They weren't laughing when Cindy won.
It wasn't the jackpot, but still, Cindy spent all that Friday morning just staring at the ticket, and for the first time in her life, she understood the phrase 'ticket to freedom'.
This was everything she'd ever wanted. The ability to sell all of her things, the couch and the television and the closet full of business clothes that she felt clinging to her the more that she put them on. She'd started to fear that one day, they would mold to her skin, and that would be the final straw to trapping her into this life that she so despised and yet seemed to be unable to escape.
But now? Now, she had the ability to do everything she'd ever wanted, and more.
She quit her job that very day, sending Reggie her resignation letter as she reveled in the idea of the look on his face when he read it. The day after that, she put all of her possessions up for sale and then she went to REI and purchased everything that a backpacker could need.
Everything had fallen so neatly into place after that, and a year later, she started the trail of the PCT. It was the first day of the rest of her life.
Thinking back on the events that had lead her to this moment, standing at the frozen river, she felt a new sense of determination flood her.
That had been the first day of the rest of her life. Today would not be the last.
She would make it across this frozen river and come out the other side of this the victor. Her whole life had been filled with crowded office spaces and constricting business clothes and compliant friends. The ice would not crack, she told herself, so that she could have the future that would be filled with what she'd always longed for: freedom.
She took a deep breath.
And then, she took her first tentative step out onto the ice.