update/what happens now/THANK YOU

I’ve been in Portland for a week, staying with my good friend Seamus, riding a bike, taking naps, eating collard greens and too much dark chocolate. Reconnecting with the people who I love, face to face and on the phone, through email, however I can- sometimes I think that I am a very poor friend, that I am just gone, that I miss all the important moments, that I am never there when the exciting thing happens, or to help move a ping-pong table, or to bear witness in the hard times. I am so lucky to have connected, in this short time on earth, with so many wonderful people- being away and out of touch all summer makes me realize this, this goldmine of connection that I’ve been sitting on, forgetting about and neglecting as if I have all the time in the world, as if I’ll live forever. These connections are all that we have and I am lucky that my friends, who are much more settled and dependable than I am, are so patient with me. I only hope that someday I can pay it forward, because I know I’ll never be able to pay it back.

I finished my second thru-hike of the PCT! And it feels… sort of regular. The trail this year, for me, was not so much a physical challenge as an emotional one- on my second thru-hike my body just sort of knew what to do but I felt more emotionally distant from the trail, less attached. By mid-Oregon I was ready for the sorts of emotional and intellectual nourishment that non-trail life can offer, all the different kinds of people and experiences, a wider more open and varied world. The trail is a narrow demographic of people doing a narrow range of activities and discussing a narrow range of subjects. I felt as though I’d beaten most of that near to death, and although the hiking was much easier this year than last year (and by the end I felt stronger, as a hiker, than I’d ever felt, ever) I was starved for other things, other emotional and intellectual experiences. So when the trail ended I was ready, and I didn’t feel sad, only very peaceful, and contented, and probably sleepy, and that was nice.

Last year I was so heartbroken after finishing! Having lost the people and life that I had grown to love, that I had become so invested in. I rolled with a larger group this year and therefore didn’t connect with others as intimately, and also hiking the PCT a second time has destroyed, for me, the illusion that a thru-hike is a “once in a lifetime” adventure that can never happen again. I know that I’ll see my friends again and I know, money and time permitting, that I can thru-hike as many goddam times as I want. They also say that, much like your first love, there’s nothing like your first thru-hike. So maybe that’s true.

My body, after the trail, feels good- although it’s hilarious how “out of shape” I am for anything but walking. The first day I rode a bike left my hamstrings so sore I could barely move, and running on concrete feels completely impossible and also inherently wrong, as though I’m missing a sort of spring-like elasticity I should have and instead my legs are made of solid lead that is somehow magnetically attracted to the earth. Attempting to run on concrete makes me want to lay down on the warm pavement and go to sleep. Running on trails is alright, if awkward, so I’ve been doing that- although I have to fight the constant urge to walk.

My feet feel good. I am grateful, once again, that I do not have the foot pain that so many (all) of my thru-hiker friends experience at one time or another. Maybe it’s my giant feet, or my gait, or how often I change my shoes, or something, but so far my feet have held up really well and I am grateful for that. I have, however, been pooping my brains out- I stopped filtering my water the last week on the trial, as I want the immunity that the more veteran thru-hikers have, and so I’m riding this stomach bug out the same way I rode out what may or may not have been giardia when I was in Mt. Shasta. I want to be able to drink from a stagnant puddle without getting sick, like NotaChance can do. That’s my ultimate goal.

I’ve got a seasonal job in Southern Oregon that starts mid-September and until then I’m in Portland, broke and sort of sleepy, with only one set of clothes and my battered cascadias, seeing friends and soaking up the city life, reconnecting myself to a world that is large and varied and wild, the convoluted labyrinth of the human experience. It’s a beautiful world but an inherently fucked-up one as well- I left the simple quiet woods and returned to a human world in which, incredibly enough, black folks suspected of misdemeanors are executed in the street, and online comments say things like “he shouldn’t have run, he deserved it” and those comments are upvoted the most. For months I’ve been around thru-hikers, a mostly white, mostly sheltered bunch, and I’ve found that among them, much like among white hippy communities everywhere, there is a commonly held belief that “the world is a better place than it used to be”. I hear it other places too- there’s a podcast called Hardcore History that we all listened to while hiking, narrated by a white dude, and the premise of the podcast seems to be “shit used to be crazy and we used to do fucked-up things to each other, isn’t it great that the world isn’t like that anymore?” which drove me sort of batty because things are still just as fucked up, we just call them by different names and so they’re hidden in plain sight, and if you have enough privilege you can “decide” that the world is anyway you want it to be, and ignore the things happening right under your nose.

Instead of “the world is a better place than it used to be”, it would be more accurate to say “it’s a very good time in the world to be a white American”. Because as a white American I have, in a global sense, insane amounts of privilege, and access to a mind-boggling amount of resources. I can pretty much go anywhere and do whatever I want, and if any of the injustices in the world start to edge their way into my reality I can tell myself to “Stay Positive!” and just ignore them, and none of it will affect me at all.

To recap: I live in a motherfucking country where people suspected of crimes are shot dead in the street, and I can just ignore it because, since I’m white, I can be fairly positive that it won’t ever happen to me. All of this is happening, right now, and I’m…. writing about hiking? It makes me question everything I’m doing. It makes me long for the days when I was an angry young anarchist and we would dance around to this song- it didn’t do anything, but at least it made us feel better. It makes my own problems seem infinitesimally small- how broke I am until my job starts in September, my temperamental gut, trying to figure out how to be a good friend to the people that I love who are spread out over so much space and time.

Instigate calls me on the phone- I haven’t talked to her in months, since the long hot descent to Belden when I had good reception.

“I just got back from Ferguson,” she says.

I’ve been trying, since last fall, to convince Instigate to hike the CDT with me next year- but Instigate’s work as a political organizer is what’s most important to her, and thru-hiking, for her, is an indulgence, a sort of vacation. Now she’s just getting back into doing the work that she loves, and hiking the CDT would interrupt all of that. This is, to say the least, admirable, and inspiring to me- this young woman, almost ten years my junior, so wise and grounded in her own integrity and her sense of what’s good and important in the world. I learned in my early twenties that I don’t have the patience, resilience or organizational skills to be a political organizer, but my intention is that one day I’ll have enough influence as a writer to be able to write about things besides motherfucking hiking- I want to write the sort of narrative nonfiction that shapes our understanding of reality- I want to stuff sticks of dynamite into the glimmering golden blinders of white privilege. But right now I’m small so I’ll write about hiking in order to build my platform, and maybe some stuff about riding freight trains, and I’ll keep talking to all of my white, well-meaning hiker friends about the varied experiences of people who live outside of their narrow demographic, and I’ll get fuck the police tattooed on my forehead, and you should to.

So what happens next? This winter I finish the book about my 2013 hike- I’ve already written two drafts, haven’t looked at it for five months and now I’ll write a third, try and leverage my growing online platform to get a traditional publishing contract and, barring that, I’ll publish it myself. I’ll also work a shitty job, train for an ultra, eat lots of brassicas, and drive away my instagram followers by posting lots of selfies. And in 2015 I’ll hike the Continental Divide Trail- it’s an unfinished trail (aka lots of roadwalking and route-finding) of variable length that stretches from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. It’s a unique challenge- sort of like if I’d hiked the PCT back in the seventies, before it was finished. I’ve already begun reading the blogs (Myla Hikes is a good one from this year, written by a woman who hiked the PCT last year) and picking the brains of people who’ve hiked it, and I’m already really, really excited. Several friends from the PCT last year and from the PCT this year will be there, as well as several other thru-hiker friends. As much as I was ready, in the end, to be off the trail this year, I already long for it again, as I knew that I would. I might do something wild next year, money and time permitting, like tack another hike onto the end of the CDT- I felt so, so strong at the end of the PCT this year, and it seemed a shame to not just keep going, to see what I was capable of. And of course I’ll be blogging on the CDT- and this winter I’ll blog now and then, about my life, and what’s in my brain, and preparations for the trail, and I’ll post photos. And sometime this week I’ll do a review of all the gear I used this year.

And most important of all, I wanted to say THANK YOU- to all of my readers, for your wonderful, encouraging, heartfelt comments and emails during my hike this year. I don’t respond to comments while hiking because I have such a small amount of time in which to blog, and I have to ration it carefully, but I read and cherish every single comment and they definitely helped keep me afloat me during difficult times on the trail. It’s literally because of you that this is possible at all, that I get to thru-hike and write about it. And it makes my hikes about a thousand times more rewarding, knowing that I have readers, knowing how fun it is for all of you to follow along. Win/win/win/win! Here is a pika for you!!!

(Pika courtesy of Sheriff Woody)

(Pika courtesy of Sheriff Woody)

 

Day 116: something like absolution

August 18
Mileage 44.5 (14.5 miles to the Canadian border + 30 miles back to Hart’s pass)
Mile 2645.5 to mile 2660

At four a.m. in the still-dark the Hexamid beside us starts to rustle- there is no water, no white noise and so the sounds are like sharp cracks in the night and we all wake but it doesn’t matter, it’s like Christmas morning and we couldn’t fall back asleep if we tried. The monument today, the monument today. Canada, Canada, Canada, what will it feel like to be finished with this great thing we’ve all been rushing towards and what, if anything, will come after.

I leave camp first just before six, determined not to be in the back today. I want to hike with people on my last day, goddamit! These motherfuckers are so fast, with their long legs, just stomping all over the earth. Woody is a long bendy straw that travels at the speed of light, trekking poles flailing, and Tiny and Brainstorm are built like gladiators, at least seven feet tall. Guthrie has the most awesomely muscular legs we’ve ever seen and can go exactly as fast as he wants. Guthrie told me the other day that he never gets tired anymore, his feet just sometimes hurt. And Twinkle is a jack russell terrier. If you’ve ever hung out with a jack russell terrier you know what I mean.

Sometimes I can keep up with Krispies, which is a consolation, as she started on May 8th and so is actually faster than everyone anyways.

I’m going to miss these fools.

It’s 14.5 miles to the border and Krispies and I get to slack-pack there, which is cool. Slack-packing is where you don’t carry all of your gear. Krispies and I are turning around at the border instead of going into Canada so we’ve left our shelters and sleeping bags in camp- our plan is to hang out at the border for a while with everyone and then hike back to this point, for a 29 mile day. My sleeping bag and shelter together weigh about two pounds so I don’t feel that much of a difference without them but it makes my pack look really small, which I like.

I’m alone for the first couple of miles and I stop on a ridge to watch the flame-red sun work its way up over the horizon. My last sunrise on the trail! I almost start to cry but then I say not yet, not yet, it’s too early for that. I wonder how I’ll feel after finishing but then I stop wondering, and just focus on the hike. I’m tired this morning, and I feel slow. I’m hiking a narrow trail along green, verdant ridges, climbing or descending or climbing again, the jagged peaks of Canada in the distance. The sky is warming, the plants are wet where they brush against my legs. Soon Tiny, Woody and Krispies catch up to me, and we walk in a little group. I feel like no-one wants to walk alone this morning, we all want to savor the last of this camaraderie that we’ve built. I find myself wishing, again, that Chance was here. We left the Mexican border together, we should be finishing together. This whole summer we’ve been NotaChance and the Pink Blazers, following her down the trail like little ducklings, whether she liked it or not. We couldn’t help it. She’s just so good at hiking, and she gives no fucks. Now her and Mac are a day or so behind, as they took a few days off to wait out the rain and figure out the logistics of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which they want to follow west to Bellingham after completing the PCT. As I hike I remember the times Chance and I walked together, the way we’d gossip and talk shit and commiserate. The way she understood everything that was in my brain, the way we’d turn over the Irreconcilable Contradictions of the Universe (As Seen From the Viewpoint of a Woman Who Thru-Hikes), handling them and passing them back and forth until they were at least familiar and well-worn, if not any closer to being solved. The group has always been almost entirely dudes, and while they’re very nice dudes, Chance provided much-needed badass female solidarity in times of strife, and that helped me more than I can even say. Now, hiking towards the monument, I feel that there’s a Chance-shaped hole in my PCT universe and I wish, more than anything, that she was finishing with us. But of anyone in the group, she’s the one I’m most likely to actually get to hang out with after the trail, so that’s cool.

We all congregate for a snack break on top of the last climb before Canada- it’s a beautiful ridge from which I can see wild mountains going on for forever, valleys draped in light, weather gathering on distant peaks. I find a spot behind some trees to dig my last cathole (before Canada) and am treating to what is probably my best pooping view of the entire trail. Then down, down, down back into the forest and the wet, tangled brush. We cross the infamous Washington Washouts, which happened last year during the record-breaking September rains- whole sections of the scree slope turned into ravines. The washouts were much worse last year and have been partly repaired by trial crews but they still slow us down, and add a little excitement to the morning. No-one’s GPS is working today so we can’t obsessively check to see where we are, how many miles we have left. We’re just walking, and talking about this and that, and feeling tired, and picking a ripe huckleberry, here and there, and then we see it, the narrow clear-cut rising up the ridge opposite, delineating the boundary between this country and the next, and then we round a switchback and it’s there, that damp wooden monument, and I start to cry.

“Can you take my picture?” says Woody.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I just need a moment.”

Woody gives me one of the best hugs I’ve ever had.

“We met five minutes after leaving the Mexican border and now we’re here, at the same time.” he says.

“I know,” I say. “I know.” Then it’s hugs all around and people pull out the celebratory sticky buns and pabst blue ribbons they packed from Stehekin. It’s a different feeling, being here with people, versus last year when I showed up before Raho and had a few quiet, shivering moments alone in the rain with the monument in which to contemplate everything I’d done that had brought me to this point. This year, sitting in this damp clearing with my friends while they eat their sticky buns, watching the sun work its way above the trees, everything feels lighter, less serious, less final. More than anything I feel very, very tired- I haven’t been sleeping well and we’ve been doing high-mileage days, crushing our way through Washington to get to this point. We did all of Washington in just 20 days, including a zero in Stehekin! And 116 days for the entire trail- I never thought I would hike it this fast. I eat various things from the dregs of my food bag and think about the long 14 miles back to camp. Now I kind of wish I was going into Canada with the others. But no, I wanted this. I need to walk backwards, I need the introspection.

We take turns passing around the register, a cheap paper notebook pulled from the base of the monument. (Note to people behind us- the register is in the metal monument, and you have to lift the whole monument off its base to find it. It’s heavy. And no, there isn’t any weed in there. At least that I saw.) There are something like 35 northbound thru-hikers in the register who finished before us- out of a thousand or so who started. In the register I look for friends, remember the people who are just behind us. I wish they were here. Oh that I could see them again! I write in the register-

8/18/14, Carrot Quinn. This must be what it feels like to be a river that’s reached the sea

Krispies and I say our goodbyes at 1 p.m., after hanging out at the monument for two hours. More epic hugs (why didn’t we hug more on the trail? Now I wish we’d hugged every day) and then we’re hiking south, away from our friends, away from everything, back the way we’ve come, and it all seems so sad, and glum, and empty, and I start to sob. Still I can’t tell if I’m crying from feeling or from exhaustion- I sob like a four year-old when I reach a certain point of weariness and right now I’m so tired I just want to sit down on the trail and give up. I walk alone, crying and crying, my insides a convoluted soup of emotions.

I’m climbing back up the tilted green slopes we just hiked down, feeling more weary and sad than I can bear, when it happens- a gentle lifting of the weight from my heart and, as though coming from all directions, a feeling of peace- peace coming from the sky, peace coming down the gentle slope of the mountain, peace coming from the lupine bunched up against the trail. Peaceful clouds, peaceful forest, peaceful warm august air. Peace everywhere, rushing in to fill that space that’s been vacated now that it’s all over- I’m not in a competition, or a fight for my own survival. I’m not rushing towards anything. I’m not a thru-hiker worrying about miles, or interpersonal dynamics, or the turmoils of my own heart. It’s over. It’s all over, and I’m just me. I’m Carrot.

I’m Carrot, and I’m a fucking badass. I’m a badass but I’m also vulnerable. And I’m working on my humility.

And then I realize that the peace isn’t coming from anywhere- it’s been here all along, waiting for me. And something like absolution. A kind of euphoria, a lightness, mixing in with my low blood sugar and sleep deprivation, and then suddenly I’m not weary anymore, and the climb feels easy, and hiking feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done. Walking is what I do, it’s what I love. I’m a motherfucking thru-hiker and I love to walk. Turning the earth beneath my feet, turning the wheel of life. And this peace, everywhere, moving through me. I’m free, I’m free, I’m free.

I pass the spot where we took our last break, the ridge where I saw the sunrise. I feel like I’m walking backwards with a pushbroom, pushing ghosts off the trail. I’m free. Already I’m missing the others in the group, and it’s only been a couple of hours- the things they’d say, their hilarious idiosyncrasies, even the way we’d bicker and annoy each other. Maybe especially the way we’d bicker and annoy each other. Maybe that’s what love is- the loyalty that’s left over at the end of the day, after everything else is gone.

As I walk I realize that, rather than feeling like I’m hiking south, it feels like I’m hiking the trail inside out- all the downs are up and the ups are down and the views are all backwards. The trail, I realize, has no inherent cardinal direction, and is fully functional both ways. I file this fact away for my potential future yo-yo attempt. I cross the washouts again and this time there is a trail crew there, shoveling rocks- so the washouts will be much less annoying for the thru-hikers who come after. That’s cool. I catalogue the state of my body now that this thru-hike is over-

Foot pain- none
Blisters- none
Ibuprofen taken in the last few months- none
Digestion- off and on

I am getting good at this, I think. I realize that I’m proud of myself, for lots of different reasons- proud of myself for doing such high-mileage days, for completing Washington and Oregon so fast, for continuing to walk in all those days/hours/moments when I felt like I couldn’t walk any further. For keeping up with a bunch of tall dudes who make everything seem easy, as silly as it sounds. I’m proud of myself for not skipping a big chunk of Oregon to go to a wedding, even if it meant hiking by myself for a hundred miles. For rethinking my relationship to gear companies- I am no longer a Gossamer Gear trail ambassador and realized a few weeks ago that, although free gear certainly helps make a hike possible, being a “brand ambassador” for any company feels dishonest to me, and is not in line with my ethics and beliefs. I’m an anti-capitalist, goddamit! I use gear because I love it and it works, not because gear companies are my “friends”. I want to be able to talk honestly and openly about the gear that I use in order to help newer hikers make informed decisions, just like the thru-hikers that I learned from. My loyalty lies with other hikers, not with gear companies. (No judgement to thru-hikers who pursue sponsorships- I know that this lifestyle is expensive and not conducive to full-time employment and sponsorship is often the only way to get the gear/food/support that you need. Do what you need to do! Just stay true to yourself!)

I catch up to Krispies at camp where she’s sitting on the ground, going through her pack. I pull out a bag of salt & vinegar potato chips and happily stuff them into my face. The only other people here are a few members of a trail crew, sitting on damp logs around the fire pit, waving at mosquitoes. It’s so peaceful here, sitting on the ground next to Krispies, eating snacks. There were about twenty people at this site last night but now it’s quiet, empty.

“I’m running on something,” I say to Krispies. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m running on something. I feel good.”

“Yeah,” says Krispies. “Me too.”

It’s 6:30 p.m. and we’ve gone 29 miles. We’re 15.5 from the campground at Hart’s pass, where we’d planned to hitch out a ride out in the morning.

“I keep thinking,” says Krispies, “that if we went all the way to Hart’s pass, we could make it by midnight.”

That would make a 44.5 mile day- more than either of us have ever done, our biggest day on the trail. I look at my watch.

“Nah,” I say. “I bet we could do it by 11:30.”

And we do.

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Clockwise from bottom left: Guthrie, yours truly, Twinkle, Tiny, Brainstorm, Woody, Rice Krispies. Photo by Tiny

Clockwise from bottom left: Guthrie, yours truly, Twinkle, Tiny, Brainstorm, Woody, Rice Krispies. Photo by Tiny

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More photos on instagram

Day 115: these last few days are so sweet

August 17
Mileage 36.5
Mile 2609 to mile 2645.5

Sleep hard wake early, make my little oatmeal and eat it watching the fog move across the meadow. Hiking by 6:10, we’re climbing today but only 5 thousand feet. I walk with Tiny, he talks about being a chef, we discuss gender dynamics in kitchens, the history of what is and isn’t valued and by whom. The plants are wet, slapping against our legs, but the air is warming up. There’s a cold front moving in, day after tomorrow, bringing cold rain- looks like we’ll be finishing just in time. The weather is so wild on the PCT this year.

9 a.m. we take a break in a trampled campsite next to a stream and I eat the other half of my pie. Guthrie, Woody and Brainstorm join us and then we’re off again, up and up. Out of the trees onto the narrow ridges, weathered conifers and bright clearings, mountain ranges folded into each other way in the distance where we won’t ever walk. The trail is ending, is why. But what if it kept going into Canada? What if we could hike forever? Would we do it in a single season? Two? With a dog team?

I fall behind but can see the others in the distance, walking the ridge like ants, and I jog to catch them. I’m caffeinated today, via a mocha clif shot from a hiker box, and I slept well. I feel good. I join the ant train along the mountain- me, Twinkle, Guthrie, Krispies. Tiny and Woody ahead, crushing it. Even when we crush it, though, it’s a sort of slow-motion crushing. So slow that when we ride in cars now we get carsick, frightened at the speed. We’re only ants, how did we come this far. Turning the earth beneath our feet looking out at the light on the mountains, everything so beautiful, beautiful.

Last year there was trail magic at Hart’s pass, epic food and a campfire in the cold, cold rain. This year we reach the campground and there’s no-one, but I understand- it’s sunny and beautiful, we don’t need anyone to take care of us. Save it for the folks who will finish in the awful weather, when trail magic makes the difference between good humor and bottomed-out morale. We yard-sale our things out in the sunshine to dry the dew and make our own trail magic via the contents of our food bags- I eat tortilla chips and jelly belly sport beans, which are just regular jelly bellies with brilliant marketing and vitamin C added.

We’ve gone 21 miles by 1:30 p.m. and we spend an hour at Hart’s pass, laying around and eating. Also using the pit toilet, which we’ve taken to calling “toilet magic”.

These last few days are so sweet.

Just 16 miles to camp. I cruise with Guthrie and Krispies and we remark about this and that, how amazing everything is, all the things we’ve accomplished that we never thought we’d do. More ridgewalking, looking at Canada in the distance, everything so wild and sparkling with sun.

We reach camp at 7:40- 36.5 miles by 7:40 with an hour and a half of breaks, and my feet don’t even hurt. I feel astonished. Camp is a little grove of conifers in a green meadow overlooking a distant valley, tiny stream trickling through. Midnight Rider and Valentino are here, the woman and her horse, thru-hiking a second time! I watch them do horse things as I prepare my little tupperware of soaked spinach and peas, rip open a packet of tuna. She leads the horse by his rope to a patch of grass, the horse drops down and lolls about on his side. She ties the horse to a tree and puts a blanket on him. Horse things! How different her experience must be. There are a bunch of other hikers here too, day hikers, set up in the trees. And a hexamid in our midst, its occupant already asleep. The last of the light drains from the sky and we go, almost reluctantly, to bed. Only 14 miles to Canada!

Photos on instagram

Day 114: pie, climbing, cutthroat pass

August 16
Mileage 29
Mile 2580 to mile 2609

I sleep bad my second night at the lodge, for some reason, and in the morning I wake early and go to the restaurant, order eggs and sausage and potatoes to go. Everything in Stehekin is expensive, and I’m definitely spending the last of my money, but I don’t care. I’ll make it work somehow, everything will work out somehow. It always does. I eat my breakfast on the wooden deck, watching the fog burn off the lake. Only three days to the border. What does it even mean.

Three days, 110 miles- 80 miles for everyone else but an extra 30 for me and Krispies, because we’re not going into Canada. My passport expired last winter, and I never got a new one. And Krispies is turning around for logistical purposes. The border crossing is in the middle of nowhere so if you turn around it means you have to hike back thirty miles on the PCT to Hart’s pass, where there’s a road. Last year I went into Canada, but this year I’m looking forward to doing it this way- I need time for introspection, I’m not ready to step off the trail just yet. And doing 30 extra miles will make me feel better about the 30 miles I skipped around the second fire closure in Oregon.

Everyone trickles onto the deck, sleepy, sodas in hand, attempting to caffeinate/get pumped. Notachance never appeared yesterday, like I’d hoped she would, and my heart sinks. Word is that her and Mac took a few days off to wait out the rain- which means that we likely won’t finish together. Still I hold out a little hope. Maybe they’ll catch us before the border?

The bus bumps down the dirt road to the bakery- last bakery stop before Canada! Inside everyone buys sticky buns, slices of cold pizza wrapped in cellophane, things to take to the border. I find a treasure on the day-old shelf- another blackberry pie! For only $10! I heft it in my hands. A whole pie- should I pack it out? How will I fit the box in my pack? Of course there is only one answer to this question. I pull some food out of my food bag to make room, leave behind tuna packets and trail mix. Who needs nutritious food when you can pack out an entire blackberry pie?!

We climb for the first 25 miles today, up through sun-dappled forest. The climb is mellow and gently graded and I cruise. 9 miles in I stop at a stream for water and some of my pie. The pie tastes incredible- flaky golden crust, blackberry juice running all over everything. I am certain, in this moment, that no-one has ever enjoyed blackberry pie as much as I am enjoying it, right now. Sitting next to this stream in the wilderness, hungry from hiking uphill all morning, attacking the pie with my titanium spork. I go into a trance, and before I know it half of the pie is gone. And I am deeply satisfied.

Except, of course, I have a bit of a stomachache now, and 16 miles of climbing left. Hiking heavy, is what they call it. I listen to my music and cruise, hipbelt unfastened, and by the time I catch the others three miles later at rainy pass I feel better. Then up, up, to the ridge with the subalpine larch, where we camped last year. Cutthroat pass! More epic views I missed last year in the rain- jagged peaks and bowl-shaped valleys filled with light. This morning I’d been apprehensive about 29 miles, starting at 9 a.m., and with all this climbing, but now I feel amazing. I’ve only taken the one half-hour break all day, and I don’t need any more.

I get to camp just before eight and find the others sitting on damp logs around a fire pit, wearing their puffy jackets and boiling little dinners. Bright tents are pitched in the meadow and the air is cooling, dew falling over everything. There’s a volunteer trail crew camped here as well, and they chat with us about this and that. Tiny is talking about doing 37 miles tomorrow, which sounds impossible, and then I realize that it’s not.

“I think today was the easiest 30 miles I’ve ever done,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Tiny.

“We’re so strong now,” I say. “But the trail is almost over. It’s so weird.”

“Yeah.”

Only two days left, I think. Better make it count.

Photos on instagram.

Day 113: Freakin’ Stehekin: a zero in the promised land

August 15
Mileage: zero

Our last zero on the trail.

I sleep amazing on the hard floor with the cool damp air coming in the window, earplugs in my ears to keep out the snoring. Wake feeling tousled and relaxed, as if the set has changed somehow, maybe everything is going to be ok after all. If I get sad I can just think of my dog. Hugging my dog. That seems to help a lot.

The 8 o’clock shuttle takes us to the bakery.

“Just stand a moment and smell it,” says Tiny, as we pass through the big wooden door. I do. Rhubard pie, sausage biscuits. I buy an egg and sausage breakfast sandwich on gluten-free bread and a salad. Might as well start with something nutritious. Might as well delay the glutenfog for a few more hours.

Eating and blogging, eating and blogging. A gluten free carrot muffin, a cup of green tea, a pastry full of chicken and swiss. The others play card games around the big wooden table, day hikers and tourists come and go.

Monopoly back in the village, in the big room overlooking the water, Brainstorm ends up with all the properties and slays us all. Twinkle and I take kayaks out on Lake Chelan. I feel like a duck, paddling across the flat water. Where the water meets the mountain on the other side you can see down, down, into the aquamarine depths, the soft contours of the rock and the submerged trees. There are petroglyphs there, drawings of people and animals and parallel lines to mark the passage of… what?

In the evening there’s an art opening at the ranger station/visitor center- a bunch of paintings made by the locals. A live band is playing, made up of the beautiful hipsters who work at the bakery. We arrive en masse and descend on the food table and then the music ends and we drift back to the hotel, bored.

I think I’ll go to sleep but I can’t. In the big room overlooking the lake people are drinking and playing cards and I join them, filling an empty beer bottle with tap water because there aren’t any cups. We wear ourselves out and finally, around eleven, we drift off to our rooms. Our last zero on the trail, just three more days to the border. I feel suspended in space, between one thing and the next.

Photos on instagram.

Day 112: plodding through the rain to paradise

August 14
Mileage 15
Mile 2565 to mile 2580

The storm doesn’t come. I sleep hard for a while and when I wake up at first light my stuff is dry- sleeping bag, tent, everything dried in the night. Hallelujah. Everyone is packing up and we’re on the trail by 6:30, working our way through the fog. 15 downhill miles to Stehekin, the promised land. So close, so close.

We’re hiking fast fast and it starts to rain. Warm rain though. Everything is soaked, wet plants slapping against our legs, water running under our rain jackets and into our faces. We catch up to Guthrie- he didn’t take the alternate, camped 1.5 miles before us, got up early. We take a break next to a stream, eat the last of our food. Then rushing, rushing through the wet forest in the downpour. We’ve got to make the 12:15 shuttle from the trailhead. There are no roads into Stehekin, if you didn’t already know about this magical place. Little village that sits on lake Chelan and you can get in by boat, float plane, or by walking in on the PCT. Shuttle picks you up at the trailhead.

We reach the bridge at 11:30, the rain is still falling, we huddle on the porch of the ranger’s house under the awning, sitting on the woodpile. Waiting for the shuttle. Krispies shows up! She camped four miles back, did 19 miles by 11:45. She’s wearing a blue plastic rain poncho.

“I ran most of the way,” she says.

13 of us, huddled out of the rain, smelling like a pile of damp laundry that’s been in the bottom of a hamper. The shuttle rumbles up, a long red bus from the past/future and we pile on, stack our wet packs in the front. There was a landslide yesterday, the road was closed. We ease our way through the part that’s been bulldozed out- it looks like a lava flow of mud and rocks that came through the trees, buried everything three feet deep. Then Lake Chelan, flat and green, held in by the steep rain-grey mountains. Third deepest lake in the country, after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. The PCT goes by all three.

I feel glum. I rest my head against the window and stare out at the wet green forest. I’m tired- I haven’t had a full night’s sleep on the trail in a while. And I need a day off. Tomorrow will be my first zero since Sisters, 600 miles ago. And other than that, I just feel sad. I hiked again, why did I do that? What was I looking for? What even is out there, to find? I close my eyes. This is what it feels like to be alive, I think. This is what it feels like to be alive.

Then we’re at the bakery. All summer I’ve been telling people that I’m on my second annual pilgrimage to the Stehekin bakery. Now I’m afraid that I’ve talked it up too much, that I’ll be dissapointed.

I am not dissapointed.

Big warm room, everything made of yellow wood. Beautiful people, rosy-cheeked and dusted with flour, pulling pizzas, cinnamon rolls, loaves of bread from the steaming ovens. In back several rows of pies cool on a wooden chopping block.

This year I promised myself an entire blackberry pie. Last year Raho and I split one, finishing it in five minutes, and this year I think I could eat a whole one. I ask for blackberry and the woman looks over the pies- peach, strawberry rhubard, walnut, and then she finds one- crust broken, running all over with purple juice. It’s $16 and still warm from the oven. She puts the pie in a box on a paper doily and I am elated holding it, feeling its warmth. This is my pie. Mine. Happy thru-hike to me. Others get chicken croissants, pizza, giant sticky buns. I dig into the pie as the bus jolts down the rutted dirt road to the village. It tastes like heaven, and I manage to eat half of it before I feel ill. No worries, though. I’ll finish the rest by the morning.

There are four rooms left in the lodge and we rent all of them for our group. I end up in a small room with Brainstorm and Tiny and I commandeer the space between the bed and the wall for my sleeping quarters, take one of the best showers of my life. Eat more pie. Sit on the big couch at the end of the hall that faces the windows that look out at the lake- stare and stare at the lake, the mist moving over the water, the vertical mountains.

Laundry and then dinner is at the restaurant- they’ve done away with the massive nachos of last year, unfortunately, but they let us order burgers off the lunch menu. The postmaster with long silver hair and an eye patch fetches our packages and then we make our way to the community center, a cluster of rooms for locals and lodge guests where there are more couches, board games, a pool table. There is no wifi in Stehekin, no computers, no cell phone reception. We have only each other, these fantastical baked goods, whatever beer we can buy. I decide to drink for once and it’s fun, the sense of comraderie, no sitting by myself feeling like an outsider, the bare bulb of sobriety making everything too bright. I introduce the group to Bag of Nouns, which is kind of like celebrity, and almost every word is PCT related- poop, horse, cascadia, back chafe. We talk about all the good times we’ve had. How did this happen, I think. I feel like I was never really here.

I head back to the hotel just before midnight, walking alone along the dark shores of the lake, hearing the water lapping, no light pollution anywhere. The air smells like mist, like pacific northwest winter. Back at the room I brush my teeth and crawl into my good hard bed on the floor, with a nice feather pillow for tonight. I arrange my things around me- crusty gatorade bottle of water, chapstick, hanky. The window’s wide open and the damp air comes in. I sleep.

Photos on instagram.

Day 111: what is the lesson here

August 13
Mileage 34
Mile 2531 to mile 2565

The storm hits around 10:30 p.m. Just light rain at first, then harder, then cold wind! from off of the lake and lightning! illuminating the walls of my tent and thunder! Rattling the ground. Woosh! Woosh! Woosh! Goes the rain as it smacks against the limp cuben fiber of my shelter. I scramble to unroll my polycro groundsheet, basically a sheet of saran wrap, and put it under my sleeping pad. I string up the piece of cuben fiber that functions as the “door” of my tent. I move things here and there as rain starts to run down the mesh of my shelter.

I wake an hour later to find that water has pooled on my groundsheet and my sleeping pad- my sleeping bag is wet. Wet, wet, everything is wet. The storm still rages- lightning, thunder, torrents of water. Everyone is awake, and we talk to each other through the walls of our tents. Are you dry? I’ve got a puddle. You? The same.

At least it’s not very cold. I brave the storm long enough to re-stake my tent, which has just about collapsed. Outside the frozen lake glows white and it’s strangely light- I can see everything. 2:30 a.m. The storm makes its own light? Or? Back inside I blow up my neo-air and scooch on top of it. This will keep me above the water. I pull my now-wet sleeping bag up around my ears and curl into a ball on my torso-length neo-air, which feels like an awkward throw pillow. Everything I’m wearing is damp, the cold wind blows through the mesh of my tent and I’m almost warm enough- almost.

I wake at 5:30 and uncurl. My legs are cramped and achey. How long did I sleep? Five hours? Six? The storm is over and the contours of the earth are draped in fog- I cross my fingers that the sun will come out long enough today for me to dry my stuff. Otherwise I’ll be camping in the rain again, with a wet sleeping bag- no bueno. I shove a few handfuls of reeses puffs into my face as I stuff away my things. One of the best trail foods I’ve packed out, hands down.

We’ve got ten thousand feet of elevation gain today, over 29 miles. Ten thousand. Another Forester/Mather/Pinchot day. And it’d be 34 miles, but we’ve been talking about taking the old PCT alternate, which I took last year. The old PCT alternate is 5 miles shorter, wild and unmaintained and cuts through an enchanted stand of old growth. Hiking it last year with Instigate and Spark was one of my best experiences on the trail. My morale was so low that morning, hiking in the hypothermia rain with not enough food, and then I caught them at the trail junction and we clambered over all the huge downed logs, finding the trail in the moss and the salmonberries, pretending all sorts of strange things. Laughing until we couldn’t breathe. And then scooting up that sketchy log over the Suittle river- I have a video of it somewhere.

There’s a long climb this morning, and I fall behind. The trail is choked with salmonberries, the trail is full of rocks, there’s water running all over the trail. Is this the sierras? Huge blowdowns on the trail- logs so big they lay there in an almost permanent way and I approach them, size them up, crawl over them like an ant or scootch under them, pulling my pack after.

I catch the others on the barren top of the mountain, taking a break in the mist/rain, huddled in their jackets. Brainstorm is boiling cous-cous in his pot. I stand for a moment eating greasy potato chips from my party-sized bag, staring at the fog and then it’s time to hike- being the slow one uphill means I catch the tail end of the break, and there’s not much time to chill if I want to keep up. It’s going to be one of those days.

I crash somehow on the way downhill- plodding through the forest I just get tired, tired, tired. These long climbs, the rain, not enough sleep. I’m not walking very fast but I can’t seem to make myself walk faster. In the last week I’ve developed awful back chafe, a big red welt across my back, and it stings like crazy where my pack touches it. And I’ve got raw spots on my feet from my wet shoes rubbing. Everything is hard today. I pass a bunch of day hikers, a group of young people on an eleven day outing. I’m only a few minutes behind Brainstorm and Tiny, Woody and Twinkle in front of them. Old PCT old PCT, I think. I stop to poop and then jog the last half mile to the junction. When I get there no-one is there.

What the fuck?

There’s a creek to the right you have to cross to get to the old PCT, and the creek is roiling and deep, crazy because of the rains. It’d be impossible to ford, and I don’t see an obvious way to cross. I sit on the mossy ground and eat a bar. I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know if the others took the old trail or if they showed up, saw the crazy ford, and decided it wasn’t a good idea. Because if the creek looks like this here, the Suittle river on the other side where the bridge washed out will be even worse. So these are my options: I can either take the old trail and risk doing the sketchy river crossing by myself, or take the new PCT and risk being 5 miles behind my friends, depending on what they decided to do. I feel frustrated and dissapointed. Why didn’t they leave a note? Why did I hike the whole trail with people who don’t leave notes?

I decide to do the new PCT. The work of 5 extra miles is easier than the stress of doing a sketchy log crossing by myself. And there’s still the chance that everyone else took the new PCT too.

The trail is wide and flat and easy, and a little sun filters through the trees. As I walk I think about my hike this year, my hike last year, the CDT next year. I find myself missing Spark and Instigate again. I wish I had a hiking partner, that I wasn’t rolling with such a large group. But this is the way I chose to do it, so here I am. Walking alone for most of the day. Feeling sort of sad and lonely about it. What am I supposed to learn from all of this. What is the lesson here.

The trail winds through a stand of massive old growth- big hemlocks and western redcedars- thousand year-old trees! Beautiful forest! Massive monoliths, older than time. The collective wisdom of the forest. My morale is bouyed, and I stop to get water at a stream. Light dances on the water where it runs over mossy stones. Everything is so beautiful.

I see no-one for an hour and then I pass an older man, a thru-hiker, walking slowly up the trail. He says his name is Opa.

“Have you been passed by a bunch of dudes?” I say. “Headed north?”

“I haven’t seen anyone all day,” he says.

So that’s it then. I’m the only one who didn’t take the alternate, I’m five miles behind my friends, and I’ll have to do a 34 mile day if I want to catch them. And I’ll have to do it fast. I look at the time and average my pace so far today- two miles an hour. That’s how arduous the trail has been. And I still have four thousand feet of climbing ahead of me. I start to cry.

I’m suddenly overwhelmed with loneliness. I don’t want to hike anymore. I can’t, I can’t. I didn’t mind walking alone for most of the trail but now, at the end, I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to be alone. Not today, not these last few days until Canada.

The loneliness is intolerable. I feel like a zombie, pushing myself up the trail. My morale is bottoming out but I can’t stop walking, I just need to keep walking. No time for breaks, no time to dry my stuff. I’ve sat down for maybe a half hour today and I know I won’t take another break. Not until I get to camp and crawl into my tent. My wet sleeping bag! I unstuff it and strap it to the outside of my pack. Maybe it’ll dry a little in the warm afternoon air. It swings around and brushes up against the damp undergrowth so I wrap the ends around me. The feeling is strangely comforting. I feel myself start to bonk, so I eat the snacks in my hipbelt pockets. I’m almost out of food. But I think I have just enough to get me to Stehekin.

The climb is smooth and evenly graded. No rocks or blowdowns in the trail, no water running everywhere. I am so grateful for this. I might be able to cruise after all! Morale, though, is still shit, and I can’t seem to perk myself up. So I start thinking about life after the trail, about what I’m looking forward to. The trail is almost over, I think. You just have to make it through these last few days. It breaks my heart to think about the trail this way. I love thru-hiking, I love this lifestyle. And it’s almost over, so soon it’ll all be gone. But right now it sucks. And to make myself stop crying I have to think about something else, anything else.

As I hike I make lists in my head of what I’m looking forward to after the trail. Doing yoga. Getting laid. Buying a flower print dress and a black leather jacket. Eating avocados. Hugging my dog. The warm faces of friends. Trail running. Talking to Tara and Instigate on the phone. Warm sauteed kale with apple cider vinegar. Training for an ultra. Reading a book while watching the rain out the window. Woodstoves. Acupuncture, and the way it loosens the stones that gather in my heart. Heart-stones.

I think about my birthday in September, and what I’d like to spend the day doing. Eating blackberry pie. Making out. Getting a neck tattoo.

My morale starts to rise as I climb. I stop crying. Life can be good, life goes on. There is life after the trail. The trail is cruiser and I cruise. I get lost in my thoughts, the patterns of light in the forest, I don’t think about the time. When I check my apps again I realize I’ve been hiking 3 mph. I may just make it by 9. I may not have to night-hike except the last ten minutes or so.

I reach the top of the mountain to find the earth wrapped in fog, the light fading. I stuff my sleeping bag back away- the bag is a little drier, I might be warm tonight after all. I’m above treeline and the whold world is alpine meadow, lupine and indian paintbrush, water running everywhere. I start to run the downhills, careful not to trip on all the stones. I’m going to make it!

I get to camp at 9 p.m. exactly, in the very last dregs of the light. A little side trail leads to a cluster of flat spots in the dark forest, tents everywhere. No sign of movement. Light’s out, everyone’s asleep. I see Woody, Brainstorm, Tiny and Twinkle’s tents, along with a bunch of other shelters I don’t recognize. I haven’t seen Guthrie and Krispies all day- I wonder where they ended up.

I pitch my shelter as quietly as I can, setting up everything in preparation for another storm. I put on all my layers and pull my damp sleeping bag over me, eat a little cold rehydrated lentil soup. I’m strangely awake after all that climbing but so, so tired as well. I lay down and pull my sleeping bag up around my ears, feel my spine start to relax against the earth. I’m warm.

Only 14 miles to Stehekin.

Photos on instagram.

Day 110: 33 beautiful, arduous miles in Glacier Peak wilderness

August 12
Mileage 33
Mile 2498 to mile 2531

The rain starts at 3:30 a.m.- it’s light though, nothing too bad. And it’s warm. I put down my ground sheet but I can’t fall back asleep, I’m worried about water and all the ways it can get into my shelter. I finally drift off and wake at 5:30. Time to hike.

We’ve got 33 miles with 9 thousand feet of elevation gain today. Guthrie does the math and announces that that’s the same as going over Forester, Mather and Pinchot pass in the same day. But we’re hardcore, so we’re doing it. I’m not sure why we want to get through Washington so fast, but I just do what the group does. The alternative would be to fall behind and finish with people I don’t really know. It’s too late for that. I got into this mess, so I’ve got to see it through to the end.

The clouds dissapate but the fires, apparently, are still burning, and the air is hot, muggy and full of smoke. “Chafe weather,” as we call it, aka thunderstorm weather. There’s a slow climb, pushing through undergrowth and then a descent into low, lush forest, bands of yellow light across the mossy ground. I crash and take a break, sitting on the ground eating dark chocolate and jerky, trying to rally. So many climbs today but in this forest there is no time, I just want to lay down and sleep and sleep and sleep. I’m at the back now, I’ll walk alone for the rest of the day. Might as well make peace with it.

Rushing stream crossings on slippery logs, climbing up into alpine meadows that look like Alaska, the smoke making everything soft and yellow. Glacier peak all white and hazy, the slopes of the ridges velvety and green. One of the most beautiful sections we’ve seen, hands down. I feel elated but also tired, the trail is arduous and steep. Up the mountain and down. Up the mountain and down. Fat marmots everywhere, one of them whistles close to me and it’s deafening, I didn’t know they could be so loud. A couple of sketchy snow traverses, kicking steps into the soft-slick snow, trying not to look down. In the evening I’m rushing over the mountain, trying to get to camp before dark. I catch Krispies a half mile before Mica lake. Friend! At the lake we find our friends in a cluster of tents, everyone sitting on the ground in the gloaming, eating their dinners. The lake itself is frozen, covered in a white scrim of snow. I make my cold lentil soup and then crawl into my shelter, put on all my layers against the wind off the lake. I’m exhausted. A little rain is falling, but not too much. I drift off.

Photos on instagram

Day 109: everything is on fire

August 11
Mileage 22
Mile 2476 to mile 2498

Trains blow by all night but I manage to sleep a little bit, wake up too early and sort my resupply, then walk to the cafe across the street for greasy breakfast with Brainstorm, Tiny, Guthrie, Chance and Mac. Chance got in yesterday evening- she did the 72 miles from Snoqualmie in just two days! With something like a million feet of elevation gain. Chance and Mac are zeroing today, which means we won’t see them again until Stehekin. I miss Chance but I’m also starting to conceptualize that life continues after the trail and we live on the same coast, so that’s good.

After breakfast we all get rides to the ski lodge at Steven’s pass- T-Rex, Rocky, Slosh and Dr. Smiles are there, sitting at a metal picnic table- I get to see them again! It’s 9 a.m. and there’s bad house music pumping from the sound system on the patio.

“I bet it’s to keep the mosquitoes away,” says Rocky. He takes off his hat and shows us his long red hair.

We all hike out around eleven- me, Tiny, Brainstorm, Guthrie, Twinkle, Krispies, Woody and Homeless Guy, who’s been leapfrogging with us. It’s smoky today, and hot, and we’ve got 5400 feet of elevation gain to our campsite in 22 miles. I’m determined to hike fast uphill, though, or at least not as slow as usual. Everyone else seems to like charging uphill at 3+ miles an hour, but it’s like I’m missing a muscle in my legs- I just can’t do it. End of my second thru-hike, and I still haven’t figured it out. I think I need a mentor, or something.

Climbing up through the forest into Alpine meadows full of flowers, ridges in the distance hazy with smoke. A descent and then up again, down and then up again. I’m drenched in sweat, I’m chafing everywhere. We stop for a break next to a stream, I eat peanut MnMs and reeses puffs in protein powder mixed with water. Then back up. I try to remember my experience in this section last year but it’s as if it happened in a different reality- climbing up to socked-in ridges, 35 degrees and misting, soaked to the skin fighting hypothermia unable to use my hands, stumbling down to lower elevations where it’s drier, sheltered, warmer, then back up again into hell.

Not today, though. Today it’s hot and thick like the inside of a smokehouse. We turn a corner and see the fires- yellow flames leaping up, a plume of smoke like a mushroom cloud. Just a couple of ridges over. What. The fuck. These fires must be new- like from today. We watch them as we round the ridges- the flames spread and grow, as does the smoke. Will it come to where we are? Nah, we don’t think so. And we plan to put in 32 miles tomorrow, so that should get us past it. But what’s gonna happen? Fire closure for the folks behind us? On the trail to Stehekin?!

We reach camp at 6:30, a grassy meadow next to a clear granite brook, overlooking the smoky ridges and the egg-yolk sunset. One of the most beautiful places we’ve camped. We watch the light while we eat- everything has that orange tint of an instagram filter, the colors super saturated. Dinner is instant lentil soup with dried spinach, potato chips, a rice krispie treat. There are mosquitoes, tiny but persistant, so we all pitch our shelters, turning the meadow into a tent village. I feel fried from the heat and the smoke. All day I’ve been trying not to think about the end of the trail, about the way I’ll feel. About the emptiness that will rush in when all of this is gone. It’s there, though, waiting, like a small death. I’ve got to go bravely towards it, towards this portal that will transport me back into the other world. The world of asphalt, comfortable chairs, and existential despair.

I’ve been running towards it for the last four months, and now I’ve got to try and be brave.

Photos on instagram.

Day 108: smoky/hot/Stevens Pass/Egg!

August 10
Mileage 20
Mile 2456 to mile 2476

I wake up way too early for when I went to sleep last night, lay in my sleeping bag for an hour. I’m going to be tired today. Oh well. Finally get up and everyone’s rushing to pack their things away- I get anxious that I don’t have time to eat breakfast but a mile later I’m fucking starving so I sit next to a stream and eat my oatmeal. A climb and I’m fast, a climb and I’m slow. It’s smoky and hot today and I’m sore, I can feel yesterday in my legs. Today I feel wore the fuck out. It’s been too long since I had a zero day. Stehekin, though. Soon. Just me and a blackberry pie, taking a zero. Sitting at a picnic table writing postards. Maybe taking a nap.

Goddam I’m tired today. I catch the others on a ridge, do a long descent and then slow down, sit in the smokey sun swatting blackflies and eating the last of my food. So. Tired. Must. Hike.

On the long, last, sweltering climb (I roasted last year and this year I roast again, I can feel my shoulders burning, chafe from the straps of my pack and along my back) I get reception and there’s a text from Egg- she’s in the parking lot, waiting for me! I hiked with Egg last year and I remember when we hung out at the Dinsmore’s in Skykomish, she wrapped her sleeping bag liner around her head like the virgin mary and in the morning when we hitch-hiked it was too early and we made too much noise and the neighbors came out and yelled at us.

Egg is at the ski lodge with three friends from the farm where she works on the Olympic Peninsula and they have the most incredible array of food- black beans and rice for tacos, cabbage slaw, salad, salsa, avocado, strawberries in sugar, raspberries, small tomatoes, coconut macaroons. Almost all of it from the farm where they work, perfectly ripe and falling apart, and we descend on it like salad-starved wolves, sit at the metal picnic tables eating until we can’t anymore. Afterward the others hitch to the Dinsmore’s and I ride the gondola with Egg and her friends up to the top of the mountain, clinging to the warm metal remembering when I was a kid and I wasn’t scared. We fly through the hazy smoke-filled air with the fireweed down below. (There’s a fire nearby, biggest wildfire in Washington history.) Egg and I talk about life, transience, sadness/excitement. She’s wearing the same dress she hiked in last year, only in a different color, and her hair is in pigtails and she has a Fish and Wildlife hat. Seeing her all tired and freckled from her farm job reminds me that the regular world is out there, it still exists, and it’s not that bad. At the top of the mountain we get back on the Gondola and ride down.

Egg and her friends drop me at the Dinsmores and I say goodbye (but I will visit her soon!!) and I rejoin the sunburnt, rangy crowd, everyone sitting in a circle on the grass drinking Rainier and smelling like old laundry. Twelve pizzas are ordered; I can’t eat pizza and the store is closed so I eat pecans from my resupply and catch up on my blog. Showering, laundry, the usual things that make me feel like a new person, like I’ve removed the skin of dust and clammy sweat I’ve grown over the last 100 miles. Bed is cowboy camping beneath the huge western redcedar in the yard, BNSF intermodals blowing past in the wee hours. Tomorrow we start to long stretch to Stehekin, aka the promised land. I sleep.

Photos on instagram.