This morning after I woke I lay in my nice soft bed, googling pictures of snakes on my phone. I’d only encountered one snake so far on the trail, a smallish one that had been stretched languidly across the path.
“Well hello there, baby snake,” I’d said, as I’d stepped casually around it.
Now I frowned as I scrolled through common snakes of southern california.
That snake had been a rattlesnake.
I’m a fool, I thought. A fool, fool, fool.
Why does everything in the desert want to kill me?
Everything in the desert could kill me and chooses not to.
Today was the day of searching for objects.
The western world is full of consumer goods. A cloud of consumer goods, floating over the land like fog. In the morning we wandered through this fog, looking for this or that piece of molded plastic and foam that would somehow make all my dreams come true.
At REI they didn’t have my shoes a half size smaller. My shoes are fine, I decided, as I poked at the racks of physical objects. My feet will probably swell more. What is a pair of shoes, anyway? I bought a few microscopic pieces of gear and a pair of those socks with the toes. Maybe I like these, I thought, as I Iooked down at this particular manifestation of woven thread, their existence, branding and packaging a cumulative result of thousands of years of history.
At rite-aide I bought a phone charger kit that came with lots of bits, because one of the bits looked like it might fit my solar charger. Back at Bob and Linda’s RV I spread the bits across the table. Five special bits, each the product of so many things. Ideas, conversations, engineering, factory assembly. The permits to even build the factory in the first place. What had the workers been paid? Whole lives played out, dramas.
None of the bits actually fit. I called sweethome again, and she rifled through my boxes in the basement. Boxes full of objects shaped all sorts of ways, manufactured and distributed all over the world. What was value? I wanted this bit so bad it was like an ache. Sweethome texted me photographs of the powermonkey bits that she found. The powermonkey charger comes with around five hundred bits, like a jigsaw puzzle. I think one of those might be the right bit! I texted. Now the postal service would be involved. Who had not played a part in the acquisition of the bit for my solar charger? Whole wars fought for this, civilizations born and died out.
The maybe-bits would meet me in warner springs, 66 trail miles north. Soon that pound of dead electronics I’d been carrying would finally come to life.
While we drove around sunny sandy eggo (as my friend Frannie calls it) Bob gave me all sorts of advice for my ankle.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I had your exact same injury once. And you know what they told me? They said you hike on it, the endorphins kick in once you get going and the pain goes away. It’s not going to get more injured, they told me. You just hike on it.”
This was the most encouraging piece of advice I had heard so far. And my ankle was feeling a lot better today- there wasn’t much pain, although I did feel a sort of grinding when I moved it. Vitamin I, I thought as I took an ibuprofen from my little plastic baggie.
Bob and Linda wanted me to get trekking poles but I felt adverse to poles. Poles were like weights I had to carry in my hands! But realistically I was injured now, and would probably be injured for the rest of my hike.
“I bet I’ll find some in a hiker box,” I said.
Another thing I did today was weigh what was left of my food. Eight pounds!
“That’s a lot of food for four more days,” said Bob.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve probably been carrying too much food.”
Dammit, I thought, remembering my brutal first day, my heavy pack, my rolled ankle. Why hadn’t I weighed my food? I had weighed everything else in my pack, to the point of obsession. I looked in the stuff sack, at the dusty dried fruit and dirty half-eaten bags of trail mix. What was this stuff, even? More bits. Bits of matter that once been alive somewhere. Bits of matter that had wanted only to try hard and then die an honorable death! Because what else is there, really? Now the plants and animals were all sorts of salty shapes and colors, folded up in dusty ziploc bags in my stuff sack. What strange creatures we are, I thought.
In the evening Linda, Bob and I got fish tacos and sat on the beach to eat them. Tan people, looking as if they’d never been depressed a day in their lives, rollerbladed serenely past us, their blonde hair whipping in the wind. I thought of my friends in Portland, grasping desperately at the first bright days of springtime, and the dampness there that clung to the surface of everything there. My fish tacos were good, and the sun was dipping rosily in the sky. And then Portland, for a moment, didn’t even seem real. What is reality? I thought.
Bob and Linda read the blog post I wrote about them earlier and then commented on it (they liked my writing, although they don’t really live above a “marsh”- Hi Bob and Linda!) And this created a sandwich of experience- the actual experience, and my story of the experience, and Bob and Linda’s experience of reading the story of the experience. And then my experience of talking to them about reading the story of the experience. This felt discombobulating, like traveling too fast between time zones. The future! I thought. The internet, eating away at our concepts of space/time.
Now it’s 9:45 at night in pacific standard time here on planet earth in the galaxy milky way, and in six point five earth hours I will wake in the darkened RV with the sound of the freeway in the distance and assemble my collection of extremely specific objects in their special order in my “pack”, and I will ride with Bob and Linda to the PCT “kickoff”, where I will attend a workshop on lymes disease and eat burritos. At night I’ll lay in the cold grass and the stars will twinkle on the far horizon and the moon will almost burn me with its light. And then I’ll walk north until my shoes wear completely off. Turning the wheel of life, as they say.
Rearranging my precious bits in their dusty plastic bags