Mile 369 to mile 384
At 7:30 a trail angel named Carol meets us at the brightly-painted gazebo in front of the pines motel and we crowd into the back of her pickup truck for a ride to the trailhead. We’ve resupplied, sorted our food, put the things we don’t want into a piled-up hiker box and left it in front of the hardware store for the other hikers. I walked to the grocery store and got an orange, which I peeled and ate in the sunlight.
This morning the trail climbs way up to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell. Our crew spreads out and soon I am alone, huffing and puffing past the day hikers, feeling strong. I feel good today, I think. I feel like I could climb forever.
I am sitting at the top of the mountain drinking water from my battered gatorade bottles when a tiny woman appears on the trail. She is wearing a onesie, arm warmers and gaiters, all of hot-pink leopard print. Her blond hair is pulled up into a bright pink plastic visor. And she is sporting false eyelashes.
“Dirty Girl!” I say.
It’s Krissy, the woman who makes Dirty Girl gaiters. At kickoff she had a bright pink booth and she parked her shiny black hummer alongside it. She wore a pink tutu. I hadn’t met her, but I recognize her immediately. And now she is here on the mountaintop, as if by magic.
“That’s me!” She says. She’d been hiking with some friends, and now she is headed down the mountain. I tell her that Angela just lost her gaiters the day before and is sad, because now her shoes will fill with sand.
“You’ll recognize her,” I say, “she’s the only one without gaiters.”
“Fashion faux pas!” Says Krissy. She tells me that she runs marathons in her pink tutu. “If you can’t be fast, be fashionable!” She says.
I tell her that someone should design a line of thru-hiking clothes- running shorts and long-sleeve sun shirts- in weird exciting prints. Most days my neon-print gaiters are the only interesting thing I’m wearing, and I stare at them while I walk. Everything else I wear is the color of sand. Or black.
Later, Angela tells me that Krissy happens upon her and before she can speak, Krissy says “You must be Angela.” Then she tells her that there will be new gaiters waiting for her at the Saufley’s, which is our next resupply stop, four days away.
Thanks Dirty Girl!!
Fourteen miles into the day I reach a beautiful little spring in a tangle of vegetation just off of the trail. The water pours from a pipe in the earth directly into a basin made from half a steel drum. Around the spring are seats made of sawed in half logs, and the sunlight is gentle through the trees. I fill my bottles, feeling happy. In just a mile is a campground, Little Jimmy Camp, where I’ll sit and make lunch and wait for the others. I’m up on top of the mountain in the forest again, and it’s cool, and the path is soft.
At Little Jimmy Camp I sit at a picnic table under the ponderosas and happily assemble my dinner- freeze-dried ground beef, dried carrots and cabbage, a packet of instant rice noodles. I’m still eating the freeze-dried ground beef that I ordered in big cans off of amazon and repackaged for my resupply boxes. It tastes awesome, and I love making it in my little vegetable soups each night. I open the ziploc baggie and dump the beef into my pot. I pour in water and set the pot over my stove. While the soup cooks I watch the dappled shade move across the pine needles on the ground. My plan is to go six more miles today, after eating, and I hope I can convince the others to do the same. It’s eighty-four miles to the Saufley’s, the trail angel where we’ll resupply, and if we do twenty mile days we’ll get there in four days. I have just enough food for four days, and so do the others. But I wonder what sort of mood they’ll be in after climbing Baden-Powell, and if they’ll want to go farther. I might have to go on by myself, I think. I frown. I like hanging out with the others, Angela especially. I don’t really want to hike by myself. But I feel strong and I know I can do it- I don’t know what to do.
I eat my dinner and then the others arrive, and they are tired. We all talk at once about mileage and food and the infinite possibilities of the universe, and when the dust settles they are staying, and so am I. Fifteen miles, I think, as I spread my sleeping bag on top of a picnic table. I’ve been at the campground for hours- I could’ve easily hiked the other five miles by now. Now we’ll have to do 23 miles for the next three days to make it to the Saufley’s before we run out of food. 23 miles is my hiking edge right now- the point at which I get sore and cranky. The mile where my joints start to hurt and I stop having fun. 20 miles is awesome, 23 miles is rough. Sometimes hiking with a group is hard.
“We’ll be asleep by seven,” says Thyra. “We’ll get up at four and hike.” But at nine they are still talking and laughing, making noise in their tent. I’m cold on the picnic table, contorting myself in my bag in an attempt to stop the drafts. It’s dark and I can’t seem to get comfortable, and my stomach has begun to hurt. I could’ve done twenty miles, I think. Thirty miles. A thousand miles. A million miles. I can hike forever, I think. Forever and ever and ever.