Mile 973 to mile 990
I wake in the middle of the night again and scratch my mosquito bites like a crazy person. Instigate told me that your skin can’t feel cold and itchy at the same time, so I take the sleeping bag off of my legs. Eventually I fall back asleep.
At dawn I brave the mosquitoes to fetch my bear can. I unscrew it and sit in my tent, eating handfuls of things for breakfast. A handful of this, a handful of that… I am getting so tired of my trail food. Oh well, I think. That’s the way it goes. Sometimes eating is not for fun. It’s just for food.
A few miles into the morning we stop to eat second breakfast on a stretch of granite in the sun, where the mosquitoes are not so bad. Hitch is there, a hiker we met the day before, and I watch enviously as she sprays herself with deet, creating a magical forcefield that the mosquitoes cannot breach.
“Do you think I can use some of your deet?” I ask her. She hands me the little bottle.
“Dark magic,” I say, as I spray my legs. “This is such dark magic.”
NoDay takes some too.
“We’ve crossed over to the dark side,” I say. I watch as the mosquitoes do not land on me. “And it’s so awesome.”
We climb all day through beautiful flowery meadows and on granite staircases running with water. I’m tired, sort of woozy, and I stop a lot to rest. Why am I tired? I think. A question that has no answer.
As the afternoon progresses I become even sleepier, until it feels as though I’m hiking underwater. I run into Instigate on a little sandy beach next to a cold, glimmering swimming hole and we jump in and then lay on the warm sand to dry. It’s midday so the mosquitoes are hiding on the undersides of things, nowhere to be seen.
“I could just go to sleep right now,” I say. The sun is warm on my skin and black flies are landing on me and then flying away, landing and then flying away. “I could just go right to sleep.”
NoDay is in front of us somewhere. We’d talked about going 23 miles but my pace today is pathetic, like I’m wading through pudding. And then around five o’clock the shadows get long and the mosquitoes rise again from their resting places. We are walking through a long meadow that reminds me exactly of alaska- slow clear streams that wind through tall grasses, soft squishy ground underfoot. Suddenly the mosquitoes are very, very bad.
I stop to take a drink of water and immediately twenty of them are buried in my legs. A handful are clustered on the underside of my hat, one is climbing into my ear, and a couple are trapped beneath my sunglasses. I swat at them manically, and shove the water bottle into my pack. I haven’t managed to drink any water. I walk as fast as I can, trying to outpace them, but I cannot. I start to run, my pack bouncing awkwardly against my back. I’m swearing and swatting and stumbling, and feeling sort of panicky. At the same time, some little part of me wants to succumb- to just lay down in the meadow and let them have me. The deet I put on this morning has long since worn off.
There’s a wide deep stream ahead and I wade out into the middle of it and stand there, heart pounding.There are less mosquitoes out here, and I slowly begin to calm. I haven’t experienced bugs like this since I was in Alaska. Make sure you have lots of deet, Yogi had said in her guide. This section is the worst.
Instigate appears on the trail, marching towards the stream.
“It’s better out here!” I say. She plunges into the stream, not even stopping to take off her shoes. I can see the cloud of mosquitoes around her. Once in the stream they drift away, like smoke.
We stand in the stream until another hiker appears. His name is Brown Bag, and we met him earlier in the day.
“Do you have any deet?” I shout at him, before he is even at the stream.
“Sure,” he says. “You want some?”
“Yes,” I say. “You like jerky? I can give you jerky!”
How fast can you get it to me, I want to say, but I don’t. I feel like a junky, going through withdrawals. I’m being eaten alive and my salvation lies in that tiny, clear bottle. I watch as Brown Bag calmy sets his pack on the bank and begins to rifle around inside it. Oh, dark magic! I think. Happen faster!
After we’re all deeted-up Instigate and I sit on the riverbank and calmy drink water and eat snacks, things we’ve been avoiding for the last couple of hours. I feel deleriously happy, almost euphorically so. I’m just sitting on a rock here, in the good evening light, like I don’t live on a hostile, inhospitable planet or something. Like I could just sit down and eat a snack! The wonders of dark magic! My mind has officially been blown.
“Let’s just go a few more miles and camp,” says Instigate. “I feel like all my strength has been sucked out through a million tiny straws.”
We walk until we find a flat spot next to a beautiful clear stream and then we set up our tents and collapse. I’m so sleepy- so so sleepy. Maybe it’s the deet? I think vaguely, as I lay in my sleeping bag staring at the darkening sky. I feel as though I’m made of lead.