Mile 1227 to mile 1250.5 (plus 1.5 miles for water)
Crash crash crash, CRUH-CRASH!
It starts right as I’m falling asleep.
CRASH! CRASH! CRASH!
The sound is coming from the other end of the clearing, where some people are camped who I don’t know. Some sort of big animal, stomping around in the woods around their tent.
Oh. The bear has gone away.
I’m about to drift off when it happens again, this time closer.
CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Step. Step. Step. CRASHCRASHCRASHCRASH!
The animal is circling the clearing now, behind the tents.
CRASH! CRASH! CRASH!
The animal is coming closer to my tent.
Shuffle. Shuffle. Step. Step. Step.
What the f*ck is that?
I pull out my headlamp and shine it through the mesh of my tent. A huge brown mass crosses the dark gulf between two trees, and disappears.
It’s a deer.
Just a deer. I lay back down in my sleeping bag and shut my eyes.
CRASHCRASHCRASHCRASH! Goes the deer, as it circles the clearing. Step! Step! Step!
The deer is coming closer to my tent. The deer is circling, moving into the clearing. The deer is not afraid.
The deer is insane.
“Go away, deer!” I shout. I just want to go to sleep. The deer startles and runs into the trees.
CRASH. CRASH. CRASH. The deer is coming closer again.
Step. Step. Step. The deer is approaching my tent. I roll over, determined to ignore the deer.
Slurpslurpslurpslurpslurp. The deer is eating the sand where I peed.
Salt. The deer wants salt. The crazy deer wants salt.
CRASHCRASHCRASHCRASH. The deer runs into the trees again.
Crash. Crash. Crash. Crash. The deer is circling the clearing. And circling the clearing. Again, and again, and again.
Oh my god, I think.
The deer does not go away but eventually I do fall asleep.
In the morning I’m bleary-eyed and tired.
“Crash crash crash!” I say to Toyo, who is packing up his tent. “Crazy deer!”
“What is this, deer?” Says Toyo. I put my hands on my head like antlers.
“Ah, yes,” says Toyo. “Crazy!”
It’s hot and I walk slow, stopping often. The water sources are all off trail today, little wooden signs nailed to trees indicating such-and-such a spring, at such-and-such a distance, often with a note tacked below from a hiker saying how much elevation loss and whether the water is in fact worth it. The note itself is usually written on a bit of one of halfmile’s maps.
I’m at one such spring, a “seep” actually, crouched in the alders coaxing water into my gatorade bottles, when Spark arrives. A minute later NoDay, MeHap and Instigate appear, and the gang is reunited once again. We hike slowly all morning through the dim, scratchy third-growth, leap-frogging each other, popping out of the woods now and again onto a ridgetop blanketed in mule’s ears, the earth sweeping away into forever.
In the afternoon there’s a steep descent, long switchbacks on slippery pine needles down, down, down to the feather river. At the bottom we find smooth granite bowls filled with warm aquamarine water, everything running deep and all into one another like a sort of swimminghole dream. We pull off our clothes and play like otters in the deep water until the sun sets and then we spread our groundsheets in last year’s oak leaves to sleep. This is where we live, I think. This is the way it always will be. Right?