Mile 1632 to mile 1662
I sleep wonderfully and then sit in my tent, eating breakfast and watching the sunrise. The hike today is eight miles of ridgewalking followed by a twenty-one mile descent to the Seiad Valley, way down in the bottom of everything. There’s a store there in the valley, and a café, and maybe Instigate and Spark will be lazy and dilly-dally there, and maybe if I go fast enough I can catch up with them.
I think about the store as I hike. A store with cool Gatorade and icecream snickers bars. A store with chips that I need to supplement my dwindling food supply in order to make it through the rest of this section. A store thirty miles away.
A store that closes at seven.
I haven’t done thirty miles in twelve hours before but today, I decide that I will.
As soon as the trail turns from sandy ridgeline to long, leafy switchbacks, I start to run. I’m listening to Light Asylum on my mp3 player, Magnetic Fields, Patti Smith and I’m racing, racing down the switchbacks, hard ground pounding at my feet, trees rushing past, the earth slanted down, down, down but never far enough. Glooooooooooria, G-L-O-R-I-A. Glooooooooooria. I’m out of water but I don’t care, I’m thirsty but I don’t care, I’m jumping over streams and hurtling down the trail, making my whole body ache. Pushing as hard as I can. No thoughts. Horses. Horses. Horses. Horses.
I turn a corner and there’s Egg, eating lunch at a little stream.
“We’ve got to get to the store before it closes,” she says.
“I know,” I say, and then I am gone.
At the bottom of the long descent is a campground and then a strip of narrow blacktop that cuts across the valley. The two-mile roadwalk to the store. I stop at some pit toilets to collect myself, sitting on the rocky ground. I’m hot and sunburned, damp everywhere from sweat, dehydrated. I feed a chocolate probar to my aching, fussy stomach. Here stomach, I say. Shhhhh. Egg emerges from the woods and I raise my trekking poles in the air, triumphant.
“Road walk!” I say. “How excited are you?”
“At least the blackberries are ripe,” she says, leaning into the brambles that edge the road.
“We’re gonna make it!” I holler.
We’re walking down the road in the hot, hazy sun, twirling our trekking poles and complaining about our aching feet when we see a hiker in the distance, walking towards us.
“Are you a southbounder?” I accost him, as soon as he is close enough.
“Yeah,” he says.
“All the way?”
“The snow in Washington and everything?”
“My first southbounder! Egg!” I yell over my shoulder at Egg, who is behind me. “Egg! A southbounder!”
His name is Bobcat, and he left the Canadian border headed south on June 24th, which means that he’s hiked all of Washington and Oregon in a little over five weeks. This includes snow in Washington so deep that almost all of the other southbounders threw in the towel in the first couple of days.
“Godspeed,” we say to him and then he is gone, headed south, alone, into the fires and smoke of NorCal, and then the bare Sierra and finally the desert, where there will be no water left at all.
“I don’t think I’ll ever hike the PCT southbound,” I say to Egg as I walk.
“No,” she says. “No way.”
The narrow blacktop joins a slightly wider road and then we see, in the distance, the object of our desire- a ramshackle white building next to the highway that can be nothing other than The Store. I twirl my trekking poles in the air manically.
“Weeeeeeeeee are the champions,” I sing. “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee are the champions, of the world.”
We reach the store and rattle the door, but it won’t give. Store closes at six p.m., says a paper sign scotch-taped to the glass. My heart fills slowly with despair. So Yogi’s guide was wrong. I am pressing my face against the glass, staring mournfully at the cases of Gatorade inside, when a man in a rattling pickup pulls up.
“You ladies need to buy things?” he says.
“Yes,” we say.
“I was just at home, wanted some icecream.” He fits his key into the door’s lock. “I’m the store’s owner.”
Despite my promise to the store owner that I would “buy all the things”, inside there is surprisingly little that I actually want to buy. Six passes around the store an all I have in my basket are tortilla chips, salt and vinegar chips and half a watermelon. Egg has had better luck- some lemonade and a pint of ben & jerry’s ice cream, “red velvet cake” flavor. Afterwards we sit on the grass in front of the RV park and share the icecream and the watermelon, although I get distracted and eat almost all of the watermelon myself.
Egg is staying to camp on the lawn of the RV park with the other hiker trash but I walk up the highway towards the trail. I’ve learned via interrogation of the other hikers that Spark and Instigate left just a little while ago, to “hike to a spring a mile up the trail”, and I mean to catch them. I’m crossing an overpass above a mucky stream bed when I hear the sounds of feral cats. I look down and there they are in the shadows, meowing up at me.
“You guys didn’t make it far,” I say.
“Nah. We’re looking for a place to camp.”
“No, too many mosquitoes.”
But the unkempt mini-storage lot next to the creek, it turns out, is perfect. We unroll our sleeping pads on the dirty gravel behind a stack of freight containers, all grown over with blackberry brambles, that shield us from the highway and sit to eat our dinner in the dusk. Spark makes “double dinner”, which is where he cooks two pots of knorr pasta sides, one after the other, and Instigate eats her peanut butter jar of delicious rehydrated curried lentils that she sent herself from home. I have my instant refried beans and tortilla chips and then after dinner I think to go fetch Egg, so that she can camp with us. Egg joins us behind the freight containers and soon after, a cat appears. It’s a thin black barely-grown kitten with a white face and little white paws. The cat acts shy at first, and then it allows me to pet it, and then it graduates to grabbing bags of snacks from Instigate’s food bag and running off with them. Spark is allergic to cats, and he holds out his trekking pole whenever the cat comes near-
“Back!” he says. “Back!”
It’s all really cute until we decide to sleep, at which point the cat walks across all of our sleeping bags, one after the other. I decide to name the cat Anus Face from Outer Space and I lie awake for a while, petting it and trying to push it under my quilt but it always pops out, like a balloon from underwater. At last I am too sleepy and I shoo it away, and it goes.
At least one of us is almost all the way asleep when the mosquitoes appear. The mosquitoes are light enough to ignore, kind of, and we take turns being the one who is almost all the way asleep until some indeterminate hour of the night when we all rise and fumblingly erect our tents as best we can in the gravel. Instigate’s tent has no bug screen and so she simply stays the way she is, puts the square piece of mesh that she carries over her face, and begins to snore. In the safety of my poorly-erected tent there are neither cute animals nor mosquitoes and so I, at last, can sleep as well.