Mile 2047 to mile 2073.5
When I wake it is light and the rain has stopped. I don’t know how much I slept only that being awake feels wonderful. And now I have to hike.
Egg stops by while we’re folding up our tents in the warm morning sunlight, trees sparkling with wet, sky an unbearable blue. We chat about inner-thigh chafe and having our periods on the trail and as we hike we play inky-pinky, a silly word game that involves rhyming meaningless words and making the other players guess the rhyme. We stop for lunch at an aquamarine lake, ringed in moss and dripping with sunlight, and lay on the dry ground. I think I want to nap but I only want to lie on my back and put my hat over my face in the warm sun. Time unspools into space like it always does instead of spinning in infinity like I want it to in these achingly sweet moments and soon it’s time to hike.
In the afternoon I hike fast through the cool forest, ecstatic at the beds of moss the smell of cedars, the way the light wends its way through the canopy. A man passes me, hiking south. He’s got the usual- trail runners, running shorts, ultralight pack. But something about him is familiar.
“Are you Scott Williamson?” I say. Scott Williamson is the previous speed record holder for the PCT.
“Yeah,” says the man. He’s headed southbound, trying to break his own record. He’s hiking forty-four miles a day and he’s got a friend with him. The friend has a little pouch hanging from his hipbelt and as we talk the friend surreptitiously eats handfuls of granola from this pouch.
“Good job on the light pack,” says Scott Williamson, to me. My ego puffs up like a balloon.
“You really like to hike the PCT, huh,” I say.
“I would live here if I could,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say. “Me too.”
A while later I stop in a stand of big doug-firs and lean my body against one of them. The bars of yellow sun are scattered just-so and I push my face into the deep rutted bark of the tree smelling the spiderwebs there, the dust, the hardened pitch. Big doug-fir, I think. What do I need to know right now.
I love you, says the doug-fir. I love you so much. I can feel the tree there, the tree underneath me the tree all around me, the tree inside of me. The trees holding each other holding the soil holding me. The trees more patient than anything, save the ocean. The trees with the long view. I can feel their pity; little mammal, they say, with your two legs. Running around saying Where Do I Belong. Making value judgements on the wind, the flowers in the springtime, the shapes of the stars. Little mammal with your trembling heart. I am your home and I love you. And I will always be here.
I start to cry, my face against the tree, snot running down my face. I have always felt this way about the trees; ever since I was little and I would walk out into the snow in my snowsuit and crawl beneath the laden boughs of the sitka spruce to find the little cave inside. Where the air was warm and the light was blue and dim. Where there was neither chaos nor screaming nor the smoke of pall malls. I love you, said the trees then, to me curled on my side smelling the new smell of the snow. I love you I love you I love you. Not a sound but a feeling in my body, in the very deepest part of my body. I love you I love you I love you.
I stop to fill my bottles at a mossy spring in the hillside and then hike on into the dusk, down down down to a little river with a footbridge and Egg, her white tent like a beacon in the gathering dark. I pitch my tent next to hers and then Raho appears and pitches his and we all sit around assembling dinner with our headlamps, hungry and shaky with exhaustion, looking forward to the black hole of the night. Egg has wintersquash soup from home and she passes it around, the taste of real food with onions and seasoning like fireworks in our mouths. My friends go to bed and I look at their headlamps bobbing in their tents, look up at the stars, look down at my goosebump legs. Tonight, I think. Tonight I’ll sleep so hard. The walk to my tent is nearly infinite and it takes me an epoch to brush my teeth but then at last it is the future and I am in my bag, fluffer-puff scrunched firmly around me, the quiet of the forest a lullaby.