I wake up in the pre-dawn and it hits me:
I’m in Portland.
All that’s left is Washington.
The trail is almost over.
So, I think, curled on my side on the couch, my sleeping quilt pulled over me- what exactly am I doing with my life? I can hear AM getting ready for work in the kitchen, putting the tea kettle on, running water in the sink. I pick up my phone and scroll in the dim light from the big windows, poking at things on the internet, the noise inside me growing louder. What am I doing with my life? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE? What?
I know what’s happening- on the trail one doesn’t have to think about the larger picture of one’s life. On the trail one thinks about walking, and about eating, and about acquiring food and making it to camp at a reasonable hour. It feels, in these moments, as though one’s larger existential problems have been resolved- as if some sort of transcendence has been reached, and one’s previous worries are no longer relevant. But this is an illusion. One’s existential problems haven’t been resolved. In fact they’re still accumulating at the regular rate, piling up and piling up and piling up in that little square of civilization that has one’s name on it and that one has so recently vacated, and in moments such as this one, when one is laying on the “couch” in the “city” with birds and the sounds of dawn all around one, and “cars” in the “street” and water in “teakettles”; it is in moments such as this that one’s backlog of existential problems comes crushing down suddenly in a great roaring torrent and one can almost not catch one’s breath for the noise of it all.
And now what does one have left? WHAT?
Washington, that reasonable, underwhelming rectangle of finite forests and knowable mountains. Just Washington.
Spark and Instigate are stirring now, sitting up in their sleeping bags staring out at the room with bleary smushed faces. There is talk of coffee and pastries and there is the putting on of trail clothes. I can’t go get coffee and eat pastries; I need to assemble my resupply boxes for Washington. Soon the house is empty and it’s just me, kneeling on the thick carpet staring at the priority mail boxes I’ve line up against the couch. I stand and wander around the house, looking at the art on the walls, the chocolate cake in the kitchen, AM’s light-filled office. Off the dining room is a guest room paneled in dark wood, a velvety spread on the bed, big rectangles of sun on the plush carpet. I lie down on this bed and gaze at an old painting; a pastoral scene of carts in a market, ramshackle outbuildings, village dogs. Outside the big window a pair of squirrels fight or make love in a walnut tree; beyond the walnut tree the tempestuous Portland sky fights or makes love with the sun. Maybe I’ll just lie here for a little while, I think. Maybe I’ll just lie here for a few minutes.
I wake two hours later to my phone, making noise. It’s Raho, he’s just gotten into town, he’s staying with a friend, he wants to meet up with the three of us for dinner. “Let’s get Ethiopian,” I say. I know of a place where for a few dollars you can stuff yourself until you feel like vomiting. And the injera is gluten-free. After hanging up I rub my face and stare out the window- the squirrels are still in the walnut tree, running up and down. My nap was glorious. I feel light.
Seamus picks me up an hour later, dear Seamus, wearing a psychic sister sweatshirt and a crystal necklace, driving his bright new car blasting hip-hop, and drives me to where my trailer is parked. We pull up just as Cooper, my dogsitter, is getting home, and a moment later a flood of Chihuahuas spills from Cooper’s pickup. Kinnikinnick is jumping and writhing with joy, dancing on her back legs, and I pick her up by her stout ribcage and she drums on my face with her tiny paws, tries to lick inside my nose. Potato races back and forth, squealing, ball in his mouth. I step inside my trailer, dear little trailer, with its wild curtains and stale nag-champa smell, old linoleum, dusty milk-glass lamps that took me so many trips to goodwill to find- riding my bike in the dreary winter, thinking what am I doing in Portland what am I doing in Portland. I dig through the boxes stacked in the closet, boxes I mailed home from the trail, but I cannot find my box of warm clothes.
“Have you seen another box?” I ask Cooper. “There should be one more box.”
“I haven’t seen it,” says Cooper.
That box has my long underwear, my fleece shirt, my gloves and warm hat. And even though I find it impossible to conceptualize bad weather on the PCT, I was going to bring them in Washington just in case. But now I’ll just have to risk it. Oh well, I think. How bad could it possibly be? I do find a wool t-shirt, at least, stuffed into one of the other boxes. I pull off my synthetic t-shirt and put the wool one on. So now I’ll have a wool t-shirt, my running shorts, an ultralight down jacket, and a lightweight rain jacket. That should be enough, right? And if it’s really cold I can just hike faster. Right?
I say a short, painful goodbye to my dogs (Washington, I’ll see you after Washington! We’ll be reunited so soon I promise!) And Seamus and I drive to Dalo’s, where we park out front to wait for the others. Egg texts me- she’s in Cascade Locks and can’t find the trail angel’s house. I do some googling and give her the information. Raho arrives with his friend and we commandeer a long, dim table in the restaurant. I order huge amounts of food, red lentils and oily spinach and lamb in berber sauce, and everything comes on big platters of injera, which we eat with our fingers. Spark and Instigate arrive and order honey wine. We are eating and eating and eating, and we are happy.
When the platters are picked clean we pay the bill and walk out into the evening light; I give Spark a piggy-back and we stumble as a herd to the rose garden, where we all play on the swings until nine o’clock which is, of course, our bedtime. We say goodbye to Raho, who is staying another day (“Catch up!” we say. “We’ll see you on the trail!”) and Seamus drives Spark, Instigate and I back to AM’s house and I park myself on the floor and finally, finally deal with my resupply boxes. Spark and Instigate deal with a half-gallon of coffee ice-cream and a bottle of wine and then fall asleep, half in and half out of their sleeping bags, Instigate sawing logs like she does. I finish taping the last box at midnight and then brush my teeth sleepily, staring at myself in the mirror, my wild hair, pink cheeks and sunburnt clavicle. I turn out the lights and at last I reunite with the glorious velveteen guest room, and settle in for Epic Portland Sleep Part II.