Mile 2243.5 to mile 2269.5
I wake in the night and stare at the stars, think about life, the universe, everything. Pain, risk, sorrow, inevitable suffering. It’s all so big up there, so cold sometimes, so crushing. It’s pure, black, bottomless velvet. It’s too much. I look at the stars until they fade, watch the edges of the sky bleed to grey. What’s going to happen? What’s even going to happen? And then the sun is up, light spilling over everything. Another day to spin my straw into gold.
I feel off this morning, sort of staticky and weary, and I hike three dry miles to a silty river, fill my Gatorade bottles and sit on the bank to rest. After the river we cross the sparkling alpine meadows below Mt. Adams, little streams skipping down the slopes, huckleberries fat on their twigs and sunlight glittering in the impossible air. Spark is ahead of us, has been since a few nights before, and Instigate is behind us, as she slowed down to hike with Sarah. I miss my cat pack but I know that Sarah was splitting off in Trout Lake to meet her boyfriend and once she said her goodbyes and got back on the trail Instigate would shoot forward like a stone from a slingshot and that Spark, although faster than any of us, got lonely. As I hike it’s comforting to think of Instigate, hurtling through the forest behind me and Spark, lounging on some streambank reading sci-fi up ahead.
I turn a corner and there is Egg, lunching next to a little stream. I stop and eat with her, burn through some trailmix and half a packet of tuna. Raho catches up and we all joke, our laughter filling the still forest. Afterwards I stop at a footbridge over a river, drop my pack and dunk myself in the water. There’s dust on my face, dust caked to my legs. I try to wipe it off but it just smears around. What can I do? It’s a dirty trail.
We reach a little dirt road and there’s a trail angel there, a woman set up in her camper van serving clam chowder, her little white terrier tied out in the dirt. Raho eats chowder while I throw sticks for the dog, scratch him behind his ears. The woman has a bowl or fresh bell peppers and I eat a bunch of those, tossing the seeds into the woods.
We hike on, climbing up again through another burn and then over a ridge and down, back into the forest. Dusk falls but each campsite we pass is occupied- dayhikers and their bright clean clothing and double-wall tents, stirring noodles over their canister stoves. We follow the beams of our headlamps through the black woods until at last we find a flat spot in the trees big enough for both of us. We pitch our tents quickly and wearily eat a little dinner before turning in. I’m exhausted tonight, on account my wakeless morning on the lumpy ridge, staring at the stars and thinking about everything. There will be none of that tonight, I decide, as I pull the quilt up over my face. Within five minutes I am out.