Mile 2392 to mile 2402
I sleep or do no sleep, it is dark, the air is cold but I am hot. Soon there is the sound of footsteps and Rabbit Stick, a hiker in his seventies, passes by our tents.
“Time to hike, you’re late!” he says.
For the next ten miles I walk in slow motion, putting one foot in front of the other as the sun wobbles higher in the sky. My body is not doing that thing, today, that it has become so good at doing- that converting of glucose into energy for movement. My legs are made of sand; I am propelling myself forward through sheer force of will. I Don’t Want to Exercise Today, But I Have to Anyway- Adventures in Thru-Hiking. It feels hot inside my skull.
I feel peaceful about it though. Sort of dreamy. I drag myself along the warm dappled path. Through the shady forest, up and over a series of earthly contortions, and at last out into a broad mown hillside that looks out over the highway, the motel, Snoqualmie pass.
“That was the longest ten miles of my life,” I say.
It’s unbearably hot down at the highway and now there is this busy gas station, the cars pulling in and out, other hikers milling around who we haven’t seen before but who look a lot like the hikers we already know (extras for the unfolding drama that is our lives?) and inside the gas station racks of things that will make me feel more awful than I already do and everyone’s resupply boxes piled together in a great mountain, back behind one of the walk-in coolers. I dig blearily for my box but I’m having trouble processing the long lines of script on the boxes, the sprawling sharpie marks, the identical priority mail cartons.
“I need to sit down for a few minutes,” I say to Raho. I sit at a faded yellow booth in the corner of the chevron and text Instigate. I learn that she’s out to breakfast with Egg and Spark and a friend who hiked the PCT with her father in the seventies. They’ll be back shortly- do we want to get a motel room? I do, we do, but what is the order of things here? Water. I follow a series of narrow hallways to a utility sink in the back of the store and fill my Gatorade bottle, staring at the dirty mop and bucket. I drink but my throat is sore and it’s difficult to swallow. Then I tackle the stack of resupply boxes again, lifting each one in turn, moving it to a different corner of the walk-in and restacking it, but still I cannot find the box addressed to me. Where is my long underwear? I find Raho outside, leaning against a concrete pillar in the shade, holding one of my boxes.
“I found this for you,” he says. It’s another momentous occasion in the history of hiker generosity, an act for which the PCTA should award a medal, post-trail. “The Priority Mail Heart- for locating another hiker’s resupply box in the chaos of the Snoqualmie chevron walk-in.” It’s my food box, which is good- I’ll have to look again for my long underwear later.
We walk to the Summit Inn, which is right next to the Chevron, and stand in the cool carpeted lobby digging through the row of hiker boxes while the woman at the front desk checks to see if there is a room for us. There is, but first we must listen to a long lecture about room stacking. Apparently last year there were some “naughty hikers” who snuck extra hikers in through the window. But all was seen on the security cameras and the whole gang was busted. We don’t want to end up like those naughty hikers, now do we?
I shake my head no but my heart is saying yes.
In the room I immediately peel off my clothes and climb into the shower. I turn on the water and wash everything away- the dirt, the heat, the sun. The fatigue and hunger of this last section and my apprehension for the next. I rinse out my outfit, roll it dry in a towel and when I step out of the shower I am new again, and ready for the next thing. What is the next thing? Food.
We eat teriyaki at the diner attached to the hotel and when we’re finished the others appear, carrying their packs and looking happy and bright. Spark will come back to the room as we’re allowed to have three people but Instigate, we decide, will sneak in a bit later. We agree on an exciting series of secret signals and then I shoulder her pack and she heads out to the parking lot to hang with the other hikers at the picnic table, where a bunch of free beer has recently appeared. In the room I collapse on the bed and grill Spark about everything that has happened since I was separated from the cat pack. It turns out that during the monsoon, when Raho and I were camped down in the grove of the patriarchs, Spark and Instigate were at Chinook Pass, way on top of the mountain. The rain was so heavy that they decided to sleep in the pit toilets, which Spark calls the “Rainier Hostel.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” he says. “We kept the door cracked a little.”
The blinds rattle a bit as Instigate climbs in the window. We clap and cheer.
“I had to circle the parking lot a couple times,” she says. “The front desk lady came outside to smoke a cigarette.”
Soon we are all hungry again and we crowd into the RV/food cart in the chevron parking lot, where you can buy a bowl of rice and curried meat and shredded cabbage, with pineapple upside-down cake on top, for only five dollars. It is a strangely Portland-like dining experience. The woman who runs the food cart tells us that she lives in a ghost town nearby.
“The town itself is just boarded up buildings,” she says. “Except for one guy and his dogs. The rest of us live on the outskirts.” Afterwards we return to our room, which is by this time already trashed (bottles and plastic bags strewn across the floor, dirty socks, used towels, tents strung over the furniture to dry, linens everywhichway), and collapse on the beds in awkward positions, exhausted. We flip through the TV channels, but each one is more shocking and disorienting than the last. At last there is an old silent film, soft sepia tone and no words, just bland enough for our thru-hiker palates. The film involves a train, which is apparently a Real Train, crossing a burning bridge, which is apparently a Real Burning Bridge, just as the burning bridge collapses into a river, which is also real. There is a round woman with a round face in a round dress, and she must sometimes climb into a sack. Other times she is more proactive, tying things to trees and lighting things on fire. There is a man wearing eye liner and he is ridiculously strong and alarmingly quick. His stunts- jumping from car to car on a moving train, flinging railroad ties off of a moving train, tearing up sections of track- are also real. There are heaps of men in varying civil war uniforms that I can’t keep straight. We all take turns making the different characters “talk” and, as we can’t keep the plot straight anyway, the movie takes on a life of its own. When the movie is over it’s late, but we’re not sure how late, and I feel bleary and feverish but also happy and light from all the laughing. I lie awake in the hotel bed listening to the others sleep, like I do, and staring at the patterns of light on the wall. I feel cold so I drag the covers over me but then I’m suddenly hot, and I fling them off. My back hurts and then my calves ache, and then I need a drink of water. I shut my eyes. I can’t be sick. I just can’t. I can’t afford to take a zero tomorrow, in every sense of the word. No money, no food, no time. Only an overwhelming sense of urgency. There are only two more resupplies between here and the border- this is no time to rest. And anyway, what’s the worst it could be? The flu? The flu passes. Right?