Mile 2464 to mile 2476
I wake before six a.m. and practically jump from my sleeping quilt. It’s only twelve miles to the highway. I stuff my things away in the still-dark, clip my pack on as the sky transitions to morning. I am running down the switchbacks, too impatient to eat breakfast, too impatient to drink water. The sun comes out full-force but I am too impatient to put on sunscreen. Just gotta get there, just gotta get there. My stomach is populated with butterflies. Will they be waiting? Will anyone will have waited for me? After a few hours I see day hikers and my heart jumps in my chest, like when you’re at sea and there are birds and you know you’re nearing land.
“How far are we from the highway?” I ask the day hikers. My phone is dead so I can’t check Guthook. The day hikers answer in riddles.
“The highway is just up there,” says a young man with a pitbull.
“You’ll turn a corner and you’ll see it,” says an elderly woman gathering boletes.
Time becomes elastic and the minutes stretch into infinity. Around each corner hope springs up and then is dashed, like a wave against the rocks. By the time I reach the trailhead parkinglot I am empty. A man sees me with my pack and hails me over. He’s grilling hotdogs behind his pickup truck, and introduces himself as TenSpeed.
“You want a beer?” he says.
“No thank you,” I say. “Do you have any water?”
TenSpeed opens a cooler full of ice and fishes out a bottle of water. There’s broccoli in the cooler too, and a sack of carrots. He’s set up here for thru-hikers- he’s been ferrying them to the Dinsmore’s, the trail angel in Skykomish. I grab a couple of carrots and sit in one of the camp chairs, gnawing on them. I drink the water and grab another. The highway is just behind us, traffic buzzing past. People are coming and going all around.
TenSpeed is telling a story about the CDT and idly poking at the hotdogs with a pronged utensil.
“Can I charge my phone in your truck?” I ask him. I smile as though I’ve been listening to his story. TenSpeed looks puzzled. Was that the wrong response? Maybe it was a sad story. “I’m trying to get in touch with my friends,” I say. “To see if they waited for me at the Dinsmore’s. I fell behind.”
“Of course,” he says. He’s still looking at me funny. I plug my phone into the USB port in his pickup and try and turn it on but I can’t- it needs to charge a minute. I look in the truck’s rearview mirror- my face is simultaneously ashen and sunburnt, and very dirty. I sit in the camp chair again and drink some more water. TenSpeed is telling another story.
“Do you know if there’s an urgent care around here?” I ask him. “I’d look it up on my phone but it’s dead. I think I have tonsillitis? When you have tonsillitis you take antibiotics, right?”
“There’s an urgent care in Everett,” says TenSpeed, his brow scrunched up with concern. “I can take you there.”
I don’t know how far Everett is. I can’t conceptualize distance right now. How far are we from anything? I check my phone again. It bursts into life and begins to bleep.
Where are you honey bun? says a text from Instigate. There’s one from Spark too- Dear Shnookums, where are thou? I call Instigate’s phone and she picks up- they’re at the library in Skykomish, checking their email on the computers. Dilly-dallying around.
“I have to go find antibiotics,” I say. “I don’t know how long that will take. I think I can hike out in the morning?”
“We’ll stay another night and wait for you,” says Instigate. “Of course we’ll wait.”
Relief floods into my body and I collapse backward in the truck seat, almost start to cry.
I walk back to the ring of campchairs behind the truck and look at TenSpeed, turning his hotdogs on the grill.
“I’ll give you a ride to urgent care,” he says, “I just have to find someone to eat these hotdogs first. I was hoping some more hikers would show up.”
“I will eat all of those hotdogs,” I say. And I do.
The urgent care in Everett is sprawling and white and I’m ushered into a little room.
“You want an US weekly?” says the Nurse, before she leaves. I flip through it, looking at pictures of Kim Kardashian. What would it be like to be Kim Kardashian? I think. What would that even be like? Eventually the doctor appears and wraps my hand in his warm hand. I talk with him for ten minutes.
“Sounds like tonsillitis,” he says, as he writes me a prescription for amoxycillin. My bill is $200.
After urgent care we drive to Rite-Aid so I can fill my prescription. In the car I learn that Ten-Speed lives on a sailboat in Seattle and works as a plumber. He thru-hikes as many summers as he can. At Rite-Aid I grab stuff off the shelves, seemingly at random, to supplement my resupply; salt and vinegar potato chips, tortilla chips, a couple of bars. I wish I had more time to buy food, but I have to get back to the Dinsmore’s. There’s so much to do before we hike out in the morning. So Rite-Aid resupply, plus what’s in my box in Skykomish, will have to do.
At the Dinsmore’s I change into loaner clothes, stuff my disgusting hiking clothes in the washer, and take a shower. Instigate and Spark are staying in town tonight at a hotel with some other hikers since they stayed at the Dinsmore’s last night but Egg is here, and it is so good to finally, finally see a friend. We explode our things in the big garage-like bunkhouse and sit around, sorting our resupplies and laughing. I took the first dose of my antibiotics a few hours ago and I may be imagining it, but I think I feel a little better. My morale is up, anyway- I’m here, I’m safe, and Spark, Instigate and Egg all waited for me. I don’t have to hike the rest of the way to Canada alone. I dig through the hiker box, pulling out random bars and odds and ends, things I might want to eat. In my resupply box is the usual- a massive bag of trail mix, a massive bag of granola. A few packets of tuna and a bar of halvah. I show the bag of trailmix to Egg and make vomiting noises.
“You’re bringing all that?” She says. “A whole gallon ziploc of trailmix?”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s the bulk of my calories.”
“You should dump half of it into another bag and leave it in the hiker box. Don’t bring all that.”
“But what will I eat?” I say.
“I’ve got extra food. I’ve got so much food. I just bought a whole loaf of bread. If you run out on the trail I can give you some of mine.”
I hold the bag of trailmix in my hands. It is a lot of trailmix. And I haven’t been able to finish it the last couple of sections. In a life or death situation it would save me for starving but the truth is, it’s disgusting and I would rather go hungry than eat it. Or carry it. I pull an empty gallon ziploc from my resupply box and dump half the trailmix into it. I set the bag in the hiker box. I’m free, I think.
Someone yells “Dinner!” and we stand outside around the grill, assembling burgers. Mine is a double bunless concoction smothered in barbeque sauce. The sun sets but the evening is warm and I lay in the grass next to the train tracks that run past the Dinsmore’s house, listening to the trains blow past.
There’s a copy of Yogi’s CDT handbook in the bunkhouse and I lay in bed after everyone has fallen asleep, reading it. I’m not even done with this trail yet but I can’t wait for the next one. Finally I put the book down and switch off my headlamp. Washington has been brutal so far, but I would still rather be here than almost anywhere. Thru-hiking feels like life, it feels like being alive. It feels more real than anything.