Day 154: Suffering and magic in equal measure

September 21
Mileage 27
Mile 2603 to mile 2630

I wake up early to the cold rain pattering on my tent and procrastinate getting up for a while which means that, once again, I am the last out of camp. Thankfully Raho is slow this morning too and we hike together up onto the freezing, windy, rain-soaked pass where I get to experience, once again, near-hypothermia and hands so numb I can’t use them for anything. Just hike fast, I think. Hike fast and you won’t die. I shut my brain off and do just that, let the suffering just sort of break against me in waves. I am miserable, though, and unable to take care of my basic needs like drinking water and eating snacks, and so when we finally stop for lunch in a chilly clearing in the dim forest I am very hungry and very thirsty and my morale is very low. There is a trapezoid of sun on the loamy forest floor and we chase it around but it’s no use- it’s too small to give us any warmth. At last we hike on at which point we discover, just around a bend, an entire grassy hillside baking in the sun. We collapse, grateful, onto the grass, and spread our wet tents and sleeping bags across it. At least my bag will be dry tonight, I think, as I lay face-down in the grass and let the magic fireball in the sky warm my tired bones. At least I have that.

It’s afternoon by the time we hike on. Now that it’s not raining I can wear my down jacket, and I’m toasty warm as we climb up onto another pass. The fog on this pass has been swept away and we can see the granite mountains opposite us, rising up towards the clouds like wizards’ castles.

Our goal today is to make it to Hart’s pass, where we have heard word that there may or may not be bacon cheeseburgers. If there is ever a section of the PCT that needs trail magic, it is this one; my reserves are gone, as are the reserves of my friends. We are running on the dregs of the dregs of fumes; we are running on air. On stubborn promises, or because we have forgotten what it feels like to quit. We are walking out of habit; it’s amazing that we are still walking at all.

The rain begins again. The trail is washed out, here and there, in small sections, and we pick our way across the steep, crumbled earth. We pass a couple leading a string of pack-llamas, on a section of trail the clings precariously to the mountainside. The llamas are drenched and smell like wool. They stick their necks out sideways to see us around the humans, who are on foot; the animals carry big saddlebags and are strapped all over with campchairs, water jugs, things like that.

Dusk falls and then darkness and so we night-hike, following the narrow, rocky trail as it rings the mountain. Below us are the dark folds of a valley; now and there we see a little yellow light, flickering in the darkness, and our hearts jump. But then we’re on the other side of the mountain and the light is gone, and so we are alone, in this great, lonely wilderness, this expansive blackness that holds nothing and everything all at once.

We hear voices and then we are stumbling into the trail magic at an indeterminate hour; there is a warm flickering fire and our friends sitting around it on stumps. Someone is playing the guitar and there is a picnic table, spread all over with an incredible amount of food. Sadly we have missed the bacon cheeseburgers but our host (whose name I can’t remember, dear lord) takes pity on us and makes us sausages on the little grill, and we sit around the fire with our faces half-in and half-out of the light and eat the sausages, while our host’s thirteen year-old son recites a rap song he wrote about his dad. I also eat an apple, an orange, some chocolate, and part of a sleeve of oreo cookies. Our friends are staring sleepily into the fire and then, one by one, they drift off the their tents, which are set up beneath the trees. Raho and I find spots for our tents and I pitch mine, shivering in the cold. It’s cold away from the fire! Then I lay in my bag in my tent, a little cold but warm enough, and wonder- how mad is it to pretend that the future will never come? How mad is it to keep going forward, in spite of everything, in spite of these small deaths that hulk on the horizon, waiting to crush us completely? How mad is it to go on with love? With hiking? With life?

Onwards, I think. To whatever the future might hold.

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Can't stop hiking or I'll die.

I <3 the PCT.

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