Mile 1677 to mile 1711 (plus 4 miles on the wrong trail)
I’ve been waking up at five a.m. lately, for better or worse. Mostly I’m still painfully tired and I stay in my sleeping bag, just sort of dozing, until everyone else starts to stir. Today, when I wake up, I think- why not just get up? I don’t fall back asleep anyway- if I got up then at least the early wakeup wouldn’t be wasted. I eat a bar and pack my things away quietly, trying not to wake the whole camp. I’m envious of everyone else, sleeping so peacefully. But as soon as I shoulder my pack and start to walk, at 5:40, I’m glad I did- the morning is beautiful. The air is cool, the light is hazy and I’m climbing up the spine of the mountain, watching the dawn break. I feel great- invigorated and excited to be hiking, to be moving my legs, to be climbing and breathing and alive. I’m taking this good air inside of me and out again, respirating, churning my blood around. The whole world is moving, every molecule is moving, everything inside of me is moving. Circles inside of circles. Turning the wheel of life, as they say.
Forty minutes after setting out I notice something odd about the footprints on the trail- they just don’t look right. I stop and check halfmile’s app on my phone.
I’ve been hiking on the wrong trail.
For two miles.
Suddenly I’m not longer happy. I’m fucking pissed. I turn around and race down the mountain, pack bouncing against my back. I’m crying a little, but they’re angry tears. On the horizon storm clouds are gathering, and I hear the clap of thunder. It’s a full moon today- last month, on the full moon, I did my first forty mile day. I guess I’ve got another big day today.
I get back to camp at 7 a.m.- everyone is gone. They likely hiked out not long after I did, around 6. So they’re an hour ahead of me. Everyone is an hour ahead of me. 7 a.m. and already I’m four miles behind. Everyone.
Ten minutes later, when I’m climbing up another ridge, the storm breaks. Lightning strikes the hillside and fat drops begin to fall. I don’t stop to put everything in my pack in my trash bag, I don’t stop to put on my rainjacket. I don’t have time for any of that. And besides, this storm wasn’t in the weather forecast. So it’ll probably blow over. Right? I look at the sky, a mass of heavy gray. Lightning flashes, closer this time, thunder cracks again. The wind whips up. The rain is falling harder, like a cold shower. I stop just long enough to pull everything from my pack, stuff it in my trash bag, and re-pack it. Things are already wet, but not too wet. I keep hiking, pushing up the mountain as fast as I can. Lightning cracks down again. I’m on the rocky, exposed ridge, just a few gnarled trees here and there. The air seems to sizzle around me. I’m carrying my trekking poles. I don’t even care.
Two hours later my shirt is soaked to the skin, water is running down my legs, water is dripping off my hat. The rain still hasn’t let up. My hands are numb and I’m thirsty- I’ve been out of water for a while. I stop at a spring, drop my pack under the shelter of some trees. My fingers don’t work so well. I try and get the clips on my pack open, have flashbacks to Washington last year. I strip off my soaked shirt and put on my rain jacket, struggling to get the zipper up. I sit in the dirt while I wait for my steripen to finish, eat a few handfuls of potato chips. The water from the spring is ice cold, and as soon as I drink it I start to shake. A cold wind is blowing. Time to hike.
The rain lets up around noon, the clouds thin, the air warms. My body starts to loosen and morale lifts- I’ve been hauling ass since 5:40, and I’ve gone 18 miles. I round a bend just as the sun breaks through the clouds and there are Twinkle, Woody and Jr. Sr., sitting on the hillside eating sour gummy worms.
They’re happy to see me, and I’m happy to see them! I lean on my trekking poles and tell them my sad story and watch them eat cheeze-its. But I don’t feel like sitting down yet. I’ve eaten the snacks in my hipbelt pocket and I’m not too hungry. Time to crush!
A few miles later I pass Notachance and Mack, drying their things in the sun.
“The Oregon border’s only in four miles,” says Notachance, as she folds cheese into a tortilla.
“I’m going there!” I say. “I’m doing it!”
“You go!” says Notachance.
The last mile to the border, I crash in some weird way. It’s not low blood sugar but something else I don’t understand. I’ve only sat down once in the last 25 miles- a wall? Is there a wall here, in this place I’ve never been before? I push myself mightily up the final climb, sweating in what has become a hot, muggy afternoon, and at last I reach it- the little wooden sign nailed to a tree. Oregon/California.
I sit in the dirt and inhale an entire bag of potato chips, followed by some jerky and a couple of bars. It’s 2:20 p.m. and I’ve gone 25 miles.
I sit at the border for an hour, and the others show up one by one. Except for Guthrie-where’s Guthrie? We figure he must’ve taken shelter during the storm. When I stand up again I feel weak- there’s that dizzy feeling, like I had after I swam the Klamath river. Vegetables. That’s what I need. Leafy green vegetables, and meat. When I get to Ashland, I decide, that’s all I’m going to eat. For like two whole days.
I’m much slower in the afternoon. So is everyone else- the heat is kicking our butts. But getting the miles in early means that I can take breaks now, rest, drink water, eat snacks. Actually sit on my butt in the dirt and let whole handfuls of minutes pass. Hours go by this way, leapfrogging with the others. At 7:40 p.m. we reach a little stream, fourteen miles from I-5, and Ashland. I’ve done 38 miles before 8 o’clock- I can’t believe it. I squat to pee and realize I just got my period- relief, like a storm breaking. The others spread out their bedrolls to camp on an abandoned road above the stream. I think about hiking on- two more miles and I’ve got a forty mile day. But there’s water here, and friends.
“You want to go two more miles?” I say to Twinkle.
“We could go fifteen miles,” says Twinkle. “All the way to I-5.”
I do the math in my head.
“One a.m.,” I say.
“Nah,” says Twinkle.
“Yeah,” I say. I unroll my bedroll with the others.
Photos on instagram.