Mile 569 to mile 602
The wind batters us while we sleep but we sleep well- I negotiated before bed with Sherrif Woody and Twinkle for “no four a.m. alarms” and so I am lost in blissfull, blissfull sleep until 5:25 a.m., which is blasphemously late by hiker standards. After I wake I lay in my bag and remember last year, our slow mornings, our struggle to get on the trail before 8. This year is faster, more grueling, more rewarding in some ways- last year seems so leisurely in retrospect. But you know what? I won’t have to hike in the freezing rain in washington this year. And that’s all that matters.
The wind howls as we climb up, and up, and up into the chapparal hills. Our packs are heavy with food and water- it’s five days to Kennedy Meadows, our next resupply, and water sources are far apart in this section. The wind is cold and comes at us in big gusts, smacking us like a rolled up newspaper. We struggle along, stabbing the earth with our trekking poles. Moments remind me of the 70 mph wind storm last year but then it’s over, and we drop down into a leafy oak forest with a spring running through the mucky ground, dripping into an algae-filled trough. Someone’s flattened an aluminum can and stuck it into the ground to make a spout. I stick my bottles under this, marveling at human ingenuity. The others are sitting around the trough in the dirt, eating things from their food bags. We’re all tired from the wind and I want to lay down in the dirt and nap. Unfortunately it’s 19 miles to the next water so the options are either dry camping before then or a 33 mile day. The one thing I hate more than long days when I’m already tired is carrying the amount of water it takes to dry camp, so a 33 mile day it is. I look longingly at a group of hikers we don’t know, crowded under a tree next to the spring, smoking pot and blasting music from a little boombox. Last year I’d take breaks like that, for no apparent reason, when it wasn’t even hot and I wasn’t even injured. I know I’m hiking fast this year not just to beat the rain in washington but for my ego too- to see if I can do it. But on days like today, when it’s afternoon and I’m worn down from too many long days in the heat and wind and I’ve got 19 miles still to go before I collapse on my bedroll, my ego seems like the dumbest thing in the world.
After the spring I fall behind the group and hike by myself, my pack heavy with water, stopping to sit on rocks and stare at the oak trees, the waving grasses. I see the black shape of an animal on the slope above me, and it crashes away. Bear? As the afternoon wears on I’m in rough shape- I’m exhausted down to my bones and my feet hurt, my blisters burn like hot stones and I just want to lay down, lay down, lay down, but I don’t have enough water, water, water. I’m feeling the pressure of the group today, way at the back, the need to keep up. I don’t like it- suddenly I feel like I’m in some sort of nightmare where no matter how far I want to go the group wants to go farther, and I’ve somehow become trapped. 33 miles, but where’s the glory in that today? There is no glory, only my own solitude and exhaustion. I think about this as I push myself the last few miles toward the spring. Today I hate being the last one to camp, I hate being the slowest. I’m so, so tired.
I roll into the spring right at dusk- everyone is already in their bedrolls, tents pitched every which way, dark creeping in from the woods. Twinkle saved me a spot next to him and Sherrif but I feel too awful to talk to anyone so I drag my bedroll to the other side of the spring and camp by myself, meaning to cry myself to sleep. When I’m past a certain point of exhaustion I turn into a four year-old- completely unreasonable, capable only of crying and, eventually, of sleep. Twinkle comes to check on me and after he leaves I bawl my eyes out to the stars, feel that place inside of me crack open and empty out, all my secret fears, the uncertainty of everything, the ultimately heartbreaking nature of existance.
I’m laying in my sleeping bag, all cried out, when I hear sticks breaking in the woods. I remember the bear I saw earlier- fuck this, I think, and I drag my stuff back up to where the others are camped. Everyone is asleep and I feel comforted by their snores as blow up my neo-air and scooch down into my sleeping bag. I feel safe.
Photos on instagram.