Mile 1711 to mile 1727
I wake early, I’m the first one out, I hike slow. I eat sunflower seeds, raisins, my last bar. I’m hungry, thinking about food, the heat is coming up. There is the warm humid light, the dry conifers, the soft dusty path. I’m thinking about burgers and leafy greens. I think about mileages and days and weeks. And time, seasons, place, the future. Money- do I have enough to make it to the end? Twinkle catches up to me and passes me- I catch up to him again on a saddle with a couple of coolers. He’s sitting on one of the coolers reading the trail register- there’s one single soda left, lemon-lime. When the others show up we sit in the dust and pass it around. The soda makes it around twice- we’re bonded now! I say.
Downhill for the rest of the morning, plodding in the heat. I’m dizzy again. Man, I need real food. The forest is a tangle of green, in the distance you can hear I-5, like a river. There are trail runners, headed the opposite way- they’re out for a 26 mile run, so happy they can’t stop smiling. It’s always nice to chat with trail runners- they’re high out of their minds on endorphins, so stoked to be out here! Not like day hikers, always frowning and complaining about the mosquitoes, or what have you.
A mile before I-5 I remember there’s a shortcut through Callahans that takes you closer to the on-ramp. I think I maybe missed it so I take a random abandoned dirt road, knowing that I just need to go downhill. The road is overgrown but there’s a path and I push my way through. When the road cuts uphill I take another one down, this one even more overgrown. My phone is dying so I can’t look at my maps. I start to panic a little- I’ve got that anxious, almost-to-town feeling, and I just want to be there. The road continues, switchbacking down the mountain, and I’m just able to find it among the weeds. At last it dumps me at the railroad tracks, from which there’s another dirt road that hits the freeway. Success. It’s noon.
A flurry of text messages comes in, but my phone is too close to dead for me to be able to read them all. I think everyone is at Callahans? Drinking? I don’t know. I plug my phone into my solar charger and stand in the baking sun on the onramp, hitching. A man in a sedan pulls off- he doesn’t usually pick up hitchhikers, he says, but he could tell I was hiking the PCT. He’s got his teenage daughter with him.
“You should hike the PCT,” I say to her.
The man drops me off at the Bi-Mart at the edge of town, five miles from my friend Justa’s house. Justa, in her incredible generosity, has offered to host us at the house she shares with her partner Lint, even though there are about a billion of us and we all smell so bad. I’m so excited to see Justa, and to hang out at her house, and to walk around Ashland- something familiar and known after weeks of staying in hotels and hostels in strange little trail towns.
My phone is working now, after charging with the solar charger for a bit, and I call Twinkle. A woman who follows our blogs and lives nearby, Kristi, has offered to pick people up at Callahans and bring them into town. People are so nice to us! I really don’t understand why we deserve it- walking and sleeping on the ground, that’s all we do. Thank you Kristi!!
A few minutes later Kristi swoops me up- she’s got Twinkle, Woody and Jr. Sr. in the car too, along with her eight-year-old son. She is such a good sport about letting us cram! She drops us at Justa’s house and we take off our shoes, collapse on the couch. It’s hot today, almost unbelievably warm, and now that we’ve stopped hiking it’s very difficult to move. I shower and put on my real, cotton clothes- everything I own is here, in my van, which is parked in front of Justa’s house. I climb into the hot van, relieved to see that I do, in fact, still own surprisingly little, and dig through my things to find loaner clothes for people to wear. I’m going to dress everyone up in my clothes!
The afternoon passes like this- the whole ten or so of us, covered in dirt and sweat with our stuff exploded everywhere, everyone sitting spacing out or wandering around, trying to figure out what order in which to do things. People coming and going with beer, ice-cream, Dr. Pepper, giant pizzas. Walking to the co-op and buying lettuce, eggs, ground beef, a couple of turnips. I make lists. What do I need to do here? What do I even need to do? Make my boxes for Oregon and Washington- all of the boxes. All that food, all that shipping, plus a new pair of shoes before Washington, more socks. I wish money wasn’t such a thing. Someday I won’t be so broke. Someday I’ll have a career. Right? I eat turnips and kale while I think about my book. Someday I’ll have a book. A real thing you can hold in your hands. Until then, though, I’ll continue to have nothing, just a bunch of words in space, ideas, feelings, hot air. And I will always be poor, always worried about money. What even is a thing? What even has value?
In the evening when it starts to cool we walk to Ashland’s little downtown, see the tourists strolling arm in arm, the men with their beards and the women in their poppy-colored sundresses, everyone with their soft, unweathered skin and that relaxed gait like they’ve got nowhere to be. At the bar the boys play pool but pool bores me, I don’t drink so I put songs on the jukebox and talk to Justa- she calls her friend Mitra, who lives in a run-down farmhouse outside of town, and then Notachance shows up, drunk, with a couple of friends who are visiting. Women- my god it’s good to hang out with women! Such a strange world this year, on the PCT, in the bubble that I’m in. So many dudes!!
It’s well past hiker midnight when we get back to the house. Everyone sets up in the backyard. The air is warm and full of town smells- compost, flowering trees. The moon rises silver and luminescent and between that and the lingering heat, I can’t fall asleep. Oh July, I think. You’re going to run me ragged.
Photos on instagram.