Day 84: mosquito hell is here at last

July 17
Mileage 38.5
Mile 1792 to mile 1829 (plus 1.5 mile roadwalk to campground)

I sleep so well, safe from the mosuitoes, hearing them buzz furiously against the mesh of Twinkle’s shelter. The ants can still get in, but I don’t mind- they can crawl back and forth across my face all night if they want. Cuddle ants, I call them. Big black ones. Smell like ammonia if you crush them.

Around 5 a.m. I hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of feet on the trail and look up to see Notachance hiking by, then Jr. Sr., then Woody. It’s like a freaking parade. I put my head back down- I’m not ready to get up. In the end Twinkle and I are the last to hike out- 6:20 a.m. But I don’t care. I feel relaxed today. And I slept so good. As July fades towards August, the nights grow longer, and I become less sleep deprived, my anxiety goes down. This morning I feel like hiking slow, and I don’t even care. Life is too awesome to stress!

I set out with Twinkle through the cool forest- lots of forest in Oregon, not too many views. But the shade feels good, it’s kind of a relief. The mosquitoes are awful this morning tho, Alaska style. Mosquito hell is here at last! Last year we got it bad the three days after Toulumne, but by the time we got to Oregon mosquito season was pretty much over. This year we’re here earlier, and apparently if you’re in Oregon before August first, the mosquitoes are brutal. So there’s that, hiking down the trail as fast as I can, fidgeting and slapping my arms and legs, constantly shifting and moving my trekking poles around and stressing, stressing, stressing. The thing about mosquitoes, too, that makes it extra maddening is that they don’t do anything to you. They’re not actually hurting me, like how the sun can burn you or the rain can give you hypothermia. But they’re more anxiety-inducing than anything. I’m basically screaming inside my head as I rush down the trail as fast as I can, feeling the flutter of their wings as they land all over me, biting me in the same places again and again and again.

When the anxiety-producing stimulus is finally removed, euphoria rushes in. It’s one of the cool things about being alive. At 8 a.m. I find it- a patch of full sun. Mosquitoes are tiny vampires, they don’t like the sun. I sit on a log and wait a moment- nothing. Relief. Sweet, sweet relief. Well, I think, as I take out my food bag. I guess I’ll sit here for a little while.

Afterwards it’s hot, and I take my time tooling up the climb. It’s been around a hundred degrees for the last couple of weeks, and I’m drenched in sweat. I wish the heat wave would break, but I don’t worry about it too much. I deal with it the same way I deal with everything else uncomfortable on the trail- I just take it. Every day of hiking in uncomfortable heat, drenched in my own sweat and covered in chafe, mosquito bites and poison oak, is a day I don’t spend stuck in traffic or sitting in front of my computer, feeling lonely and bored. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I take another snack break- everyone is ahead of me now. The whole group is going 37 miles today, to Crater Lake. If we get there before 9, apparently, there’s a restaurant. I’ll probably get there too late to eat, but whatevs. I know I’ll make it.

I take a lunch break around 1 at a little stream- our last water source until Crater Lake. A 20 mile dry stretch- one of the longest ones on the trail and it’s here, in southern Oregon. I take off my shoes and socks and soak my feet in the water. Guthrie is here, and he’s feeling relaxed too.

“I think I’m just gonna do 30 miles today,” he says. “Get there in the morning.”

I head out after a bit, three liters of water in my pack. The trail is cruiser, winding gently through monotonous forest, and my hipbelt pockets are stuffed with snacks. It’s shady and not too hot. I don’t have to stop for anything. And then I realize- I’m bored with hiking slow.

It’s time, as Notachance would say, to run people down like rabbits.

Sochi is the first one I catch. He’s taking a nap next to the trail, so it’s almost too easy. He’s asleep! I think about the others in front of me, wonder who else I can catch. Twinkle’s not too hard- he walks super fast but he takes about a million breaks. Literally every four miles he has to sit down, eat a snack, drink his fruit punch mix and look at instagram. So even though Twinkle walks faster than I do, as long as I don’t take breaks I know I can catch him. And I have the magical ability, I recently learned, to hike 25 miles with only one break- I may not be the fastest hiker but I eat and drink as I walk, and my feet rarely hurt.

I don’t know if I’ll catch Woody or Jr. Sr.- I’m not sure how far ahead they both are. Woody hikes like a bat out of hell, trekking poles flailing, stomping down the trail breathing out of his mouth. And Jr. Sr. is determined to stay in the front, because he got on the trail not too long ago, is still getting his trail legs and doesn’t want to be left behind. So I may not see either of them.

The one person I know for sure I won’t catch is Notachance.

Only a crazy person would try and catch Notachance.

She’s the first one to start hiking in the morning, has the smallest pack, and she carries least food and water. And she can go the longest without taking breaks. Sometimes you can catch her, if she’s having a tired day or feeling leisurely. On those days she takes an hour lunch break, sits in the dirt with her shoes and socks off, eats cheese in tortillas or boils ramen on her little alcohol stove. But not today. I happen to know that right now Chance has a 1.5 liter carrying capacity, and it’s a 20 mile dry stretch to Crater Lake. So she’ll be going fast.

I’m thinking these thoughts, standing in the trail scratching the poison oak in my armpit, when Guthrie catches up to me.

“I just realized I don’t have enough food,” he says. “All I can think about is cheeseburgers.”

“Let’s do this!” I say.

Guthrie has this special hiking mode I call “Guthrie’s secret reserves”. Usually Guthrie is super zen about hiking- he doesn’t get caught up in the competitive nature of our group, doesn’t care if he’s at the back, just goes exactly as fast as he wants to go, stops when he wants to stop. He keeps threatening to slow down and do lower mileage days-

“I thought I’d be doing twenty mile days on this trail,” he says, somewhat resentfully, as we plan our big days, egg each other on, rush to get here, or there, or to the place after that. But even if he doesn’t like big days, he must like us, because he always sticks with us. And we’ve unanimously agreed that, being the L.L. Bean model of the group, he has the best legs on the trail. He claims that they’re “just for show”.

But they’re not.

When Guthrie wants to be, he’s fucking fast.

Right now, Guthrie is hiking fast. We’re flying down the trail. I keep checking halfmile’s app, guaging my pace and re-calculating our arrival time.

I pretend I’m an airline pilot.

“Current conditions- shady with no mosquitoes.” I say. “Estimated time of arrival 8:20 p.m. The flight attendant will be along shortly with a snack of stale sunflower seeds and broken peanut MnMs. Please keep your hipbelts securely fastened, as there will be no breaks until landing.”

Earlier I sat down for twenty minutes, and I know that’s the only break I’ll have in these 20 miles. I don’t care, though. I want to be fast!

Our estimated arrival time keeps getting closer. We’ll get there at 8:10, 8:08, 8:00. Then, six miles before the road, we catch Twinkle.

“Yay!” I say. “We caught you!”

“My feet fucking hurt,” says Twinkle. Mine are actually starting to hurt too. A 35 mile day followed by a 37 mile day- that’s pretty hardcore. My feet almost never hurt, so I imagine that everyone else must be in serious pain. Plus, if we make it, this will be the first time I’ve gone 100 miles in three days- I’ve tried so many times, and it’s always ended up being three and some change. So this will be the fastest we’ve ever hiked 100 miles. Woohoo!

In the end, we reach the road at 7:50. From there it’s a 1.5 mile roadwalk to the restaurant and store. We put our thumbs out, but no-one stops.

Pizza. Burgers. Salad bar. The waitstaff is rude to us, but we don’t even care. I eat until I’m comatose and then wander over to the store, where hikers are sitting at the picnic tables, drinking cheap beer. The campground is full but a hiker from another year has a site and he invites us to camp there. We head over in the dark, stumbling on sore feet, and spread our bedrolls in the pandemonium of the crowded campground. I have earplugs, though. I sleep.

Photos on instagram.

13 thoughts on “Day 84: mosquito hell is here at last

  1. Fantastic story. I’m thinking of all the Earnest Hemingway wannabes on the trail this year, no one is in the same writing league that you are. Nowhere close. Take your blog, copy it into a book and let it sell. it is great stuff no matter how difficult it was for you to do these days and write about it.

  2. Let me add one more thing. I have hiked many trails and suffered through all of the challenges of a trail. I know what you are writing about and you bring it to life and make it so real I shudder at past experiences. That is what your writing does for me.

  3. “Every day of hiking in uncomfortable heat, drenched in my own sweat and covered in chafe, mosquito bites and poison oak, is a day I don’t spend stuck in traffic or sitting in front of my computer, feeling lonely and bored. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

    This is a big reason why i’m hiking The Trail next year. And why I think I’ll be successful. That thought right there.

    Well, and… “Life is too awesome to stress! … euphoria rushes in.”

    PS. I’m told you can place greens (miner’s lettuce?) on an anthill and them walking over it will give it sort of a “vinaigrette” dressing.

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  5. “just for show” Lolz.

    I’m devouring your last year’s blog this week. I’m on day 40–the day you go to Home Depot near Tehachapi. Catching up on your 2013 hike while simultaneously keeping tracking of your current hike in real-time reminds me of movies that switch back and forth from past to present. Among other things, it helps me better understand your devotion to your 2014 friends, your drive for bigger miles, and all your funky G.I. issues. I donated to your cause: 2,650 pennies. Don’t go spending that on dairy, gluten rich foods, nor PayDay candy bars. Ok ok, ice cream if you just can’t help it, but seriously, you know better 🙂

  6. Hi Carrot,
    Lots of interesting thoughts you have here, I appreciate the insight you give. Funny how when we go through some temporary hell, (like mosqy’s or heat) when we find some relief, it’s all the more sweet!
    Thanks for the insight on some of the others, I find it very interesting, and this is probably one reason you guys are a loose knit group, keeps life on the trail more fun. Seems everyone has their on MO, everyone getting what they need, with the help of the others.
    Attitude is king, and it’s a dance of the mind to maintain a good, uplifting one.
    I like to keep moving like you, (I do an 8k ft. climb here in Palm Springs in a 1/2 day, get to ride the tram down, and almost never stop, and it actually seems easier this way.

    Congrats on your 100 in 3, wow, you guys / gals are a tough group, (or just like piggy out that much, that you can’t wait to get to real food again!).
    Happy trails
    scott 2

  7. I agree with the others here, this is really an outstanding post. I don’t know how you find the time and energy to knock out all these posts when you are putting up those huge miles in this extreme heat . I used to envision you as a naturally talented writer that just riffed these things out ad hoc. Well that you are but over time I’ve come to see that there is also a lot of tradecraft and studied technique to your writing. You take a story that consists almost entirely of walking and eating day after day and give us a splendid contemplation of your (our) relationship with the earth and with others. And the second year is more enthralling than the first! As if our lives are not so much about the events that happen to us, but more about the artistry with which we choose to perceive them. You’ve got the knack and clearly you’re putting in the effort, I see great success for you, Carrot. It’s great to see you doing things your way!

  8. I love reading what you write all the time, Carrot, but especially these last days. You don’t say how much mosquito bites bother you, but if they do, have you tried tea tree oil? It always helps me keep from tearing up my own skin wherever I’m bitten, and I’d love to send you a wee bottle for the trail, if you tell me where.

  9. I’ve just come from a month of backpacking and catching up on all your meanwhile posts. This one made me laugh as I read it out loud to my partner. “She’s very good!” we both agreed. Thanks. Ok onto the next, er 30 entries…

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