Mile 1941.5 to mile 1968.5 (plus 1 mile to Elk Lake)
I wake up in the worst mood. Mosquitoes swarm the tent. The whole lot of us emerge from our shelters around 6:30, we pack up, we walk as quickly as we can, hoping we don’t have to poop, or snack, or rest- so goes the morning. The little vampires land all over me as I walk, I fidget and slap them, I’m grumpy and itchy and in a state of high irritation. I don’t use deet, so I just have to take it. I put in my headphones and angry-hike through the woods, past all the still, aquamarine lakes and stagnant ponds.
In this way we reach the Elk Lake lodge at 12:30. 17 miles by 12:30, that’s not so bad. My irritation won’t dissapate though, not even when I have a burger and fries in front of me. Man, I’m a grumpy fuck today. And then I let myself get even more riled up, on my phone on the lodge’s spotty wifi connection, trying to order new shoes. Every time I get to the “place order” page and hit the button, the connection times out and it goes to “page not found”. Before I know it three hours have passed.
“I don’t have anything to do,” says Twinkle, “but it’s been nice to just sit here and relax.”
“I haven’t been relaxed for a single minute,” I say.
Chance and Mack are on the front steps, drinking coors. Guthrie’s had about twelve Dr. Peppers. Woody’s eating everything from the hiker box- there’s dog food in there, which freaks us all out. We don’t want to think about it.
Some dudes renting a cabin comment loudly to the front desk person about how bad we smell. But we don’t even smell that bad right now. I feel sorry for the dudes- I bet they’re so bored. I’m still hungry, so I eat a bar from the hikerbox that I’ve never tried before. It tastes like a probar sprinkled with stale oregano.
We finally hike out at 4- the plan is 10 miles to Mesa Creek, a beautiful site where I camped last year. The mosquitoes have somehow increased in numbers so I’m angry hiking again, way at the front, powering uphill while the others take their time, protected by the dark magic of deet.
I get to the top of the climb and stop to take a picture of South Sister, and the others catch me. There’s a woman with them who I’ve never seen before- she’s carrying a small osprey pack, her shoes are in tatters, and a dirty hanky hangs from her hipbelt.
“Nice pee rag!” I say. “That’s where I keep my pee rag too!”
“It’s for my nose,” she says.
“Oh,” I say. “I keep that one in my pocket.”
Her name is Rice Krispies, and she tells us that she started the trail- get this-
On May 8th.
For perspective, in case you’ve forgotten, we started April 25th.
Notachance and I have been talking, the last few days, about how we wish someone fast would catch us. I get excited about the fast hikers like how I get excited about the true southbounders, who don’t flip- they’re so hardcore and inspiring! Last year, doing the standard 5 month hike, I got passed by and had the oportunity to meet a number of super fast hikers- but this year Notachance and I were worried that since we started at kickoff and were doing the four-month hike we wouldn’t get a chance to meet any of the May people, let alone the REALLY hardcore people who started in June.
And now suddenly Rice Krispies is here.
She did 30’s all through the desert. She’s only taken four zeros. Four. She’s been doing 35+ mile days every day in Oregon so far. I take out my phone and, like the nerd I am, calculate her average.
“I’m planning to finish the trail in a hundred days,” she says.
Our average is only 22.
I am so stoked to meet Rice Krispies and I hike with her through the picturesque meadows beneath South Sister, peppering her with annoying questions.
“How many pairs of shoes have you gone through? What’s your base weight? Do you want to camp with us?”
I can’t help it. She’s the fastest person we’ve met on the trail this year. She said she started with a bunch of other people who wanted to go fast, but thet all ended up getting off with injuries.
She’s a very good sport about my questions. Meanwhile, the sky has been doing crazy things, but I haven’t really noticed. Then- BOOM BA-BOOM! Wild thunder. And lightning. Then more thunder and lightning. I look back to see the blackest, most convoluted clouds, rolling towards us across the sky. Suddenly I can feel it in my jaw, like when I sit too close to a wifi router. Pockets catches up- we’ve been leapfrogging with him for a few days.
“Some of your hair is standing up,” he says. Lightning comes down close, blinding us all. We’re standing in the middle of a big, open meadow.
We all start to run.
We reach camp- a spot sheltered by trees, thankfully- just as the sky opens up and it really starts to rain. And then hail- big fat hail. Woody and Jr. Sr. are already there, safe in their shelters, and Pockets, Rice Krispies and I throw up ours. I wonder how Twinkle, Guthrie, Chance and Mack are as I sit in my shelter, eating random things from my food bag and listening to the rain. I hope they took cover! The temperature drops- it’s gonna be cold tonight. I fiddle with my groundsheet, hoping I stay dry. Lightning cracks, illuminating everything.
Photos on instagram.