Day 111: what is the lesson here

August 13
Mileage 34
Mile 2531 to mile 2565

The storm hits around 10:30 p.m. Just light rain at first, then harder, then cold wind! from off of the lake and lightning! illuminating the walls of my tent and thunder! Rattling the ground. Woosh! Woosh! Woosh! Goes the rain as it smacks against the limp cuben fiber of my shelter. I scramble to unroll my polycro groundsheet, basically a sheet of saran wrap, and put it under my sleeping pad. I string up the piece of cuben fiber that functions as the “door” of my tent. I move things here and there as rain starts to run down the mesh of my shelter.

I wake an hour later to find that water has pooled on my groundsheet and my sleeping pad- my sleeping bag is wet. Wet, wet, everything is wet. The storm still rages- lightning, thunder, torrents of water. Everyone is awake, and we talk to each other through the walls of our tents. Are you dry? I’ve got a puddle. You? The same.

At least it’s not very cold. I brave the storm long enough to re-stake my tent, which has just about collapsed. Outside the frozen lake glows white and it’s strangely light- I can see everything. 2:30 a.m. The storm makes its own light? Or? Back inside I blow up my neo-air and scooch on top of it. This will keep me above the water. I pull my now-wet sleeping bag up around my ears and curl into a ball on my torso-length neo-air, which feels like an awkward throw pillow. Everything I’m wearing is damp, the cold wind blows through the mesh of my tent and I’m almost warm enough- almost.

I wake at 5:30 and uncurl. My legs are cramped and achey. How long did I sleep? Five hours? Six? The storm is over and the contours of the earth are draped in fog- I cross my fingers that the sun will come out long enough today for me to dry my stuff. Otherwise I’ll be camping in the rain again, with a wet sleeping bag- no bueno. I shove a few handfuls of reeses puffs into my face as I stuff away my things. One of the best trail foods I’ve packed out, hands down.

We’ve got ten thousand feet of elevation gain today, over 29 miles. Ten thousand. Another Forester/Mather/Pinchot day. And it’d be 34 miles, but we’ve been talking about taking the old PCT alternate, which I took last year. The old PCT alternate is 5 miles shorter, wild and unmaintained and cuts through an enchanted stand of old growth. Hiking it last year with Instigate and Spark was one of my best experiences on the trail. My morale was so low that morning, hiking in the hypothermia rain with not enough food, and then I caught them at the trail junction and we clambered over all the huge downed logs, finding the trail in the moss and the salmonberries, pretending all sorts of strange things. Laughing until we couldn’t breathe. And then scooting up that sketchy log over the Suittle river- I have a video of it somewhere.

There’s a long climb this morning, and I fall behind. The trail is choked with salmonberries, the trail is full of rocks, there’s water running all over the trail. Is this the sierras? Huge blowdowns on the trail- logs so big they lay there in an almost permanent way and I approach them, size them up, crawl over them like an ant or scootch under them, pulling my pack after.

I catch the others on the barren top of the mountain, taking a break in the mist/rain, huddled in their jackets. Brainstorm is boiling cous-cous in his pot. I stand for a moment eating greasy potato chips from my party-sized bag, staring at the fog and then it’s time to hike- being the slow one uphill means I catch the tail end of the break, and there’s not much time to chill if I want to keep up. It’s going to be one of those days.

I crash somehow on the way downhill- plodding through the forest I just get tired, tired, tired. These long climbs, the rain, not enough sleep. I’m not walking very fast but I can’t seem to make myself walk faster. In the last week I’ve developed awful back chafe, a big red welt across my back, and it stings like crazy where my pack touches it. And I’ve got raw spots on my feet from my wet shoes rubbing. Everything is hard today. I pass a bunch of day hikers, a group of young people on an eleven day outing. I’m only a few minutes behind Brainstorm and Tiny, Woody and Twinkle in front of them. Old PCT old PCT, I think. I stop to poop and then jog the last half mile to the junction. When I get there no-one is there.

What the fuck?

There’s a creek to the right you have to cross to get to the old PCT, and the creek is roiling and deep, crazy because of the rains. It’d be impossible to ford, and I don’t see an obvious way to cross. I sit on the mossy ground and eat a bar. I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know if the others took the old trail or if they showed up, saw the crazy ford, and decided it wasn’t a good idea. Because if the creek looks like this here, the Suittle river on the other side where the bridge washed out will be even worse. So these are my options: I can either take the old trail and risk doing the sketchy river crossing by myself, or take the new PCT and risk being 5 miles behind my friends, depending on what they decided to do. I feel frustrated and dissapointed. Why didn’t they leave a note? Why did I hike the whole trail with people who don’t leave notes?

I decide to do the new PCT. The work of 5 extra miles is easier than the stress of doing a sketchy log crossing by myself. And there’s still the chance that everyone else took the new PCT too.

The trail is wide and flat and easy, and a little sun filters through the trees. As I walk I think about my hike this year, my hike last year, the CDT next year. I find myself missing Spark and Instigate again. I wish I had a hiking partner, that I wasn’t rolling with such a large group. But this is the way I chose to do it, so here I am. Walking alone for most of the day. Feeling sort of sad and lonely about it. What am I supposed to learn from all of this. What is the lesson here.

The trail winds through a stand of massive old growth- big hemlocks and western redcedars- thousand year-old trees! Beautiful forest! Massive monoliths, older than time. The collective wisdom of the forest. My morale is bouyed, and I stop to get water at a stream. Light dances on the water where it runs over mossy stones. Everything is so beautiful.

I see no-one for an hour and then I pass an older man, a thru-hiker, walking slowly up the trail. He says his name is Opa.

“Have you been passed by a bunch of dudes?” I say. “Headed north?”

“I haven’t seen anyone all day,” he says.

So that’s it then. I’m the only one who didn’t take the alternate, I’m five miles behind my friends, and I’ll have to do a 34 mile day if I want to catch them. And I’ll have to do it fast. I look at the time and average my pace so far today- two miles an hour. That’s how arduous the trail has been. And I still have four thousand feet of climbing ahead of me. I start to cry.

I’m suddenly overwhelmed with loneliness. I don’t want to hike anymore. I can’t, I can’t. I didn’t mind walking alone for most of the trail but now, at the end, I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to be alone. Not today, not these last few days until Canada.

The loneliness is intolerable. I feel like a zombie, pushing myself up the trail. My morale is bottoming out but I can’t stop walking, I just need to keep walking. No time for breaks, no time to dry my stuff. I’ve sat down for maybe a half hour today and I know I won’t take another break. Not until I get to camp and crawl into my tent. My wet sleeping bag! I unstuff it and strap it to the outside of my pack. Maybe it’ll dry a little in the warm afternoon air. It swings around and brushes up against the damp undergrowth so I wrap the ends around me. The feeling is strangely comforting. I feel myself start to bonk, so I eat the snacks in my hipbelt pockets. I’m almost out of food. But I think I have just enough to get me to Stehekin.

The climb is smooth and evenly graded. No rocks or blowdowns in the trail, no water running everywhere. I am so grateful for this. I might be able to cruise after all! Morale, though, is still shit, and I can’t seem to perk myself up. So I start thinking about life after the trail, about what I’m looking forward to. The trail is almost over, I think. You just have to make it through these last few days. It breaks my heart to think about the trail this way. I love thru-hiking, I love this lifestyle. And it’s almost over, so soon it’ll all be gone. But right now it sucks. And to make myself stop crying I have to think about something else, anything else.

As I hike I make lists in my head of what I’m looking forward to after the trail. Doing yoga. Getting laid. Buying a flower print dress and a black leather jacket. Eating avocados. Hugging my dog. The warm faces of friends. Trail running. Talking to Tara and Instigate on the phone. Warm sauteed kale with apple cider vinegar. Training for an ultra. Reading a book while watching the rain out the window. Woodstoves. Acupuncture, and the way it loosens the stones that gather in my heart. Heart-stones.

I think about my birthday in September, and what I’d like to spend the day doing. Eating blackberry pie. Making out. Getting a neck tattoo.

My morale starts to rise as I climb. I stop crying. Life can be good, life goes on. There is life after the trail. The trail is cruiser and I cruise. I get lost in my thoughts, the patterns of light in the forest, I don’t think about the time. When I check my apps again I realize I’ve been hiking 3 mph. I may just make it by 9. I may not have to night-hike except the last ten minutes or so.

I reach the top of the mountain to find the earth wrapped in fog, the light fading. I stuff my sleeping bag back away- the bag is a little drier, I might be warm tonight after all. I’m above treeline and the whold world is alpine meadow, lupine and indian paintbrush, water running everywhere. I start to run the downhills, careful not to trip on all the stones. I’m going to make it!

I get to camp at 9 p.m. exactly, in the very last dregs of the light. A little side trail leads to a cluster of flat spots in the dark forest, tents everywhere. No sign of movement. Light’s out, everyone’s asleep. I see Woody, Brainstorm, Tiny and Twinkle’s tents, along with a bunch of other shelters I don’t recognize. I haven’t seen Guthrie and Krispies all day- I wonder where they ended up.

I pitch my shelter as quietly as I can, setting up everything in preparation for another storm. I put on all my layers and pull my damp sleeping bag over me, eat a little cold rehydrated lentil soup. I’m strangely awake after all that climbing but so, so tired as well. I lay down and pull my sleeping bag up around my ears, feel my spine start to relax against the earth. I’m warm.

Only 14 miles to Stehekin.

Photos on instagram.

3 thoughts on “Day 111: what is the lesson here

  1. I love reading these last few posts as I have loved reading along your whole journey, but it’s also so sad. I wish I could give you a hug for your sorrows and loneliness. The end of big adventures can be exciting and devastating all at once. And life does go on but the transition never feels easy. I’m sure there are bright wonderful things waiting for you after the PCT is through this time.

  2. Hello Carrot, love all the emotion you share so generously. These seem to be times of reflection, introspection, and learning to comfort ourselves it seems. The terrain seems to be like a hot mate, exciting & challenging, with in-your-face beauty, but um-tamable, at times relentless, but always captivating.
    Thank you again, for inviting us along.

    scott 2

  3. Hi Carrot, I’ve just started following your blog, and the entry for Day 111 is powerful. I haven’t done the PCT, or the CDT, but I am an avid wilderness tramper (what you North Americans call ‘hiking’) where I live in NZ. I love going out for extended trips on my own, and your writing today reminded me of the the conflict we seem to face of wanting solitude, but also wanting company. You have explored this theme so well. Thank you for this, and the privilege you extend us in being able to share in your journey. Your words are slowly pulling me towards the PCT…

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