CDT day 89: Cirque of Towers day/the hardest day

August 1
Mileage: 27
1661 miles hiked

I sleep so, so hard. Almost too hard. I’m usually a light sleeper. Dang, I must’ve been tired.

I’m usually kind of slow when I start out in the morning- I fidget, adjust things, stop to get water, poop, put on sunscreen. Most mornings I lose about a half hour this way, and feel like I’m running behind until after lunch, when I hit cruising speed and am finally able to turn my brain off. This morning I am extra slow, I think from being worn out from the past few days. Our first act of the morning is to climb up and over Texas Pass, one of those thousand-feet-of-elevation-gain-in-a-mile/faint-path-through-the-steep-scree passes, of which we will have several today, each one going up to nearly twelve thousand feet. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong- like an enchanted high-altitude land of rock and water, but boy am I tired. I make it to the top of the col and down the equally steep descent, at the bottom of which I feel shaky and exhausted, and check the time- I’ve gone three miles in two hours.

Fuck. Fuck fuck. We’re supposed to do 30 miles today- but how the fuck is that even going to be possible now? I try to pick up the pace, but the descent is tricky- so many boulders and roots and things in the trail! Spark said the other day that the tread on the CDT feels to him like a blend of the PCT and the AT, and if that’s true I can definitely understand now why the AT is so hard. I can’t hike fast in this! Spark is in his element, though- rock-hopping is like his favorite thing, and the trail today is one long rock hop. I haven’t seen him for hours, although I do see his footprints. Track Meat is even farther ahead- he camped a few miles past us last night. I start to stress a little bit- I’ve got to keep up!

But I can’t. I can’t I can’t. Nothing I do will make my body move faster over this high steep rocky trail. I even take the wrong trail for a bit, adding about 30 minutes to my day. It’s 12:40 when I reach Temple Lake before the final steep pass (which will climb a thousand feet in .5 miles, natch). I’m hungry and dehydrated, and I’ve hiked just 9 miles.

Nine miles by 12:40. And I only took one five minute break all morning, to get water. I didn’t think I’d see Spark again but he’s at the lake, finishing his lunch. I shove some food into my face and then set out for this final giant climb. Switchback up the meadow. Hop from boulder to boulder. Faint path in the scree. I watch the lake grow smaller below me, the granite world stretching away. The sun is so hot! And the horseflies land on me when I least expect it, leaving painful welts. I have to stop every few minutes on the climb to catch my breath. At this rate I’m getting nowhere fast. I start to feel so, so frustrated- frustrated and tired. There’s this thing that happens when I reach a certain point of exhaustion- I just start to cry. I cry and cry, and there’s no stopping it. So that’s what I do. I cry.

I reach the top of the pass, cross a field of sun-baked boulders and begin the descent- the narrowest of switchbacks in a near-vertical scree slope. At one point the switchback I’m on just dissapears for a few feet into impossibly steep scree, before picking up again. This shouldn’t be a big deal- I could just hop over the spot. But if I fell- fuck I hate steep scree! I start to cry and then I’m sitting on the trail, tears blearing up my vision. I’m tired! I’m tired and I’m scared and I have no more energy left for these constant small obstacles today, dammit!

It’s one of those days. Actually it’s the lowest day I’ve had on the CDT so far- even when I was sick in Montana my morale was higher than this.

Low moment. Today I am having a low moment.

It happens.

The tread does not grow easier once I’m down the pass, as I’d hoped it might. I’m walking cross-country over lumpy alpine meadow, following a river down a beautiful valley. Somehow I haven’t been drinking enough water, and my pee is dark. I stop in the shade of a pine and make myself drink water. I haven’t eaten much so I force down a few bars. And then I just plod. Plod and cry, cry and plod. The crying is the fatigue and anxiety coming out of my eyeballs, releasing and releasing. Oh, it’s definitely one of those days.

I enter a dark forest and the trail becomes faint- I lose it a couple of times and have to bushwack, climbing over tangled blowdowns and up steep rock. Every time the trail climbs it goes straight up- no switchbacks. I drag my trekking poles behind me, feeling like a pathetic fool. I calculate my pace- there’s no way I’m doing 30 today, unless I hike until 10 p.m. 25 though- 25 I could do. I wonder how far ahead Spark is. One of the things that’s reached a sort of peak of frustration for me today is knowing that no matter how hard I try, I will always be the slow one in the group. I don’t walk faster than 3 mph. I just don’t. I’m like a fuel-efficient sedan with absolutely no power. Track Meat, Spark and I do the same miles, but I literally only see the dudes during the day because they stop and take long breaks or intentionally wait for me. I have no control over whether I’ll see them or not, or when- and sometimes they don’t stop, for whatever reason, and I’m just sort of screwed. I worry that today will be one of those days. I’m having an epically shitty, low day, and I really, really don’t want to camp by myself tonight. I want to be around my nice dude-friends and say “Today was hard” and have them say “Yeah those passes were hard” and then we all stare off into space together while we eat our dinners. But to do that I’d have to catch up to Spark and talk him into camping before 30 miles. Which I’m pretty sure he’d be down to do- we both have extra food, and he’s been pretty worn out by this section too. But in order to talk to him, he’d have to stop and wait for me. And I imagine he’s about an hour ahead, just cruising in his own world, trying to get to camp. Fuck. Fuck fuck.

This seems like a little thing but it’s also the story of my life- last year I was the slowest walker in my group on the PCT, and this year I am too. I don’t mind maxing out at 3mph- 3mph is all you need on a long trail, and the fact that I walk slower is probably one of the reasons I rarely have foot pain. But it’s hard to be crossing a big open space and watch your friends get farther, and farther, and farther ahead… and to know that you likely won’t catch up until camp, unless they decide to stop and wait for you.

Every. Fucking. Day.

But maybe Spark will stop and wait today? But no, he’s not stopping. His footprints go on and on. I’m so fucking tired of staring at my friends’ footprints. I’m so tired of feeling like I’m always late for something, on top of everything else that happens each day. I’m just fucking tired right now, and I want to camp. But I don’t want to camp alone, not tonight.

In the evening the trail at last drops down into smooth flat third-growth forest and joins a soft gentle dirt logging road. There’s a parking lot with a campground and a trail register- Spark is about an hour ahead, and he writes that he’s hiking until eight. It’s 9 p.m. and getting dark when I finally reach the spot where he’s camped, on a ridge above a small, tannin-colored stream. I’m so tired that I don’t even want to eat dinner. Spark and I have a heart-to-heart, and he tells me that he had no idea that I felt so frustrated about not being able to keep up, or that it was a hard thing for me. Or that I was having such a rough time today. We all just sort of act like we’re always fine out here, and I take it for granted that I have to tell people when I’m doing badly, or ask specifically for what I need. It feels awkward and vulnerable to do so, but I ask Spark if he’ll check in with me during lunch, in hard sections like this, about where we’re camping/how far I actually think I can go, since I might not see him again for the rest of the day. Of course Spark has no problem with this. Of course he’ll check in. He doesn’t give me shit, or call me slow. He doesn’t act like I’m just being needy or unreasonable. Spark gets it. He’s my friend. And he’s a really good dude, this one.

Tomorrow we get to Lander! I am so, so ready to take a zero.

Photos on instagram