Day 94: an accidental 42 mile day

August 6
Mileage: 42
1766 miles hiked

The wind keeps me up all night. I wake, sleep, wake, sleep. Then- is it morning already? Oh well, morning is always exciting in its own way.

I’m tired today. I feel like a broken record. I feel like I’ve been tired this whole trail. Ever since I stopped treating my water I’ve just felt sort of off. I keep waiting to hit my stride, to feel strong like I did last year, and it keeps not happening. Oh well, this trail will get hiked one way or another. I guess that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

We make a plan to hike 35 miles today- we’re hiking by 7:15 (which is our usual time- not exactly early but hey, it could be worse) and the elevation profile is almost completely flat. Dusty jeep track going all the way to the horizon, flat yellow grass. The smell of crushed sagebrush. Wind.

The wind keeps the heat down but I still feel as though I’m being roasted. I keep looking at the backs of my hands, the skin of my forearms. What am I doing to myself? Am I going to regret all this exposure someday? Nah. Never!

The three of us eat lunch under a single tree up on a hill, in a cool bit of shade. Jerky, wavy lays, chocolate. We squint out at the bright plains. What a special planet this is.

After lunch I stop to do some small thing and suddenly I’m way far behind. Oh well, I guess I won’t see anyone again until camp. I plod on in the dust. I look down at my dress and pretend I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder. I pass a cluster of wild horses. Wild horses! What would Laura do? The horses turn their necks to look at me, their manes blowing in the wind. Horses! I say. We could be friends!

I find a baby horny toad and capture it so that I can take a photo. I take some awful selfies. I listen to rap music. This jeep road goes on and on!

There’s a 14 mile dry stretch today, and we’d planned to camp in the middle of it. I keep my eye out for the last water source, which is a resevoir on the Ley maps but listed simply as a “creek” on Guthook. So far today there’s been water every few miles, seemingly in every gully- both the water sources listed on my maps and in guthook have been running, as well as some extras. So when I reach the top of the hill before the last water source, I see two things- the “creek” is just a mud puddle over the trail, and two hikers have just left this source and are beginning to climb the next hill. My thoughts are this- I’m sure this isn’t the last water there’s been water like every mile today and If I hurry I can maybe catch up!

Catch up. It’s what I try, and fail to do, every day. All day every day I’m staring at my friends’ footprints, feeling like I’m behind. Like I’m running late. Like I’m a rabbit with a stopwatch.

I step across the mud puddle and race up the hill and stab my trekking poles into the ground but I’m tired from the heat and the sun and the small dark figures of the hikers, who are already about a quarter mile away, grow slowly farther and farther ahead. And I can see this, since we’re on the great open plain. I can watch the small dark figures with their small dark backpacks grow smaller still as I hike absolutely as fast as I can. And then I realize that the plains have become more yellow and more arid and dry-looking and I can see them spread out before me looking more arid still and I realize that that probably was the last water two miles back and that it’s 14 miles to the next one and I have absolutely no water and the sun is roasting me and I realize what I’ve done and I just. Fucking. Lose it.

FUCK YOU! I scream into the wind, in the direction of the tiny, dissapearing hikers. FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU! They’re so far away now, I’ll never catch them. I’ll never catch anyone, ever again. This is some sort of weird nightmare and I can’t get out of it. I sit down on the road and start to cry. Where the fuck am I and how did I get here?

It’s not my friends’ fault. They mean well. It’s my fault. I set myself up for this. I’m a fool. I’ve been hiking for three months with people who walk faster than I do, and I’ve just sort of gone along with it. Letting it stress me out every fucking day. What the fuck am I even doing.

After I stop crying I feel super calm. Crying is great in that way. It just gets it all out, like vomiting emotions. Then- calm. Ok, I say to myself. Fourteen miles with no water. You’re already kind of thirsty. But the sun is getting lower, and it’s cooling down. You ready?

I actually kind of like this game. And I know I’ll be fine- the trail is flat and the sun is sinking. I’ll night-hike for the first time on the CDT. I fish out my headlamp. And 42 miles! That’s exciting. The great basin challenge I didn’t know I wanted.

The sunset over the plains is liquid gold. I see more wild horses- far off, grazing contentedly. I wonder what their lives are like? I pass my friends, sitting at the dirt road junction where we’d planned to camp. They didn’t miss the last water and have plenty to dry camp, which makes me feel even more like a fool. Oh well. I continue on, watching the edges of the sky turn neon pink. I meet a loan bull on the trail and he steps aside, confused. Hello cow, I say. Life! I say to him. You know?

I’m pretty thirsty. Fourteen miles without water. But I know I’ll be alright. I’ve played this game before. I pass a northbounder named Matt, his headlamp bobbing in the darkness. Seeing him makes the plains seem less empty. My audiobook keeps the huge night at bay. The stars wheel overhead. My legs ache but I’m alright. I’ll get there.

I reach bull spring at 10:20, fifteen hours since I started hiking this morning. I wade around in the swampy grass, looking for the spring box. I fill my bottles and drink. 42.5 miles. I’m proud of that.

It’s peaceful to camp alone. So, so peaceful. I eat my small dinner in my tarp, the light of my headlamp drawing great parties of moths. I try to imagine what it would feel like to not stress about keeping up with anyone during the day, to just walk and rest when I like. It would be lonely but hey, there’s only one state left. Just a hundred miles to Colorado, and then after Colorado I’m done.

I think I’m ready to hike solo for a bit.

Photos on instagram