I’m awake at 6 a.m. Fuck. This cot is still bliss, though. Resting is bliss, even if I can’t sleep. What does it even mean to sleep? What does it even mean to have a body? I lay still for another hour, watching the light lose its softness and then I sit up, into the great day. The others are stirring now too. I stand, swaying, and move my legs with great difficulty towards the restaurant, wincing in pain. My whole body feels swollen today. I got up three times in the night and stumbled into the moonlight to pee. It was so hard to walk I thought I would fall. And am I hydrated? I can’t tell.
At the breakfast buffet I fill my plate with peeled hardboiled eggs and about a dozen sausage links, plus a bowl of dry fruit loops. I pour a cup of black coffee and sit on the deck of the restaurant and watch some sparrows fight over a single onion ring in the dirt. Oh shit, here comes a dove! Eight sparrows vs one dove, choose your fighter. In the end, a handful of sentient beings score a bit of onion ring each and everyone else gets none. Nature is both full of astonishing detail and blind, like a hand tossing neon skittles into the dark.
Laurie makes a beautiful waffle in the waffle maker and sprinkles it with chocolate chips. Pilar labors over a very hard to peel orange. Plants is vegan, so he makes a stack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so high it’s like something out of a children’s book.
We talk about plans for the day. Should we hike a half day to China garden spring, and camp there?
“Ok ok ok,” I say. “But what if we took the day off? I can barely walk.”
I’m not the only one in pain and in the end people are down, which fills me with great relief. I can’t remember ever being this sore, although I know from experience that soreness, once faded, is soon forgotten, and this time will be no different. How else is this the third time I’ve climbed to Telescope ridge from Badwater basin- for fun!
The day warms and we all nap on our cots in the wall tent, sweating a little in the heat. A single fly keeps landing on me, keeping me from actually sleeping. I stir and take an ibuprofen. I just hurt so bad all over. It’s hard to imagine right now, when my legs are this swollen and sore, but tomorrow I am going to feel better, and I’m going to drink cold coffee in the morning and I am going to be STOKED to hike.
Laurie needs service and we also want to move Pilar’s car here to make our drive back out shorter, so the others hatch a plan to hitch to Furnace creek to fetch the car and get snacks and service on the way. Pilar painstakingly draws the most beautiful hitching sign on a hunk of cardboard torn from our resupply box, and they set out. I lay alone in the canvas tent, working on my blog for a time and then limp to the restaurant and order a chef salad and fries. I overhear two older biker dudes at the table behind me talking about issues with their parents. Their tones of voice change when they talk about their parents- it’s like they become children again, even though they’re both probably in their sixties. I am reminded how long that original wounding stays with us. It’s embedded in us like a terrible deep splinter, sore and inflamed, until we die. And then, after we die, where does it go?
In the evening I buy an ice cream bar and eat it in front of the general store, watching the sun set over the Panamint valley. The evening air has a whiteness to it that softens the light. The mountains look extra parched. There’s Telescope ridge, where we came over from Badwater basin. There are the tiny lights of cars, creeping along the highway in the gloaming.
The others return from their adventure, with Pilar’s car. It’s full dark now, and the crickets are screaming.
“Why do you long distance hike?” asks Plants. We’re in the canvas tent. I’m lying on my cot, feeling restless and exhausted at the same time. I say something about intimacy with nature, learning about the land, sleeping on the ground. Learning new skills.
Plants tells me about his huge family, who lives in LA. His parents are undocumented. His biological father was a violent drunk.
“My mom left him, and he got himself deported rather than pay child support. She met a new man, my stepfather. He was amazing. They were together a long time. Then a few years ago, he was arrested. He spent a year in an ICE detention facility, before he was deported too.”
“Oh my god,” I say.
“I used to drink a lot,” continues Plants. “After Trump was elected I was in a dark place. I was so worried about Trump’s immigration policies. Then I got sober and discovered running. Running became my escape. But I ran too many races in a year and injured myself. So I started long distance hiking. That’s my escape now.”
“I use long distance hiking as an escape too,” I say. “The problem is that, in the end, I always have to go back to the regular world. It hasn’t made dealing with my problems in the regular world any easier. If anything, it’s made it harder. And every year, long distance hiking becomes less effective at actually taking me out of my life.
“Recently I’ve become so fucking sick of myself. Sick of my lack of coping mechanisms, sick of my need to run away. I realized that I have to face my trauma. I have to go through it. I have to feel all that terrible pain. I don’t know if I’ll ever heal completely, because how long does that take? How long does a human life even last? But I have to start the process, at least. I realized that the crippling anger and frustration I feel on the reg, that incredible desire to run away- these things are just masks for my true feeling, the feeling that is so large inside me it’s like a sea that I can drown in. That feeling is grief. I feel like the grief is so big and powerful that it can kill me. I’m terrified.”
“Anger is so much easier to feel than grief,” says Plants, in the dark.
We fall silent. There’s not really anything else to say. I realize I’m crying a little, and I wipe the water from my eyes. There’s a long zipping sound, and Laurie and Pilar pull open the front flap of the tent.
“We just had the best burgers at the restaurant,” says Laurie. “What are you two doin?”
“Just chattin,” I say.
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