If mice run over me in the night, I do not feel it. Another perfect eight hours of sleep, squirreled away against the ravages of waking life. My little pocket thermometer says 39 degrees so it is warmer in this cabin than outside. We did good.
The sun rises over the huge wooden tram that once brought salt up from the saline valley. The colors are gold and pink. God’s colors. It looks as though you could step off this tram and fall to your death, into these colors. If the sun is rising always as the earth swings around it does that mean the sun is pushing a wave of gold and pink in front of it, at all times?
Our jeep road climbs another thousand feet, just to spite us, before the route leaves the road into a bunch of unmarked sagebrush and we follow bent leaves, faded animal tracks, and the occasional tumbled cairn.
We know only that now we are meant to go down. Six thousand feet of down. In about six miles. Going down is harder on the knees but it’s much faster than going up, at least there is that. Here is our ridge, like a toe headed west. Below us is the Owens valley, so completely flat. Across it is a cluster of trees, that’s Lone Pine. Somewhere in there is Carls Jr. We just have to make it to Carls Jr! Beyond that are the mounded lumps of the Alabama hills and then the High Sierra, rising over everything.
My body is a symphony of foot pain, chafe, and the itchy hives that have spread all over me, for some reason. This is the worst I’ve ever had these hives, but not the first time I’ve had them. I started getting them in 2017, and they seem to be getting worse every year. As far as I can tell, they’re activated by stress. And exhaustion. And junk food. Today I’m scratching while I walk, but the itch isn’t even in one place. It travels when I touch it, which is confusing. What even is going on with me? I think about the stress of both my dogs being in the hospital at once, the idea that I could lose both of them in a single night. How I didn’t sleep at all that night. My grandmother passing away a few days before. I still haven’t felt much about that. I don’t even know how I feel. Except, I do. It’s just under the surface of the skin. It’s waiting. I haven’t allowed myself to feel it yet.
I scratch my right arm. It feels as though the surface of my entire body is crawling. Things come out one way or another.
The final descent, picking our way carefully down loose rocks into Long John Canyon, is just as annoying as I remember it being. And the cottonwood tree at the bottom is just as wonderful, with its trembling canopy of shade. The accumulated pile of dried leaves below it must be three feet deep, and I sink gratefully into it, laughing, pretending I’m a little kid in the ball pit at McDonalds. It’s funny anyway until I lose my phone in the leaves, and it takes me some time to find. We rest here, eating chips and whatever bullshit is left in our food bags. Now there’s just this gravelly canyon and then the long hot walk across the Owens valley, flat asphalt to make the pain in my body sing. Just a seventeen mile day, I tell myself. You can do it.
On a whim Plants pulls up the Whitney permit page and refreshes it. And by some stroke of the most insane luck, there are four permits available for tomorrow. He reserves them as fast as he can, fumbling with his phone. We get to go up Tumanguya! Just like that. We get to finish the dang route!
By the time I get to Carls Jr I’ve decided that I never want to walk again, for as long as I live. Of course I just need to get off my feet for a few minutes, and the pain will be gone. I eat two huge lettuce wrapped cheeseburgers, a large fry, and some of Pilar’s shake. They mess up Pilar’s order, so they bring her a second shake for free. She shares this one with us as well. I scratch the hives on my legs as I eat. I’m filthy, my billowing white shirt stiff with sweat and covered in stains. I’m so tired I feel angry.
We shower at the hostel, and the hot water feels almost violent on my hives. I will learn later that hot water is not good for hives. Lol. The most incredible thing is that since my van is here, not only do I get to sleep in it tonight, but I have town clothes to change into!
I feel like I’m floating, walking around the grocery store in my comfy fresh threads deciding what gummies I want for our summit tomorrow. At dusk we park in the Alabama hills, and the others spread their bedrolls under the stars. I set my alarm for four a.m., knowing I won’t hardly sleep, and burrow under the blankets in my bed, listening to the wind.
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