There have been all these moments.
Tiny moments along the way where I know I should chill, but I do not. Not so tiny moments along the way that scream at me (yelps and surges rising directly from my knees) to let me know that very soon I am not going to have a choice but to slow.
I lay on the floor bending my knees when the straight starts causing shooting pain and straightening them when the bending does the same. I get up to pee and the squat to get down nearly knocks me over, I walk from hot tub, to hotel front lawn, to coffee shop, to diner and it is all uncomfortable, blinding, searing, ridiculous pain. L-O-L! This knee pain is bullshit, but not the kind of bullshit I can ignore away. The second I stop hiking for 24 hours I know I have to stop hiking for more. I want to go and go and go and go but, frustratingly, my body is telling me I have to stop. DUMB.
I am in Carrot’s van half asleep on the platform that is her bed when I accept this, a little embarrassed but also a little relieved. A long time ago I realized that much of my own suffering comes from refusing to accept the truth of a circumstance. Every time I am reminded of this fact and can convince myself to accept something I do not like, my life becomes a little more serene. I fucking love acceptance because it is instant and it is free and it has the power to change everything.
Here is what I accept:
My friends are just faster or stronger or *something* and I can’t keep their pace. I think I honestly could cover the same amount of miles in a day, but constantly skipping solid midday rest to semi keep up is A) ultimately really slowing me down and B) not actually working to keep a semblance of togetherness. My muscles are lowkey giant (I’m not bragging! The objective truth is that I just have big calves!) and they’re yanking the shit out of my joints and tendons. The lil bb cartilage bits that hold me together are just done.
Isn’t that something? The smallest parts can cause the biggest problems.
The next morning all of my friends are packing up. Dad and Jukebox are stuffing their resupply box treasures into every nook and cranny of their food bags and Homework is taking fastidious notes on the plan for the next few days going forward. We collectively decide that Carrot and I will hop ahead to Lake Takhlakh just East of the PCT fourteen miles north. If all feels well the next day, I will hike two miles down a side trail to meet them at their starting point at 8AM the next morning. If not, I will meet them Saturday in Packwood, skipping 66 miles of Washington. I hate the idea of this, but then I remember acceptance again and it’s all okay. This hike is a vacation and an excuse to take a long walk. It is not an attempt to set any records, or even really do a whole trail. If I need to skip 66 miles to take care of my knees and still get to hike with my friends then fine. So be it.
After iced coffee and hugs Dad, Jukebox, and Homework hitch a ride to the trail and I turn to see Carrot’s beautiful smiling face. We have dogs! and a portable home with a bed! and a lake to drive to! and abundant snacks! We drive to Lake Takhlakh with air conditioning blasting as we cut up North through far off wildfire smoke and haze. Sometimes the aux chord works and we have music, sometimes we fill the space talking about community and connection and our histories and our futures and sometimes we just content ourselves to look out the window and go. I want to be hiking but if I cannot be hiking then this is exactly where I’d choose to be instead.
Lake Takhlakh is near the base of Mt. Adams, which sits pink through the haze overlooking the placid water. We find a campsite with a perfect flat bit for van parking, carry out the cooler and make sandwiches of gluten free bread, our respective baked tofus and roasted chickens, spinach, baby kale and vegan ranch. I produce a crushed bag of sweet and savory ranch corn chips from my resupply and we dip them in the ranch sauce luxuriating in the finery that is vegan, gluten-free, organic junk food. Fake Cool Ranch Doritos and Fake Hidden Valley Ranch sauce. Now with added health!
We attempt to nap in the van and the temperature climbs outside. Neither of us slept well the night before. I was tossing and turning with the weight of my decision to rest, it was loud, there was drama (a day hiker got lost on the PCT and the sheriff was called! Said dayhiker was found, thankfully, but loudly shuttled to the hotel parking lot where we rested at 2AM). As we lay sweating atop Carrot’s thousand comforters at the peak of heat on a ninety degree day we begin to fantasize about the lake. “We could swim out there” we say, not getting up. “It could be nice.”
Eventually we do rise up and out of the van, sticky and determined. Lake Takhlakh is serene; there are only a few people and they float quietly in cheap inflatable floaties with sweating Diet RC Colas in hand. There is a single gray terrier enthusiastically swimming toward her owner, growing frightened and turning back, garnering courage and scooting forward, again growing frightened and turning back, in an endless loop forever and ever. I wade out in the warm clear water, past the logs and sticks at the banks, creep into the thick muddy area where the water hyacinth reaches toward the cloudless sky and the lake is up to my shoulders. I close my eyes and put my face toward the sun and I float.
Carrot surges forward into the deep part of the lake where you can’t touch the ground without your head submerged. I watch her from my inland perch but do not go forward both because I like to see my lover happy from just a little far away and because I am terrified to be in water taller than my whole body. I almost drowned in the ocean when I was 9, didn’t learn to swim until I taught myself at age 28, an act that took an immense amount of focus and bravery because to be honest I still look at the water (any water really) and am downright cowed by it.
Water can kill ya, man. I’m fucking sure of it.
The water did not kill us. It cooled us and revived us just enough to make dinner: little pots of rice noodles and sautéed spinach, with more added baked tofu for me and roasted chicken for Carrot. Topped with vegan ranch, because OMFG HAVE U TRIED VEGAN RANCH?!
My knees still hurt. I decide that it might be wise to rest until Packwood as I eat my last bite of oily ranched noodles and when I swirl water around my pot to clean it, it becomes definitive. I don’t have anything to prove except that I have the willingness and ability to hear what my body is saying and listen to what the fuck is up. I will rest a few more days, and that’s that.
Picture of me enjoying Lake Takhlakh, generously provided by the brilliant Carrot Quinn. Go read her writing- it’s, like, really good.