Tick Tock leaves tomorrow and she wants to get to a road early enough to hitch to her car while it’s still light out. Jukebox and Homework are natural early risers, up and out to hike with the sun. They collectively decide that tomorrow will be a 26 mile day to make that hitch happen.
I have a sinking feeling in my gut. It really does seem like Carrot and I aren’t going to be hiking with our friends again. Neither of us are likely to be up and ready to hike at six and besides, I don’t feel ready for 26 miles after yesterday’s accidental 24. Lifting my spoon to my mouth feels hard in the moments they are all working out logistics and when they ask Carrot and I to join, I feel a little hopeful that I can make it happen and also a little disappointed that it doesn’t seem realistic.
“If I can get my ass in gear, I’ll be out of the tent and ready to go at six” I say. “If I can’t….maybe don’t wake me up.”
My eyes crack to first morning light at 6:20AM and before I even fully open them, I know my friends are gone. I wish I’d given them a more ceremonious goodbye (who knows when we’ll meet up with Homework and Jukebox again given our pace variations?!) but I was so exhausted I didn’t even hear them pack and leave. I suppose that says something.
Carrot and I have developed our own language on trail, where every word is just a little bit different then how you’d pronounce them regularly. This morning we become extremely enthusiastic about our breakfast cereal and protems (protein powder). We’re also excited about our tep (KT tape) and snecks (a great two for one word that can either mean a slithery wiggler or a tasty morsel). What I’m trying to say here is that it’s getting weird out here in the woods and I like it.
I blissfully spoon Reese’s puffs and Cheerios and protems into my mouth and wiggle my toes. I expected to wake up absolutely and completely wrecked from the previous day’s work, but so far from in my cozy sleeping bag, I am almost alarmingly able to function. I have zinging pains gently shooting up my calves and hamstrings but they are like, chill pains. Just gentle little pains to remind me that I am both alive and doing a thing.
I eat, I drink my coffee, I pack my bag and I stand up to go dig my cat hole and poop. This is the final reckoning, the standing up. It shall be the truth teller of my physical state. I rise and still I’m …fine. What do you know?
We began our morning with a ten mile climb. It is a gentle, lilting thing- the kind of climb with straightforward motion, little technical difficulty, and abundant opportunity to turn the brain off and just move. The PCT is not always merciful but today it is and I’m grateful for my body and my strength, grateful to autopilot up the mountain with it’s huckleberries and thimbleberries and salmonberries for me to eat. I could be hobbling and miserable, but today I am not.
I want to know all the details of this land I am walking on. I want to know what these plants are that I am starting to deeply love and how to tell the second growth forest from the third growth forest. I want to know who’s land this is, because I am very clear that as a white person, it’s certainly not mine. I did not grow up with nature. I didn’t have anyone showing me the wonder of the forest and I didn’t know enough to seek it out. I am so curious about this place as I walk and I commit to learning. It’s the least I can do.
Carrot and I meet at a creek for lunch and I splash water on my hands and my face. I finish yet another bag of chips and I think again about me and the land. I think about the necessary union of this naturally perfect place and my chip bags and my cat holes and my toilet paper and my toothpaste spit. It’s such a conflict: I deeply enjoy this opportunity to be alive in this particular way and also I know that humans are ruining it all and someday we’ll all die and honestly the planet will be better off. Something big will happen and the Earth will be fucked at first but then the trees and the vines will grow, the microflora will work double duty, the animals will proliferate and run the show, uninterrupted at last. These thoughts are soothing and disturbing at the same time.
We agree to hike four and a half hazy more miles to a cascading stream for an event I’ve lovingly come to refer to as second lunch. (I would also accept first dinner). I arrive and I learn that the “cascading” prefix for stream means it will be giant and expansive and rocky and just a little technical to cross. Carrot is waiting for me across the rushing water on an open patch. I cannot hear her over the stream so she pantomimes a few different options for crossing, and I make it over after a couple of tries, completely dry.
We dine again, and plan to go just under eight more miles, in an effort to clock in a 21.8 mile day. I’ve felt alarmingly good all day, the walking is so much easier than it was yesterday and I’m grateful. I’ve done a significantly better job fueling myself for this stretch (turns out I need more calories than even your average woman hiker to not lose weight, which I emphatically do not want to do) and it shows. I’ve been miserable sometimes- hot, achey, and frustrated- and the smoke has made me have some trouble breathing but I have not had the empty cavernous hunger feeling that fucks with me so hard. Thank the goddess for my good friend chips. Moar and moar chips.
As we walk, the smoke thickens and the hot pink sun beats down, threatening to punch right out of the sky and engulf us. Carrot and I have a comfortable groove of mostly hiking apart and meeting up at designated break spots, and when I find her sitting on the trail, I know something has gone awry.
“I rolled my bad ankle, and it hurt so so bad” she says. “I have a proposition for you.”
She suggests we go just a little further Instead of a medium amount further. There is a lake that is perfect for swimming, a pit toilet, and a nice camp spot just up ahead and YES of course we will soak and rest our aching bodies and get Carrot off the ankle that likely needs to chill. Stopping later felt okay today, but as soon as the idea of stopping sooner was introduced it sounded much, much better.
“Great. Let’s do it.”
We arrived at our site at 6PM, a glorious time to set up camp (and a time we haven’t managed for this entire section.) before pitching the tent we scramble down to the lake and dunk and scrub and splash a little, fill our bottles, and spend a lot of time describing our future dinners in glorious detail.
“It will be the Daiya Mac and cheese tonight” we agree. “And it’s going to fucking rule.”
The cheeze is be even oozier, even yellower, even more ensconced in its oily sheen than ever before and it is indeed glorious. We eat an entire box each, with added peas and kale, for nutrition or whatever and then we dip granola bar chunks in peanut butter to top it off.
I pitch our little tent on the flattest campsite in awhile, and we dive into our sleeping quilts with light still out.
This is the best I think as I drift off. The literal absolute best.