I burrow into my sleeping quilt and I curl and uncurl my toes. During yesterday’s perfectly regular 20 miles of hiking my toes started to ache in a way that shot up the back of my legs and zinged right back down, mostly concentrating in stabby jabs at my pinky. I’ve never had any particular toe pain before, but then again I’d never had any particular knee pain before this walk and then…I did. Long distance hiking sure shows one a lot about the various places that they can feel various pains! Carrot and I decide it’s like a wheel of fortune situation- every day we spin the wheel and discover where the new aches will lie.
By the time I sit up to heat my oatmeal and instant coffee at 5:54 AM, my toes have chilled. I own exactly two pairs of socks for this hike, one thicker than I’d generally like but fine enough and one with little sequestered individual toes. I am convinced that the toe socks are the culprit of this new pain, and I toss them aside. I now have exactly one pair of socks for this hike and that suits me just fine.
I pitter patter around, doing who knows what and when I am finally ready to walk, it is 7:20 AM. Even when I think I’m moving quick in the morning it takes me 90 minutes to get going and when I exclaim this to Carrot, full of surprise- she only laughs.
“I know it takes you 90 minutes!” she says. “I see it every day!”
I want to go 25 miles today, though I can’t say what it is about that number that keeps entrancing me. I tuck the desire deep into my heart and keep it there, holding it close. I will see how we feel. I think. If we feel good, maybe we will walk 25 miles.
We are blessed with both a golden sunrise and gentle, mercifully flat tread for five fast glorious miles. Everything is golden around me and I feel very quiet while I walk, step after step on the low dewy trail. I love to fucking hike! I think. I love the Tahoe Rim Trail! and sort of apropos of nothing I think: I LOVE BEING ALIVE!!!!!!
By nine AM the TRT reaches a junction that indicates a left turn will both keep me on the trail and guide me to the PCT. I am fucking THRILLED to remember that the TRT and the PCT overlap and somehow even more thrilled when the flat gives way to a steep incline. My only real experience with the PCT was Washington so suffering up and down giant ridges feels exactly right, just like home. Though the TRT has enchanted the shit out of me in the last two days I am very excited to do the homey suffer walk of the PCT. Let’s fucking SWEAT I think. This is HARRRRRD I smile.
I come across tree after tree with slick bark and stark curves. The trees are far apart at first, but then grow close, wrapping around one another. I google “trees that hug” and find nothing concrete to identify the species. Again, I promise myself I’ll learn more, that next time around I’ll know exactly what to call the trees that hug. They’re beautiful and I like them and I am excited to learn to call them by their names.
At lunch I meet up with Carrot and we eat granola and vegan peanut m&ms and fake jerkey for me + real jerkey for her. We’re tired of our dry bits of food and really want plump items with all of their natural moistures. We want to wipe juices off of our chins, to use our water to clean up hands sticky from fresh fruit. My phone vibrates (is the constant service on the TRT a blessing or a curse?) and I am excited to see a message from my friend Deanna on the other end.
“The Tahoe Rim Trail!” Deanna says. “I was just thinking of backpacking out there this weekend. Holler if you guys want company and/or trail magic from yours truly!!”
DO WE WANT COMPANY AND/OR TRAIL MAGIC?! Of COURSE we want company and/or trail magic!
I am excited. We’ve had so many friends hike with us this month and it is incredible to be on trails so geographically accessible to people that I love that they can just pop in or out. I tell Deanna that yes, we definitely want all of what she has to offer and she responds by giving us one more gift: we’re hitting Desolation Wilderness today, a stretch of trail that is said to be stupid beautiful, with some hot and rocky terrain we’re sure to love. Just before Desolation Wilderness there is a STORE, Deanna reports- it’s right on trail and the snack game is excellent. I trust Deanna’s assessment of what an excellent snack game would be for us- she’s been vegan before and besides, I know Deanna and I know she likes good food. I cannot fucking WAIT.
I say the word store over and over again in my brain as I ascend in the heat. Step, step, step, STORE. Step, step, step, STORE. I fantasize about what will be at the store as Carrot surges ahead, buoyed by her own snack fantasies. What will we eat?! I think. Will there be watermelon?
.25 miles from the store and I get a text from Carrot that tells me two beautiful truths:
- the store had hummus and carrots and
- she’s sitting in a patch of shade with one of each, waiting for me to arrive.
I surge down the the Lake Chalet and I push open the door, hands nearly shaking in anticipation. I walk straight to a cooler, past the carrots and the hummus that are already waiting for me and straight to the fruit. There are blackberries, which I snatch up and then- because the universe loves me and wants me to be happy I can only assume- there is one thick wedge of watermelon. I cannot believe my eyes or my luck and I fill my arms with these things + two Coke Zeros because for some reason on trail I like Diet Soda, though I know it is categorically disgusting.
I stumble to my love’s shady patch and we eat our treasures, dazed. Carrot says that she felt strange in the store, that her hands were so dirty that she felt embarrassed handing over her cash to pay. I look at my own hands, and yes- we are equally caked in filth, dust embedding itself in every curve of our fingernails and line across our palms. It feels so normal in the woods, to be so covered in filth. My own blissful ignorance around how we look prevented me from giving my own dirty hands even the slightest of thoughts.
It’s late in the afternoon, and assess our situation: I have my desire to do 25 miles still tucked close, but when we look at time and camping options, we decide that 24-ish miles is probably as far as we’ll make it today. We have nine more miles to the campsite we decide on and now we get to do those nine miles on fiber and fresh fruit and fake sugar and caffeine. We use the pit toilet and throw away our trash at the store (Have you ever SEEN a luxury as beautiful as a trashcan?!) and we began to climb.
We enter Desolation Wilderness and it is rocky and steep. Coke Zero surges through my bloodstream and I’m stopping every few hour or so to eat shot blocks and try to hydrate. The temperature climbs and my brain focuses on one singular word as I try to crush. Hot. It is really fucking hot.
The sun sets and the brown rocks saturate, turning to glowing pink mountain. I am taking it all in as much as I can while trying to hike as fast as possible in order to pitch our tent while there’s still a shred of daylight. My knees, the knees that have been so pain free, twinge just a little on the rock. Is this even healthy? I wonder. These long walks where you more or less ignore your pain and eat only the most garbagey of garbage?
I decide that long distance hiking is maybe not healthy until it is. The cold and the heat and the work and the pain and the deprivation…the ignoring of your body somehow brings you closer to it then you’ve ever been before. I sure as fuck don’t know why, but it feels mentally healthy for me to be doing this very hard thing. Maybe eventually I’ll be strong enough for it to be physically healthy, too.
Carrot pitches our shelter in near darkness, with the light of just a few dusky rays. I cook my dinner and eat it from my sleeping bag, thinking of the splendor and the rock and my goals and my physical sorrows and emotional highs. I’m in love with my hiking partner and my quilt and the trail and maybe a little bit with myself. Feels good, man. Feels fuckin’ good.