(A short note: this post discusses domestic abuse. Please read only if that feels okay to hear about)
Before I open my eyes I scan my body. My knees are fine, my toes are fine (see you never again, toe socks). Every muscle, though, aches the deepest ache. 23.8 miles hurts, I tell ya. How does one ever hike 25?!
I roll over to Carrot and I tell her I’m wrecked. She, too, is her own kind of wrecked and we moan about the brutal nature of 23.8 miles until we laugh so hard my eyes start to tear up. This is the most I’ve ever hiked, for sure- but Carrot has hiked more, FAR more and is equally wrecked.
“23.8 miles is the new 40 miles!” she exclaims
“Have you ever even been NEAR someone who can hike as many miles as 23.8!?” I respond.
In addition to my aching muscles, I have developed a brutal case of inner thigh chafe. I like to feel very free in tiny shorts, and the drawback to that is my thighs like to rub and rub and rub and rub until they are raw hamburger meat, cooking with the friction of one another. Somehow, chafe is fungal, which means I spend my morning smearing vagisil uponst my seared thighs.
“Ew, ew, ew, ew” I say as I smear. I am a no synthetic scents person, and to me vagisil truly smells like shit.
Once I’ve attended to all my various maladies, I am excited. I love the morning, I love TRT, I love to hike!!!!!! I want to run up and down the rocky mountains and listen to rap music very loud. Carrot is set at a different frequency this AM, she still hasn’t shit and so she sends me off with a kiss on the cheek.
“Go crush, my Muffin” she says. “I will see you at lunch.”
It’s a good thing I’m pumped this morning because the climb up to Dick’s Pass is relentlessly steep and five miles long. I listen to Dark Light by Lovers as I ascend. It’s one of my favorite albums and it reminds me of old queer Portland, basement shows and glitter eye shadow and when butches had all the social currency so femmes were stuck giving one another competitive furtive glances instead of chatting like normal human beings. When I first came out as queer I had this idea that I would date other femmes: that we would give one another massages and fuck one another with manicured nails and share dresses. I asked a lot of femmes out in the year 2005 and the answer was always more or less the same: femme4femme was just Too Gay. (Boy howdy, am I glad the times have changed.)
Pikas are scrambling in and out of the rocks as I climb, demanding respect with their shrill little meeps. Some furry creature with giant yellow teeth and a big butt waddles forth and I am spellbound. Is that…some sort of beaver?
The temperature climbs as I crest the pass and cyclical negative thoughts start to take over. I am thinking about the dog I lost to my divorce, a mini schanuzer rescue named Tortellini. I have both gained and lost so much this year, almost in equal measure and it all feels exactly right except my decision to relinquish this dog to my ex. Tortie is an anxious dog, a friend that doesn’t like much shift or movement and my life is now 100% shift and movement and 0% anything else. Tortie will feel most stable with my ex, I agonized over that truth but as my feet pound the rocks I feel fucking heartbroken that I voluntarily gave up a creature that I love so much. Did I abandon him!? Does he even remember me?! What is this thing where you love something so much that you set it free?
Once I’ve exhausted my bad dog mom narrative, I shift to my parents. I remember very little about my childhood but today for some reason I remember my dad hovering over my step mom, drunk at 10:00AM on a Tuesday, and punching her in the face.
“I want to die” I’d said to my dad after I saw him hit my stepmom.
“You’re daughter is saying this makes her want to die” my stepmom had repeated, but my dad cared not. Instead he’d just hit and hit and hit and all I can remember of the incident is this 90 seconds, which plays in a loop.
By the time I land at our lunch spot at Middle Velma lake, I am so delirious with the exhaustion of thinking about my trauma that I don’t even want to eat. Instead I sit quiet and wait for Carrot, sipping water and rubbing at the dirt on my legs. What even happened I think. I was in such a good mood.
Carrot shows up about 45 minutes later, which is entirely uncharacteristic. I did leave before her, but she is just faster than I, so I was almost sure she’d catch up somewhere before the lake.
“I rolled my bad ankle!” she says.
“I had cyclical negative thoughts!” I respond.
We hug. We are good at holding space for one another, and sometimes talking about all the nuance of our pains and our trauma almost feels irrelevant because what we really want is care. Eventually, I tell her I’m sorry about the ankle and she shrugs. She tells me she’s sorry about my brain and I shrug too.
We start to talk and Carrot is telling me she’s reading a book that is oddly about Christianty. (We are not Christian, I bet you knew that?) She says she skips over the religious parts but that there are some morsels in there that are so good that they make her cry. One such morsel is this idea: the way we can forgive our abusers is to imagine them as children experiencing their own traumas. We can think of them young and scared and small and how their brains were shaped by all the various parts of their stories. It’s hard not to feel compassion when we think of our abusers as children.
We finish up our lunch bits and hike together, telling funny stories and speaking in dog voices for eight mile. I tell her about the weird beaver I saw and she suspects the creature was actually a marmot! We cut through scads and scads of reaching corn lilies until we reach Richardson’s lake, where we dive into the ceremonial washing of the chafe.
We are exhausted after our lake bath and both began to drag out our miles, Carrot just ahead of me and both of us silent. I round a bend and Carrot is sitting just off the path surrounded by dust, eyes unfocused and shoveling salami into her mouth.
“I feel like I’m dying”. Carrot says. “My body feels like it is dying.”
We have just six miles left to our camping spot, but a few miles before that is Barker Pass Trailhead. We’d planned a rest day about twenty miles from where we stood, but suddenly I remembered a glorious fact about the TRT: There are bail points at every junction. Our rest day could come early, a body that feels like it is dying deserves an early rest day.
I say this and as soon as it comes out of my mouth it is set. We will hike just a few miles more. We will carry enough water for our dinners and our breakfasts. We will cook at the picnic tables and shit in the pit toilet. In the morning we will hitch to town.
The forest is so good, but sometimes the body demands an outside world. Who are we to fight that fact?