We wake at Barker Pass trailhead and today I am excited. We’re resting today! Not only that we’re resting EARLY. There is absolutely nothing like thinking you have 20 more miles until rest and then instead taking rest right fucking now. I am thrilled.
We meet another Tahoe Rim Trail thru hiker at the trailhead, and it is my first! Her name is Marshmallow and she is systematically carving a white peach as I meander over to the pit toilet. Fresh fruit is something I regularly fantasize about on trail, so when she offers me a slice on my way back I am delighted.
There are a million ways that strangers can be kind to one another and thru hiking truly highlights how grateful I am for every single one of them. Human generosity is a gift I think, as peach juice dribbles down my chin. I offer Carrot a bite, and she says I can keep the slice all for myself. That, too feels like human generosity.
We pack up the tent and begin an eight mile road walk to town. We’ve decided that we’ll hitchhike, but there’s very little traffic with which to wave our thumbs at, which leaves us walking on pavement. Walking on pavement is just categorically uncomfortable compared to the soft dirt we’ve been hiking on, but morale is high and we pass the time talking about the sonoran dessert and coming of age in the punk scene and what the future might hold. We pass a Sprinter van that is both shiny and new and we talk about what the buildout might look like. “They have tons of shelving” we say. “A ceiling vent and an awning to relax under when they park. I bet they have a built in stove and a shower!” We are excited for them, these lucky van dwellers. Being able to see anything you can drive to with all the comforts of home sounds incredible.
We road walk for three miles, and every twenty minutes or so a cyclist pounds up the hill and zooms back down as fast as he can. “You’re doing great!” we yell, and he gives a thumbs up. The cyclist is the only moving vehicle we see and we consider that we might be walking the entire eight miles to town, which is fine. WE’RE GONNA FUCKIN REST EVEN IF WE HAVE TO WALK TO GET THERE! YEAH!
We speak in our dog’s voices. We’ve passed many hours with Carrot as Kinnickkinnick (shrill, grating, full of longing, aggressively not into people crying or having sex, generally in search of food) and me as Quito (slow, not the sharpest tool in the shed, definitely thinking about shitting in the house). Miss the comforts of home? Talk in dog voice! Tired of walking? Talk in dog voice! Hungry? Tired? Lonely? Dog voice! Dog voice! Dog voice!
We see the shiny sprinter van zip down the curve of the road. It’s the only car of the morning, and somewhat miraculously, it pulls right to the shoulder and they throw open the door.
“Muffy! Carrot!” the woman says and I wonder briefly if I am hallucinating. Am I staring into the mirage of a perfect ride?!
I am not staring at a mirage of a perfect ride. I am staring at Chelsea and Dakota, who do indeed have an extremely rad van buildout- they’ve been traveling for three years with this incredible buildout, and they also happen to know our friend Nicole, who is southbounding the PCT as I type. I ask all about Chelsea and Dakota’s travels and as time passes in the close quarters of the Sprinter it becomes clear how extremely dirty Carrot and I are. Through my excitement for town! a ride! some friends! I am also embarrassed.
Chelsea and Dakota drive us directly to the Safeway in town and ask us to brunch. I am both grateful and know we have to decline because suddenly all I can think of are these needs:
I know I can’t be a good conversationalist when the dirt and the grime and the exhaustion are just sitting on me like a heavy coat and after some debate, Carrot and I decline. It’s weird to say no to people being so nice? But we do it anyway, because boundaries. Boundaries don’t come at all naturally to me, but I need them especially when I am run down and I sure do a better job taking care of myself when I try to remember they exist.
Safeway is a veritable smorgasbord of perfect foods. I buy romaine lettuce, watermelon juice, vegan and gluten free Oreos, berries, hummus and carrots, coldbrew, kombucha, baked tofu and a secret box of daiya mac and cheese as a trail surprise for Carrot. We check out and I feel like I’m underwater, unable to make even the most basic of small talk with my cashier. We stumble to the thrift store for throwaway clothes (the errands suddenly feel nearly impossible and never ending) and at last, we reach the launder mat.
Carrot is wearing long basketball shorts the color of fresh grass. I am wearing my own strange shorts, a cotton pair of entirely medium length with an elastic waist and large front facing pockets. We spread our food out on the counter and slowly go down the line. Berries/carrots/hummus/cookies/kombucha/tofu wrapped in romaine/berries/carrots/hummus/cookies/kombucha/tofu wrapped in romaine/berries/carrots/hummus/cookies/kombucha/tofu wrapped in romaine again and again and again as our clothes tumble around in the washing machine, blackening the water. A bevy of bystanders keep asking if we’re hiking the TRT. They’re wondering if we’ve read Wild and they keep saying that Cheryl Strayed is crazy. I hate the notion that a woman deciding to have an adventure is crazy, and eventually I just turn my back to them. Would anyone call a man doing this hike “crazy”? I’m fucking tired.
We gather up the world’s tiniest piles of clean laundry, our packs and our half eaten food and we walk just down the street, to America’s Best Value Inn. Carrot lets me shower first and as the water flows, so does the dirt, straight down my arms and legs. I am tired, so tired and the tired is doing something- it’s crowding my insides and clouding up and it’s turning to sad. I dry myself off and deeply zone out in the hotel room with my writing and the sick feeling that’s settled into my breastbone.
I hate moods and I don’t understand why they happen. I especially don’t understand why they happen like 80% of the time I go to town.
There are details to work out: my friend Deanna is going to join us for the second half of the TRT, the water pump at Marlette Lake is broken, which leaves us with a 37 mile dry stretch. Deanna offers to cache water, we meticulously plan our drops, and the static in my head is exhausting even with the good logistics distraction. There are a million reasons to feel sad, but I don’t want to be the kind of person that just goes dark because everyday conflict instantly pushes me into a weird shame spiral and my brain can’t stop thinking about how I never get anything right, how I can’t always anticipate the needs of the people that I love and how it makes me feel frozen and stunted, about how I skip out on brunch with perfectly nice people who just want to chat. I feel small and I want to disappear.
We turn out the lights, crawl into bed with a plan to set out by ten the next morning, and I am quiet.
“Do you know you’re worthy of love?” Carrot asks me.
“Today might just not be a worthy of love day” I say as tears start to well up in my eyes. I am hoping to try again tomorrow.