I wake up to Jukebox and Homework shuffling. They’re so quick every time, up and out the proverbial door with record speed and I’ve come to accept that mornings and nights might be the only times I get to see these friends. This is just the way it is, and instead of mentally berating myself for not adapting in the same way they have, I decide to let it go. With the way my knees felt last week, it’s a miracle I can hike at all.
This fact is so obviously and completely true, and still I have to remind myself. Isn’t it amazing how deeply it sinks in that we should always go harder, do more? I’m comforted by the fact that culturally, we’re all basically never enough- so fuck it. Why try to keep up with some idealized version of yourself when you can just be where you’re at.
Besides, Carrot is next to me and the morning is glowing. The smoke from wildfires both North and South is definitely in the air today and it turns everything a brilliant pink, bathing the dawn in an Easter egg glow. We do our two people in a tent shuffle, reaching for our Gatorade bottles and respective protein powders and granolas. I make my coffee, she sips her tea and we talk about mileage and her ankle and my knees. Yesterday we did nineteen-ish miles and I’m creaky but ok. Carrot’s ankle feels somewhere between good and good enough and so what else is there to do? We’ll walk.
About two miles in I stop to pee, check guthook for our next reliable water source, and cue up my library book. I notice that it’s the 13th today, which makes me smile. Six months ago, Carrot and I shared our first kiss for the second time (we also dated briefly ten years ago, but that’s a whole other story) and I tell her. We take a couple of kissing selfies to celebrate and then we put the phone down and just kiss. Getting to know someone intimately is so interesting. I’d already cared about and respected Carrot for many years by the time we kissed this time around, in that way that far away acquaintances do- but the more I get to know her the more I see the truth : Carrot is a national TREASURE.
We meander up an easy climb sometimes talking, sometimes not. Carrot breaks a bit ahead, I get incredible reception on a ridge and text with friends whomst I miss, asking about their girlfriends, and their dogs, and their feelings and their jobs. Six miles in I find Carrot resting at a gentle little stream, water formed into a perfect funnel by a lush curled leaf. I fill my water bottles and our first snack break commences.
I’m running low on food. Not low on calories exactly, but low on food I’m going to like eating. I’ve ravaged all my vegan m&ms and soy curls Jerkee and Juanitas jalapeño tortilla chips. My peanut butter Nature Valley granola bar stash is woefully low, I have half a bar of chocolate to my name and even my nut butter packet supply is limited. How did this happen? I budgeted in about a billion calories a day and still I ate all the good shit first and my last two days of hiking are looking like they’re going to be 100% lower sugar granola and gluten free pretzels. Dang.
We continue up a burn zone, that turns out to be ten sandy miles of exposure, ash, and eroded trail. It’s hot! It’s steep! We’re thirsty! But fuck if the little tiny post burn foliage isn’t slowly creeping up and the cicadas aren’t tchk-tchk-tchking away around the ridges. Nature finds a way, my dudes, and it’s incredible.
The “start today” tattooed on my ankles completely disappears under a blanket of soot. We climb and climb and climb through old wildfire refuse and new wildfire smoke and then the downhills begin. Every day that I’ve hiked the downhills have inspired pain. Could be a dull ache, could be a roaring lion clawing my joints from the inside out. Today the downhill starts and I’m going for quite some time before I notice my knees. A miracle.
Eventually the burn gives way to sun dappled temperate forest and we hike to the Mike Urich cabin, a dwelling maintained by a local snowmobile club and open to the public. In the last mile of my hike my stomach has begun to ROIL in hunger, and I have imagined every last bite of my dinner in extreme detail. I arrive both ecstatic to eat and endlessly excited to see Jukebox and Homework waiting on the porch, both of them having arrived hours earlier. While we make dinner Carrot and I tell the boys the story of how we fell in love and somehow this turns into all of us singing Papa Roach (again), this time changing the lyrics to reflect a story we made up about an imaginary highly specific thru hiker porn, which highlights the Sawyer squeeze as a key player. The sun sets and I laugh and laugh and laugh, so grateful for my friends and my healing knees and this whole thing, really. I am tremendously happy.