I know I shouldn’t, but I fall asleep at six PM. I’ve hiked 80 miles so far and slept poorly the night before on top of that and try as I might, I cannot keep my eyes open. I sleep for 12 hours, with a brief intermission at 3am where I am awake to pee and fantasize about petting dogs and seeing Carrot and eating various foods and I rise for real at 5:45. TODAY IS TOWN DAY AND I CANT WAIT. Dogs and Carrot and fresh food are right around the corner.
Homework is gone before the rest of us are even out of our tents and Dad and Jukebox wait for me as I go over all my gear twice to make sure everything is just so. We load out and start what turns out to be a miserable five miles into town, a slog where I take all the downhills backwards because my knees are fucked the fuck up. We arrive to the road that leads to Trout Lake at exactly 9:00am and just as I am trying to figure out which way we go on the road that takes us the 13.5 miles into town, Homework rolls up in the passenger seat of a truck with Washington plates.
“Load up!” He says “Gary’s taking us straight to the diner!”
The ride into town is gentle. We are all laughing a lot and saying basically nothing, just speaking in the inside jokes that we’ve cultivated over four days of walking. I am both incredibly happy and incredibly sad, because I know I’m going to need to take an extra day, maybe many extra days of rest on account of the fact that my knees have turned to bare gear grinding on bare gear, complete with shooting sparks of pain and tremendous creak. My friends aren’t injured, not really anyway, and so they’ll rest one day and pack up and out tomorrow in the morning. I just wish they’d wait for me, even if I do understand why they won’t. I get it and it also breaks my heart.
The sun splashes longways at us and I elevate my knee on Dad’s pack as we wiz down Road 23. I want to take a picture of the moment, capture this togetherness and keep the feeling in my pocket if I need it, but that’s not how these things work so I try to soak it in completely, experience it up my arms and into my neck, down through all my fingers, all around my torso and into my legs and in each of my toes. This is a time I do not want to forget.
We’re dropped off at Trout Lake Grocery and immediately there are many chores to do. We want a hotel room to share, and we know there are a huge amount of hikers that want just the same thing right behind us. We need to pick up our boxes. We NEED (and I mean need) coffee that is not instant and food and to wash every square inch of our bodies with real live soap and actual clean running water.
It is a flurry of activity, and we are stupefied by the pace an actual town provides. Within an hour or so we’ve secured a hotel room with a jacuzzi that we can check into at 2PM. We’ve had insanely delicious smoothies made only of huckleberries and rice milk and ice. I’ve caffeinated twice, and laid languidly on the lawn and set up station at the diner. In a fit of genius I cobble together a vegan meal (a sandwich of sourdough bread, hash browns, ketchup, side salad and balsamic vinaigrette) and then I stare and stare and stare at absolutely nothing at all. Our room won’t be ready for a few hours and so we wait.
Carrot has promised to bring us giant steaming plates of stir fried vegetables and tofu in curry sauce and brown rice with kombucha and bubble water to boot. Additionally she is bringing me a short sleeved shirt to replace my tank top on account of my shoulder chafe and some kinesiology tape for my knees. She is due to arrive at 5:45PM and everyone grows more and more impatient as the hours march on. “Where’s Carrot?!” they ask. “Is it time to see Carrot yet?”
We check into our hotel and thus the battle over whomst showers when begins.
“Dibs on first shower!” Calls Homework.
“I got second!” Jukebox and I say in unison.
“I booked the hotel room so actually it is I who shall go first!” declares Dad.
Dad wins, but eventually all of our showers come and when they do, they are transcendent. The water is hot and perfect. I’d sent myself fancy shampoo samples and tea tree oil soap in my resupply and I used extra of absolutely everything, sudsing and rinsing until the water ran black, then brown, then gray, then clear. What an incredible feeling.
The jacuzzi is cold-ish. I find this out when I show up in my underwear and bra with a towel around me and my entire crew greets me with diabolical grins, claiming it is perfect and I should hop right in. We sit in the tepid tub and laugh and laugh and laugh. If you choose a hotel based on a jacuzzi of course it will be cold. It’s like, the law.
There is nothing left to do but wait for Carrot and I do, sitting in my fake bathing suit on the tiny square of front lawn near the parking lot of our hotel, pretending to read my library book while I glance at the time every few minutes.
The sun sinks a bit in the sky and paints the parking lot golden. Carrot’s van rounds the corner of the lot, kicking up dust in its wake and I pop up and my knees scream in pain. I am undeterred in my enthusiasm, ecstatic that she has come from the Noatak River, to Kotzebue, to Fairbanks, to Portland, to Trout Lake, Washington. The tiny chihuahuas spring from the van, jumping and hopping and yelping and licking like they do and Carrot runs straight out of the drivers seat and into my arms. I hug as tight as I can, and then I scoot closer, so my feet are in between her feet. Sometimes when I see her I can’t kiss her immediately, because there’s been so much longing, so much desire, so much unbridled emotion swimming around inside of me for weeks and it all feels like too much at once to just go in and put my face on her face. Instead I smell her hair and say “oh my god, hi.” into her neck. I can’t believe this person loves me, drove all this way to be with me.
Carrot produces five bottles of Polar sparkling water, a huge vat of spinach and kale with vegan ranch, four New Seasons hot woks, cold brew coffee, unsweetened almond milk, baked tofu, gluten free bread and a gigantic watermelon. You know, real life foods, complete with all of their originally possessed waters. In the absence of a knife, I filet the whole melon open using my spork and proceed to fall into sweet hydrating fruit heaven, a place where I eat and eat and eat my watermelon and still it is cold and bright and pink and above all, abundant. I fucking love watermelon. I never want this one to end.