Mile 737 to mile 755
I wake in the quiet forest and sit up in my bag and eat handfuls of food, listening to the silence. It’s still, windless, not even the air is moving. I feel my bag- no condensation. What a peaceful place, I think.
I’m hungry and I eat kind of a lot of my food. More than usual, anyway. I poke around in my bear canister. Am I going to have enough? I stuff my things away and hoist my pack. I clip my hip belt. Lurch, lurch goes my stomach.
I suddenly feel as though I’m going to puke.
“You guys go ahead,” I tell the others. “I’ll catch up.”
I walk for a few minutes and then I sit on a big flat rock next to the trail and watch the light move through the trees. I’m way up high and in the distance I can see more mountains, empty space, the sky. The whole world is still and the air smells good, like pine pitch. Altitude sickness, I think. Why did I eat so much breakfast.
After a half hour my nausea passes and I walk on. I feel better now, lighter. I’m on top of the world, I think. I’m on top of the world and I’m free.
A little while later there is a clear stream bubbling over stones and I find the others, slouched in the dirt on their sleeping pads. Everyone, it turns out, is feeling the alititude at least a little bit- with the exception of Track Meat, who feels nothing and is way ahead. I sit on the ground next to the stream and eat some more of my food. Don’t eat too much, I tell myself. Don’t make yourself sick again. But it’s hard- I’m so hungry. It’s the climbing, I think. Before the Sierra it was just walking, walking all day. And now, it’s climbing. Up and up and up.
Afterwards I hike alone, thinking about the food I ate at the stream, and the nausea returns. So I think about watermelon instead. The trail is hot and dry and steep and watermelon sounds like the best thing ever. I imagine eating a big red piece of watermelon. I imagine the juice dripping down my hands. My stomach begins to calm down. Digest that food, I tell my stomach. It’s good food. Pretend it’s watermelon if you need to. You can’t afford to waste it.
All day we hike and break, hike and break, hike and break. We are slow today, we are taking it easy. We are above eleven thousand miles, we are climbing way up into the Sierra. Where are we even going? No-one can say.
We climb in the heat and then, in the afternoon, we reach a lake. It is our first lake. It is clear and shallow and it sits in a little hollow at the base of some gravelly slopes, sparkling like glass. Track Meat and Spark are there, lounging on the green grass in the bright yellow sun. Golden Hour, NoDay and I take off our clothes and jump into the clear shallow lake. The water is hypothermia-cold and we gasp as we paddle out. Then we lay on a warm flat rock and in the sun to dry.
“I’m so happy,” I say. “So happy.”
MeHap arrives and we shout at him until he jumps in the lake too.
Then we lounge in the grass until dusk, telling stories, laughing, and cooking little pots of food. It’s a fun adventure, every day, to get in and out of our bear canisters- they’re difficult to open and I regularly put things like gatorade powder in there and then I must, in the middle of the day, unpack everything and struggle to open my canister. MeHap jokes that they’re our regulation nightstands-
“In the Sierra,” he jokes, “all necessary sleeping objects must be elevated above the ground.”
After eating I feel like I’m going to throw up again, but there’s nothing to do but walk. We climb and climb in the dusk, and I fall behind the others. Oof, I say, as I feel my stomach lurch beneath my hipbelt. Oof. I reach a dim trail junction and there is an arrow, drawn with a trekking pole in the sand. This is how thru-hikers tell each other which way is the PCT. I follow the arrow down a hill and into a damp, cool valley and then I check my GPS and discover that I’m actually on the wrong trail. I backtrack, jogging a little in the dusk. At the junction I stamp out the arrow and draw a new one with my shoe, pointed in the right direction. When I finally reach the clearing where the others are I find them in their sleeping bags, ready for bed. There’s hardly any light. It’s cold already and I hurry to get into my sleeping bag too. We have storytime, me huddled down in my sleeping bag with just my hands sticking out, switching hands that hold the phone so I can warm the other one for a little while. Then it’s all quiet in the still forest, way up high. Goodnight, I say to the stars, before I pull the sleeping bag over my face.