I’m almost finished reassembling all the pieces of my life here in Portland. Currently under a blanket with dogs piled on my lap, the rain falling torrentially outside, waiting for the tow-truck driver to appear to take my trailer to its new home. What happens beyond October is still a big tangled yarn-ball of uncertainty but the world, here, is painfully beautiful, in that way it can only be when you’ve been gone for a while, and I am so grateful for that. Also, dogs! I love them. I LOVE THEM.
Now I will write all the posts.
Mile 1345 to mile 1365
I dream I’m asleep in a cathedral, long rays of light coming through the colored glass windows and then I wake and it’s morning, yellow light filtering through the trees, the forest silent. I lay in my sleeping bag and let it wash over me, this peaceful place away from everything, this little clearing next to the trail.
I’m stiff today- yesterday was a thirty mile day and I’m still adjusting to the way those make my body feel. As it is I feel sort of hungover afterwards, stiff, and this morning I use my trekking poles like crutches as I stumble down the trail. At least I’ll be at Drakesbad Guest ranch soon, which is, according to Yogi, a sort of middle-of-nowhere ranch heaven where they welcome filthy hikers with open arms and grant you access to their reasonably-priced lunch buffet. And Spark and Instigate are somewhere behind me, having hitched into Chester for the free Mexican food yesterday, so I should be seeing them soon as well.
It’s hot in the woods and the trail splits and branches as it circles its way around various thermal attractions. There’s a little geyser that I don’t see and then there’s a “boiling lake”, which looks like a lake of bubbling soup.
Around noon the trail breaks free of the forest and there are the little cabins of Drakesbad, spread out in the valley below me. There’s a stream running next to the trail and where the stream makes a deep, still pool I strip off my clothes and jump in. The water that looked so clear and warm is, surprisingly, achingly cold and becomes instantly clouded with slimy little bits of mud. Mud is still better than smelling like death, I think, as I rub off four days’ worth of sweat and dirt all mixed together. Afterwards I sit on my sleeping pad in the sun, picking pieces of mud out of my belly button and waiting to dry.
At Drakesbad guest ranch a number of wrought-iron tables are arranged on a big wooden patio, white tablecloths thrown over them, and wealthy people in crisp new outerwear sit there, laughing while the remnants of their salads wilt in the sun. I walk onto the deck, dirty and rumpled and with my pack, and try to get the attention of a staff member who’s tidying up around a big glass dispenser filled with ice water. There are lemons floating in the ice water. The man ignores me and then the phone rings, and he goes inside to answer it. I sit down at a picnic table next to the deck. Drakesbad is not what I had imagined, but I have to admit I’d had a hard time imagining a legitimate business that would actually want thru-hikers at their buffet.
I see a woman in an apron and talk to her. She tells me that there isn’t any food left, or that the food that’s left is for the staff. The man gets off the phone and I talk to him.
“There isn’t any food?” I say. “I’ve been looking forward to this buffet for thirty miles.”
Just then Spark appears.
“If it’s only the two of you,” says the man, peering out at the trees as if a hoard of hikers might suddenly materialize, “then you can go through the line. As long as you wash up first.”
We wash our hands in the little bathroom behind the building and then grab small white plates and pile them with cucumber salad and large, elaborate sandwiches that we assemble at the sandwich bar.
“Don’t eat everything,” says the woman. “The staff has to eat too.”
“I thought you said there wasn’t any food,” I say.
“I was only joking,” says the woman.
“Maybe our lunch is free?” I say to Spark. “Or discounted? Since it’s a buffet but they’re telling us not to eat very much?” There’s a big silver desert tray with just a few brownies left on it, and I don’t take one.
We sit outside at a table a little ways from the guests, our bounty before us, and then Mud and Dingo arrive. They go inside and return with tiny plates piled high with food.
“It’s fourteen dollars,” says Dingo. “Our lunch is fourteen dollars.”
“Well fuck it then,” I say. Spark tells me that Instigate is a few miles behind- she’s having foot pain. The buffet is about to close so I grab a tiny plate and assemble the tallest sandwich I can, layers of meat and cheese and meat and cheese and meat and cheese, and slip it into an empty potato chip bag that I have folded in my pack. I’ll give it to Instigate later, when she catches me. Spark is gonna sit on the patio for a while and read sci-fi while his food digests. I shoulder my pack and set out into the afternoon heat.
The road back to the trail is dusty and then I’m climbing, up and up in the hot sun to a ridgeline. I’ve eaten a lot and I’m slow, “hiking heavy” as they call it. After the climb is a long burn, pink fireweed among the blackened trees, the sun heavy and yellow, sinking. Instigate still hasn’t caught me and I think of the sandwich, wrapped in a foil bag on the outside of my hot pack. I imagine the lettuce wilting. I eat the sandwich next to a stream, watching the tea-colored water move over the stones. I’m hungry and the sandwich has extra mayo. It tastes better than anything I’ve ever eaten before.
The burn goes on and on. Tomorrow I’ll reach Old Station, a little cluster of buildings next to the highway. I have a resupply package there. And then, after Old Station, is “the hat creek rim”, a 33-mile waterless stretch that Yogi compares to the Mojave but which I can’t conceptualize at all. Why is the creek named after a hat? And what part of a creek could be called the “rim”? And why is it so hot there?
There’s a tent in the burn, bathed in the last of the evening light. Mud and Dingo are there, sitting in the dirt, cooking their dinner in a little pot. I pitch my tent next to theirs and lay inside it as the light fades, missing Spark and Instigate and wondering what will happen next. And also feeling excited. About everything.