Mile 1415.7 to mile 1429
In the morning I walk to the post office but my box is not there. So I resupply for the next ninety miles at safeway, pulling things off the shelves that I might like to eat, not really sure what to buy. Banana chips, almonds, jerky… what else? Granola bars I guess. Trail food is so weird. I don’t want any of it, and yet I need to pack around four thousand calories a day or I’ll be miserable. Sometimes I end up with too much. Sometimes I end up with too little. And when I’m hungry, of course, it all tastes amazing. I’m bleeding so I add a box of tampons to the cart, even though wearing tampons on the trail is sort of awful. Bleeding on the trail is sort of awful. Luckily my body is too freaked out by all the exercise I’m getting to bleed very much. The perks of being a super athlete? It’s funny to me that I’m a super athlete. Normally I work on the computer and exercise an hour a day. Now I exercise twelve hours a day and live in a world where chairs don’t even exist. I buy another pint of chocolate icecream and some blueberries and walk along the road towards the edge of town. Spark and Instigate are at the library- they’ll head out later. As I walk I look at my reflection in the big store windows. Why is my pack so big? What is even in there? Can I bounce all my stuff, aka mail it forward? I play this game with myself often. Spark, Instigate and I like to joke about it. We call it “packorexia”- thinking that our packs are huge, even when they’re not. Spark is the worst- his pack is the size of a daypack and yet he’s constantly complaining about how heavy and/or big it is. I mentally go through all the items in my pack. What can I bounce? What can I go without? Where is my edge?
A man in a pickup pulls onto the shoulder as I’m passing the McDonalds. He has silver hair and a red plaid shirt. I saw him at the grocery store- he gives rides to thru-hikers. I put my pack in his truck and then Robin Hood, nicknamed Raho, is walking up. Raho is another hiker we’ve been leapfrogging with for forever. He’s from North Dakota and his pack is huge. Actually, by regular backpacker standards his pack is small. But if I tried to carry it I wouldn’t last ten miles.
At the trailhead there’s a shady spot.
“You want to eat some icecream?” I say to Raho. “I can’t eat this whole pint. And it’s not like I have a freezer in my backpack. You’d basically be doing me a favor.”
We sit on the ground and eat the blueberries and the half-melted icecream, which is amazing, and I learn about Raho’s life. He’s a firefighter in the summer and in the winter he works in Antarctica. He studied forest ecology in school. His parents are archaeologists. He’s twenty-five years old.
The combination of being back on the trail and the icecream has lifted my spirits immensely and then in a few miles we’re at another cache- the songbird cache, which consists of a several giant coolers filled with ice, soda and candy, plus a bunch of super comfortable lawn chairs. Scrub and Shorts, two other hikers I haven’t really introduced, are already there, drinking cream soda and writing in the trail register, which requests that hikers leave jokes. I sit in one of the chairs with a handful of some weird reeses candy and tell my favorite thru-hiker joke, which is actually a crust-punk joke from my youth that Instigate reappropriated for the trail.
Q: How can you tell if a thru-hiker is on her period?
A: She’s only wearing one sock.
I know, right?
(Later on, in Washington, I will get a text from Instigate- “I’m only wearing one sock.”)
Scrub tells the whale joke where you introduce a whale into the situation and then just start making whale noises for as long as your audience can stand it. I liked that one a lot when I was younger but he does a much better job at the whale noises than I ever did.
Finally it’s time to hike. I’m feeling extremely lazy today, but at least I’m happy. And then we’re in the cool dappled forest and everyone takes the trail to Burney Falls because they have boxes there. I sit at the trail junction, eating the last of the blueberries and the roast chicken I packed. Spark and Instigate appear and then decide to go to Burney Falls to get icecream. I’m sitting on a nice comfortable log in the cool dappled shade so I decide to stay right where I am, reading trail blogs on my phone. Shorts comes up and sits down next to me. He has wild hair and he’s wearing the same outfit that I wore in the desert. If I was still wearing it we would look like twins.
“When did you start?” I say to him.
“May 24th,” He says. (I started on April 21st.)
“Oh,” I say. “You’re one of those.” He tells me he has to finish in time for school, so he’s trying to hike as fast as he can. He tells me he’s been doing thirty-three mile days. I wonder if I could do thirty-three mile days.
“So you just pass everyone?” I say. “Like, you’ve passed all of the hikers before us?”
“Yeah,” says Shorts.
“That must be kind of lonely,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Shorts. “It is.”
In the evening the trail crosses a creek that forms a series of deep, tepid pools. It’s the best swimming hole that we’ve had for a while and I clamber into a pool that’s shaped just like a Jacuzzi and let the cool water run over me. Shorts jumps in the water downstream and then sits on the smooth rock bank and eats an entire sleeve of oreos. After a time Spark and Instigate appear on the footbridge above me, meowing, and we walk another quarter mile to a dusky campsite in the trees. I set up my tent and crawl inside, feeling sleepy and drained. Why am I so slow sometimes? I think, as I lay in my bag, feeling the night cool all around me. And what can I do to be faster?