Mile 1883.5 to mile 1896.5
I sleep good and in the morning we hike fast through the waterless forest and reach the lake by noon, taking only one break- sitting in the leaf litter eating chocolate and talking about Garfield comics. At the flat, twinkling lake we find Instigate’s parents and her younger sister, Elena, who is a sort of teen version of Instigate. We strip off our shirts and wade out into the water, find the place where the ground drops off and paddle around in the cool depths, letting it soothe our hot mosquito bites, our thirst, our chafe. Instigate’s parents have brought tortilla chips, gluten free cookies, granola bars, apples and baby carrots and these things are spread across the picnic table in the sun. We sit dripping and humbled on the peeling wood and eat everything in front of us.
It’s a four hour drive from the lake to Sisters, via a large circle around the state. We’d picked the lake as a spot to meet Instigate’s parents because it had a campground and a road, not knowing that the campground could only be reached by a series of small, winding, very indirect highways that took one all the way west towards Eugene, south to a rushing river and a giant dam, and then east again to the open, dry ponderosa forest around Sisters. We sit in the car on the long drive- me, Spark, Instigate and Egg with our packs on our laps, Instigate’s sister Elena and her parents- and write our own mad libs to pass the time. Here is one of them-
We were larping along the crusty potato when we crossed out the tree and milked a bottle of stinky noodz. Huzzah! Said Spark as he reproduced his bathtub out the gin. Holy matrimony! Said Venus, who was also in the beard. Just then, the clammy salami began to coronate, and everyone felt high. Well ski my pillow! Said Dennis Rodman.
The highway drops in elevation and the forest turns lush, big-leaf maples all dripping with moss and ripe blackberries crowding the roadside.
“Look!” I say, pressing my finger to the window. “The wet part of Oregon!”
And then east, back over the Cascades.
In Sisters we flow like a dusty river into Instigate’s aunt and uncle’s house, which is bright and open and spotless. There are big windows that look out at the dry forest and in the distance the mountains, cloaked in smoke. Instigate’s parents make three pans of lasagna, one of them gluten-free, and there is kale salad with sunflower seeds in it. We all sit around the big wooden table, wrapped in towels as our clothes are being beaten clean in the high-efficiency washing machine, and fidget with our forks like runners at the starting line of a race. Instigate’s mother and father, who are a journalist and a painter, respectively, are both startlingly calm, as though real food was a thing that you could have to eat any day. After I have swallowed four helpings of lasagna Elena pulls a chocolate cake from the oven, frosts it and rests it on a white ceramic cake stand, and there is vanilla icecream and fresh raspberries to go with that. And beer and wine.
After dinner we collapse in the palatial basement, comatose with food. Spark sits next to the bookcase and runs his hands over the DVDs, and we talk idly of movies that we could watch. I convince Instigate to cut my hair, and afterwards I feel melancholy. I think perhaps that I have eaten too much cake; I go upstairs and eat some more cake. We are all feeling this way- walking in and out of rooms, pulling objects from our packs and putting them back in, staring at ourselves in the mirror. What is it that we’d longed for so badly while out in the wilderness? In the end we watch cat videos on youtube, although there is something wrong with the volume or we can’t find exactly the ones that we want, or they won’t load. It’s midnight when we turn out the lights and spread our sleeping bags on the smooth carpet, feeling vaguely dissatisfied. I lay awake for a long time, watching the small red and green lights blinking in the corners of the room- things charging and things humming, text messages incoming, the little blips and bloops of the sleepless world.