Mile 1895.5 to mile 1915.5
I wake at six to the light coming in the big windows and step over my friends to the computer, where I read PCT blogs until the others are stirring and it’s a more reasonable hour, the whole world illuminated in daylight and the sound of clanking pans. For breakfast we sit at the bar in the kitchen and hold squares of cold lasagna in our hands like sandwiches, and finish that off with raspberries and icecream. Instigate’s mom tips the last of the chocolate cake into a gallon Ziploc bag, pushes it into my arms.
“For the trail,” she says.
On the four-hour drive back to the lake I get a text from Track Meat. He’s in Sisters with Ole and Veggie. They’ve been four days ahead of us for weeks and we just crossed paths without knowing it, like ships in the night.
I wish we all could’ve hung out in Sisters, I text back. Y’all should hike in slow motion for a week so we can catch up.
My phone whistles.
Even if we hiked in slow motion you turtles would never catch us, says Track Meat.
Track Meat you are a fool who knows nothing, I message back. Also we ate lasagna and icecream and we don’t even miss you.
But I’m lying. We do miss our friends. I think back to the High Sierra, when we were a big, unwieldy group of loveable weirdos, amazed at the sight of each other, our brilliance like sparklers in the dark. Laughing so hard it felt as though we would asphyxiate. Six of us, eight of us, ten? But how do you hike with a group that big? You don’t. You break apart, you break up, you pull ahead and you fall behind. MeHap and NoDay four days back, Track Meat, Veggie and Ole four days ahead. Spread out across the space time continuum, hearts aching. Will we ever see any of them again? I try not to think about it.
At least I have Instigate and Spark. We’re glued to each other with a special glue that holds feral cats. Trust, loyalty, love, hardwon over hundreds of miles. We don’t say it, we haven’t ever said it. Instead we say things like do you want to camp at this lake and I’m eating pizza where are you. But we know. Til Canada do us part.
At the lake we hug/wave goodbye to Instigate’s parents and then stand at the edge of the water, using our fingers to scoop the last of the cake from the plastic bag. It’s one p.m. and we all feel sick from sugar. We stagger forward dehydrated waiting to kick into gear, trying to muster some sort of wind. It takes hours for my pace to become effortless, to feel as though I’m riding my own legs, that special Oregon feeling.
A few hours later I am racing myself. Hike like you mean it, I think. I pass Spark sitting next to a stream, pouring honey-nut cheerios into his mouth.
“I’m tired,” he says.
“Can’t stop now,” I say.
I pass the side trail to Shelter Cover Resort and then the trail begins to climb. In four miles there’s a lake, on the other side of this pass. Can I make it? I’m charging uphill and light is bleeding from the forest. Dark, eerie dark, coming in like a ghost. Killing my will to night-hike. I turn a bend in the trail and there’s Spark, his tent staked in a flat spot next to some blowdowns. I drop my pack, defeated and also relieved. No night-hiking for me. I pitch my tent and then sit in the dirt, muscles twitching, and spoon my dinner of instant refried beans. Instigate appears a moment later, spacey and strange, and stretches out on one of the logs.
“I just had the weirdest time hiking,” she says.
“Don’t forget to eat,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Instigate quietly, body draped over the log. We are all a little off today. Cake hangover.
Afterwards I lay in my sleeping bag in my tent, excitement crawling up and down my spine. The moon is bright tonight, cutting the forest into dramatic bands of light and dark. I know I need to sleep, but how? Suddenly sleep seems arbitrary and extraneous, like dusting or shopping online for shoes. This is the effect that hiking fast in the evening sometimes has on me, like all my body wants to do is move. I will myself to relax. It’s ok, I think. You can hike again tomorrow.