Mile 2220.5 to mile 2243.5
I wake in the cold morning and sit laughing with the others while we eat our underwhelming breakfasts. We pack up and hike through dappled forests, along scrubby ridgelines and through fields of fresasitas, everyone on their hands and knees gathering tiny strawberries.
After seventeen miles we reach some trail magic stocked by a nearby Buddhist temple; a plastic trashcan of juice boxes and granola bars and a little wooden altar nailed to a tree. There are pine cones on the altar, bits of usnea. I eat a soft granola bar and then write one of my favorite Kerouac quotes on a bit of paper (THE VISION OF THE FREEDOM OF ETERNITY WAS MINE FOREVER) and tuck it into the altar. Just past the trail magic is the highway to Trout Lake, a little trail town I know nothing about. Raho and I decide to hitch there and we get a ride in a pickup from a young rafting guide and a woman who farms on some land in Hood River that once belonged to my friend Heron’s dad. Trout Lake is one block long, general store and a diner attached to the gas station, hot sun beating down. There’s a big rummage sale going on. We eat burgers and then wander around the rummage sale, trying on hats. I buy a bag of barbecue potato chips and some fritos at the general store, an icecream snickers bar. We get a ride back to the trail from a farmer who looks to be about 22, has bright teeth and sun-bleached hair.
“My pig just had piglets,” says the farmer. He drops us at the trailhead and drives away, spitting dust.
In the evening we hike six miles uphill through a burn, blackened snags and pink fireweed, Rainier and Adams holding space on the horizon and in the distance the soft peaks of the Olympics, way out over the ocean. At dusk we search for a campsite on the ridge, finally settle for a lumpy, sloping place with a view of the sinking sun. We fire up Raho’s canister stove and make a pot of instant refried beans and eat them with fritos, crouched on our sleeping pads watching the horizon fade from orange to pink to dark, the Milky Way winking on obligingly above us. We pass the pot of beans back and forth, scraping the bottom with our titanium spoons. When the beans are gone and I pour a little water in the pot, clean it out as best I can with a handful of grass.
I unstuff my sleeping quilt and shake it out. We get ready for bed, sleeping pads just so on the lumpy ground, brush our teeth, arrange our water bottles. I don’t change into sleeping clothes because I don’t have sleeping clothes- just the same running shorts and techy wool t-shirt I wore all day, down jacket if I get cold, wad it up and use it as a pillow when it’s warm.
The Milky Way is above us, glittering like diamonds and I wave my hand in the air, gather up the cosmos. “Life is suffering, yes? All of this is suffering. So there’s no future for any of us. I say we do what we want with the understanding that pain comes eventually.” I turn to Raho but he’s asleep, curled on his side, his breath ragged. I stare at the stars again, look at all of reality swirling away, time and space together. Twin ships hulk on my horizon, one of pleasure and one of pain. I can see them there in the distance, I can feel them. I close my eyes in my little dingy and paddle out to them, paddle furiously in my small boat towards those two ships, their columns of steam, their bright lights and wide, crashing wakes. I paddle until I am exhausted and then I lie down in the dinghy, let the waves rock me to sleep.