Mile 2270 to mile 2294
It rains torrentially in the night, twice, for thirty minutes each. I sleep like a thousand year-old log and wake in the morning to a wet sleeping bag and water coming in through the mesh of the tent. I sit up in my bag and rub my face, stare at the shrinking bag of trailmix in my lap, the few handfuls of granola. Tomorrow morning we’ll reach White Pass, where there’s a convenience store and I have a resupply box. But what will I eat until then?
Why am I running out of food? I say to myself. I thought that for sure I’d brought enough on this section. You’d think, too, that at this point in the trail I’d have figured it all out. And maybe I have. Maybe I know exactly how much food I should bring, but I’m getting lazy. All I do every day is walk. The lighter my pack is, the faster I’ll walk, and the more fun the walking will be. Food is heavy and I just don’t want to carry it any more.
I think about this as I hike through the cold fog towards Goat Rocks. Right now my pack is blasphemously light, but the lack of food is scary. I pose a question to myself- are the fear and hunger that accompany the current weight of my pack more of less tolerable than an extra three pounds on my back? More tolerable, I decide. The hunger is worth it.
(I know you’re about to yell at me in the comments. “Stupid hiker,” you’ll say, “you should always carry food.” And in response I say a) you’re wrong and b) don’t worry, I learn my lesson later in Washington. You’ll see.)
I pull ahead of Raho and stop to rest on a wide, gravelly slope below a wind-blasted ridge. There are puddles here and there, rock cairns, the remnants of snow piles. We’ll reach Goat Rocks today- I haven’t been there, but it’s supposed to be more beautiful than almost anything. Right now fog clings to the face of the mountain, obscuring the views, but it seems to be burning off, so that’s good. I try to turn on my phone but it just vibrates and shuts off again. Dead, and too foggy to charge it with my solar charger. So no maps, and no photographs. At least the trail is well marked.
Something red in the distance begins to climb towards me and grows larger and larger as it switchbacks up the mountain. Suddenly Instigate is there and she flops down on the spongy, rocky ground beside me as though onto the most comfortable bed.
“27 miles,” she says. “I did 27 miles yesterday, and I didn’t start hiking until noon.”
“Daaaaaaaaaang,” I say. A bit of sun has broken through the fog and warms us where we sit on the rocks. Instigate takes off her shoes and massages her foot. I close my eyes and space out.
“Should we sit here for a little while, wait for Raho?” I say.
“Yeah,” says Instigate.
When I open my eyes again Raho is marching up the mountain, strong under the weight of his giant pack. He’s got all sorts of stuff in there- stacks of extraneous paper maps from sections we’ve already finished, a book, a steel pot, a change of clothes he doesn’t wear. Although Raho is younger than me, more muscular than me, and a dude, I will always hike faster than him, because my pack is light. I think about this as I watch him work his way up the switchbacks.
“I had to stop and take a bunch of photos,” says Raho when he reaches us. His big DSLR camera is hanging around his neck on a strap.
“I’m glad at least one of us will have photos of Goat Rocks,” I say. Instigate’s little point-and-shoot is dead after being dropped to many times on the trail.
“Yeah,” says Raho.
A few weeks ago my friend Kristi took a trip to Goat Rocks with her girlfriend. I saw some PCT hikers, she texted me afterward. They were practically running.
Now the fog is burning off and we’re hiking along the ridgeline way on top of the world, 360 degrees of mountains breaking away like waves and the frozen sorcerer’s castle of Mt. Rainier to the north and I am trying to live up to that text message. I am running on the downhills towards the twisted spine of the “knife edge”, moving my trekking poles like ski poles scrambling over the rocks feeling like I’m flying in an airplane, the earth a convoluted thing and here I am looking down on it, great stacks of rocks reaching towards the sky, light up above and shadow down below.
We stop on the knife edge and I put trail mix into my mouth, drink the last of my water, watch the wind beat the gnarled trees. We hike on and I finally crash next to a little stream in a sun-drenched meadow, lay down face down on my sleeping pad and say
“I just need to lay here for a few minutes.” My hiking partners oblige and when at last we move on we drop down in elevation, into the shadowed forest. I’m hungry and tired and to keep up moral Instigate and I joke about putting on elk costumes and running in circles in front of the bow hunters, saying oh no oh no oh no oh no! Raho doesn’t understand why this is funny but Instigate and I can’t stop laughing, from humor or weariness or both. At dusk we reach a campsite in a dull clearing, a few off-season mosquitoes bumping around in the air. I explain to Instigate that I have no food and she generously shares her chickpea dinner and stale trail mix with me, saying that she has plenty. This officially bonds us for life, as sharing your food with another thru-hiker is one of the most symbolically generous things you can possibly do, ever, in the history of everything. We heat up the chickpeas in Raho’s pot, taking off the foil lid too soon and poking at them, impatient. After dinner I brush my teeth and then crawl into my tent, too tired to keep my eyes open all the way. I collapse, elated. My sleeping pad has never felt so comfortably hard and flat, my quilt so warm and fluffy. Or has it? Pure euphoria, I think. And I get to feel this way every. single. night.
(I’ll add Raho’s photos to this post later. The internet connection in my cabin is super spotty right now and it’s driving me bonkers- it’s taking me forever just to post this. I just moved into a new place, a tiny cabin in Southern Oregon! I’m figuring out the kinks, making a warm little nest, hoping for something that feels like home. So ready to have a home! In other news I managed to get myself a doozy of a case of poison oak, via letting my dogs out into the woods and then cuddling them at night. It’s systemic so it’s all over my body and it makes me feel terrible. Finally got steroids for it today, so the swelling on my FACE should go down. Me and the oak, gettin deep! Shit’s real! Also I ate SO MUCH PIE on thanksgiving, drank WHISKEY, and felt AWFUL. Also I sent Potato to live with a friend- two dogs with no car and no permanent home was too much. Now my life is very, very quiet- Potato was like fluffy dog electricity, always bringing you the ball and cocking his head with his bright shining eyes and licking you furiously in the face with his raspy cat tongue when you picked him up. Kinnikinnick just… sleeps. And looks for food on the ground. Also! Thank you for your patience as I slowly and steadily add the remaining PCT blog posts. My life is full of transition right now, logistical hurdles and money puzzles, as I try and make a home for myself and find a job in Southern Oregon, all without a car or any savings (next time I thru-hike I will not shoot myself in the foot this way) and with a dog! I feel emotionally exhausted by it, and physically exhausted by my systemic poison oak and the bronchitis I had before that (my little going away present from moldy, moldy portland!). But I am writing. All of Washington. Even if it takes me until 2014. Because Washington is THE BEST PART. And because I LOVE YOU, dear readers, with the blinding unconditional love I reserve for kind people on the internet, people who pick me up hitchhiking, and other strangers. Also I am SO GRATEFUL for your sweet comments. I do not respond to them but I read them all (multiple times) and they are like shovelfuls of coal into my heart. Like food! xo C)