Mile 349 to mile 369
I dream it’s raining and I wake in the dark to feel the smallest raindrops on my face. Like a cloud, I think. Like a cloud is falling on me.
“Sour Cream,” I say. “It’s raining.”
Sour Cream sits up in his bag and looks out into the dark.
“It’s just raining a little bit,” I say. “Maybe let’s just keep sleeping.”
“Yeah,” says Sour Cream. “OK.”
In an hour a little light is leaking through the clouds. Dawn. I sit up in my bag and pat it. It’s wet, but not all the way through. It’s barely raining, I think. Like the desert is teasing us.
We get up and pack our damp things away and hike in the cold dawn. We are in the cloud and the cloud is all around us. Next to the trail the land falls away to forever, but we cannot see it. Today we will climb for fourteen miles.
Sour Cream explains to me about quidditch as we walk, the real sport created from the made-up sport in the Harry Potter books. He tells me about shooting a deflated volleyball through hula hoops while running with a broom handle between his legs. His quidditch team, he says, is the second best in all of Canada.
I find a flip flop on the trail. When we reach the cache halfway up the mountain Smiles and Sour Cream are there, sitting in the dirt of the jeep road, playing music on a little speaker. Their sleeping bags are laid out on the grass to dry. The sun has just begun to peak through the fog.
“Did you lose a flip flop?” I say.
“Yes!” Says Smiles.
We cook a meal at the cache on our little alcohol stoves and then hike on. The desert, like it likes to do at high elevation here, turns to beautiful pine forest. Suddenly I am slow, and I feel dizzy, and there is pain in my lungs. Alititude sickness! I think. There isn’t any air in this air!
At one point there is a tarantula, just sitting on a cairn. Is it dying? I ask. It’s missing a leg and it doesn’t seem to care.
The higher we climb and the more beautiful the forest becomes, the sicker I feel. By afternoon we are still climbing and I am naseous, grumpy and sluggish. I trudge along, lifting one foot after the other. I have no idea where Sour Cream is. Mountaintop-itis, I think. I am going to start calling this feeling mountaintop-itis.
At the summit of the mountain is an eerie ski resort, closed for the season. There is a big, fenced-off resevoir half-full of brackish water, and creepy gondolas are shrouded in fog.
Now the trail begins to descend, steeply. The trail becomes a sort of ditch filled with rocks, tipping steeply down the mountain.
I am tired and dizzy and irritable and the rocks hurt my feet and I stumble, trying to get faster and faster to the bottom of the mountain. In just a few hours I’ll be in Wrightwood, a little town where I have never been, in a room that Thyra and Angela and Ben, who are already there, have rented. There will be a bed, and a shower, and I will be able to wash my clothes. There will be a store with wonderful wilted produce and cheap deli potato salad. I will lay in a real bed.
I obsess over these things as I descend with my altitude sickness, wanting them more and more and more. When I finally reach the highway Sour Cream is there, sitting in the dirt next to the trail, and I am in an awful mood. How will we get to town? We wonder. Then a woman appears with three huge malamutes and puts us in the windy bed of her pickup truck. I was just walking my dogs, she says.
Wrightwood is a little tourist thing, a couple of shops and restaurants all clustered together next to the highway. People walk along the street and music plays from doorways and cars rush by. Our room is at the Pines Motel, which is right next to everything, because everything is right next to everything. It’s a dim room cobbled together in some sort of trailer painted to look like a cabin, and the inside walls are some thin cardboard-like material painted to look like bricks. Angela and Thyra and Ben are all there, talking loudly, rested and freshly showered, being excited, opening beers. I’ve been listening to nothing but birdsong for days and staring at the trail and I feel suddenly, acutely overwhelmed. The music coming from the street is attacking me, the light is attacking me, everything is attacking me. At the store on the way to the motel I buy strawberries, oranges, a roast chicken and a tub of potato salad. At the motel I drop my things on one of the beds (I have a bed!!) and shut myself in the bathroom. If I can only shower, I think. If I can only shower then I’ll feel alright.
The bathroom is old and dirty and the fixtures are fastened to each other with what looks like toothpaste. I take off my clothes and jump in the shower and fiddle with the nobs. It turn on the hot water and it’s scalding so I turn on the cold and the water becomes freezing. The hot water, it seems, doesn’t work when the cold water is on, and vice versa. Fuck, I think. I’ve never encountered a shower this awful. I’m wet and shivering and I turn on the hot water and the water scalds me. I start to cry a little.
After my terrible shower I climb into the bed and pull the scratchy comforter over my head and cry a little more. The others are laughing and exclaiming but it’s dark and warm under the covers and I just wish I was alone, in a quiet room far away from everything. I want it to be quiet so bad I start to panic and I cry more. Anxiety anxiety anxiety, coursing through me. I hate being in town, I think. I hate it I hate it I hate it.
After a while I come out from under the covers and I feel calmer. I sit on the couch with a blanket around me and eat potato salad and strawberries. Ben is talking about dramatically jumping through the fake brick wall, into the room next door. We should do it all at once, he says. With our arms held out like this. Everyone is hilarious and I laugh. Then it’s time for bed and we pull the janky curtains over the bent and twisted curtain rod. In bed I’m warm and there’s a good down pillow, and after a while I sleep.