Day 3: Towels, motherfucker!

20.6 miles
PCT mile 1727.6 to Klum Campground
Total miles so far: 59.7

For the first time on this trip, I sleep. It’s only about an hour or two in total, but still. Sleep!

This is a miracle, seeing as how my tent is awkwardly pitched on a downhill slope, and yet that slight discomfort is nothing compared to the throbbing in my feet. I pull my sleep socks off at 3am, convinced that my feet are swelling to the point where they can no longer safely be contained by socks, and it’s in this delirious haze of swelling and of trying not to roll downhill that my exhaustion takes over and a fitful sleep sucks me under into strange dreams and night sweats.

In the morning, I’m slow. Slow to pack up my things, slow to eat breakfast, slow to put my aching feet back in my shoes, just slow. And sore. Holy hell am I sore.

I start hiking just after 7am, following behind two friendly thru-hikers who camped right near me last night, Morning Glory and Earlybird. They are hiking 30 miles today (hahahaha, nooooo) but I decide to try and stick with them for at least a few hours. People! To talk to! About hiking and life!

The morning passes in a blur of miles and conversation, with Morning Glory telling me about all of the people she met earlier on the trail who have since gone home.

“Sometimes it’s because of money,” she says. “Or an injury, or missing their partner/family back at home. But mostly it’s boredom, and the fact that the reality of hiking is very different from the fantasy.”

After two hours we cross a dirt road where trail magic awaits – a small cooler filled with sodas, a bag of apples (fruit! fresh fruit!) and a big garbage bag into which we can empty all the trash we’re carrying. Who are these incredibly kind people who take care of hikers? They give me hope for the world.

There’s a group of hikers surrounding the cooler, sitting in the shade, and I wind up telling them my story of prancing around the herd of cows yesterday with my little bell. Amidst a dramatic reenactment and a declaration of how this bell will get me to Washington, Earlybird gives me my trail name: Tinkerbell.

Armed with my small bell and my new name, I hike off behind the others but I am too slow to keep pace with them. They have 1700+ miles in their legs, they are hiking machines by now, and I am raw and new and covered in pain. Goodbye, momentary friends!

At noon I arrive at Hyatt Lake, where there is a pit toilet and a water faucet. I rinse out my socks and sit on the side of the pavement leading into the Hyatt Lake Campground, zoning out, eating trail mix, and fully convinced that this is the happiest that anyone has ever been to just sit on the side of the road. Who knew sitting could be so good?

I reluctantly pack up after 30 minutes, tend to my worsening blisters, and get back on the trail. Almost immediately the side-of-the-road good mood evaporates, and I proceed to spend five hours hiking in complete misery – my feet are on fire, my outer shin is throbbing, and I am stuck in an unchanging forest for miles and miles.

I decide that I will listen to upbeat music for a while, to lift myself out of my downward morale spiral, and it’s in that moment that I realize that the music, podcasts, and audiobooks I chose for the trail didn’t properly transfer to the new phone I bought last week.

So that’s it then. I don’t have a single song to listen to, and I am stuck with myself. I wonder darkly about the meaning behind this plot twist, what am I supposed to learn by not having any possible distractions?

Oh well, I guess we’re going to find out.

Late in the afternoon I stop on the side of the trail, dropping my pack, pulling out the little piece of foam I’ve been using to sit on, and perform more blister surgery. My feet are unbelievably swollen, and no combination of moleskin/bandaids/lukotape seems to be helping.

Blister 1 of 6 🙁

It’s in this sorry state that I look up and see a hiker coming down the trail toward me, who peers down at my hamburger feet, asks me how long I’ve been out here, and says, “God, yeah, I remember day 3. Day 3 was total bullshit.”

I nod vigorously. This man, Cookie, understands exactly how I’m feeling. It is bullshit. Such total bullshit.

For the next few miles, we hike together. I try (and fail) not to complain, and his company is rejuvenating.

Finally, after what seems like a thousand years, we reach a small dirt road at mile 1748.2. This road gives me two options: 1) I could keep hiking for a few more miles, to where my map says there’s a flat spot to camp and perhaps a slow-moving water source, or 2) I could turn left and go a quarter-mile off trail to Klum Campground, where there will definitely be water, and picnic tables, and showers. Choose your own adventure, Tinkerbell!

It has been three days and 59.7 miles, and I choose the shower.

Cookie and I part ways and I limp my dead feet step-by-step to the campground. It’s $20 to stay here for the night, which is more than I’d hoped, but the shower is included and I’m here now and there’s absolutely no way I’m going anywhere else. So I stick a $20 bill in the provided envelope, slide that envelope into the lock box, and drag myself to the shower.

I dig out my small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap, strip naked, pile my filthy things on the bench in the corner of the shower stall, and say a quick prayer that the water is hot. And it is. It’s hot. I wash my face and my hair and my entire body, inch by inch, scrubbing the caked-on dirt from my legs and feet, carefully cleaning my blistered toes, before rinsing each item of my hiking outfit and wringing it out.

It’s only then, once I am finally clean, that I realize how insufficient my tiny microfiber towel really is. This towel measures 14 inches x 10 inches, and I chose it because it only weighs 0.8 ounces, but it does not allow me to do more than pretend to dry myself. How did I ever take full-size towels for granted at home? How could I have possibly overlooked the glory that is a clean, fluffy towel and the ability to dry oneself off after a shower? Towels, motherfucker! Who knew.

I dress in my sleep clothes – lightweight wool tights and a long-sleeve silk shirt – skin and hair still dripping wet from the shower, and trudge over to the campsite I’ve chosen, campsite number 5, where there is a picnic table, a beautiful view of the sun, big and orange as it begins to set over the lake, and two trees that are perfectly spaced for me to string up a clothesline and air dry my hiking outfit.

It’s 5:30pm, and I have plenty of time to drain my blisters, apply antibiotic ointment, eat dinner, take some magnesium for my leg cramps, and do all the little camp chores that signal the end of one day and the preparation for another.

I’m sad, though. Depleted and incredibly lonely, wishing there was cell reception so that I could call Paul. But no, I have no music and I have no cell phone reception and I must endure this emotional hailstorm all alone.

By 8pm I’m snuggled into my sleeping bag, reading a book on my phone’s Kindle app, and wondering what tomorrow will bring. Will I still be so lonely? Will my feet feel any better?

And, most importantly, will I sleep?