Day 7: A million little moments of failure

19.4 miles
PCT 1790.2 – PCT 1809.6
Total miles so far: 125.4

The wind does not let up all night, not once, and the temperature drops to where I am only warm in one specific position, curled in a ball on my side, fleece hat pulled down low, my entire head tucked into my sleeping bag. If I move even a little bit I’m too cold, and so of course I do not sleep.

In the morning the tent is wet, condensation on both the outside and the inside, which means that anything that was touching the tent walls is wet too. I start to pack my things, slowed down by the numbness in my hands from the early morning chill, thinking about how sore my right knee is (why??) and how much downhill hiking there is today and I just do not want to do any of it. Poor Battery Camel, I’m a real treat this morning.

I’m the first one out of camp though, and as soon as I start hiking I feel better. Everything is gorgeous! I forgot how gorgeous the PCT is! The trail goes from dirt to smooth rocks to dirt again, and there are clear views in all directions as I hike up, down, up, down over the convoluted earth. And hey, my knee doesn’t hurt at all! And I find the best ever mountain-side poop spot. A bathroom with a view! I can hardly remember the feelings I had first thing this morning of not wanting to hike. The trail is weird that way.

At some point in the morning I realize that I missed a big milestone yesterday: I have walked over 100 miles. 100 miles! I reward myself with a lollipop and hike on toward the next water source, which will likely be my last chance to get water before tomorrow morning. So I fill up all my bottles and resign myself to a day and night of water rationing. Not fun.

By noon I’m dragging. There have been lots more downed trees, and continuous little ups and downs in the trail, and I’m lonely and sick of hauling my body and my pack over all of these obstacles. There’s a large clearing on the left, with one big downed tree that will be perfect for drying my wet gear, and after hanging everything up I spread out my little ground sheet and collapse.

The next hour goes like this:

Eat, sprawl on the ground in exhaustion, hobble over to check on my gear, eat, sprawl on the ground again, eat more, try to stretch, eat, use an apple as a trigger-point massage tool, eat, think about how bad I smell, close my eyes, and question everything.

I’m joined by another hiker, Roadrunner, who camped near us last night and is going all the way to Crater Lake’s Mazama Village today. He’s a thru-hiker, 30-mile days are no big deal to him by this point, and I am consumed by jealousy over his hiking ability. But more than the high mileage, what strikes me is just how positive he is. He’s such a nice guy, emitting this aura of kindness and zen that I would trade everything I own for.

I think about this as I hike out after lunch. Am I a good person? A kind person? How can I bend more toward optimism and positivity, like Roadrunner, and liberate myself from the whirlwind of despair that is my mind. Seriously, how??

I lose the trail a few times in the early afternoon, concealed as it is by blowdowns in a scary Halloween-looking forest of burned trees whose trunks appear to be covered in bear scratches. Is that what bear scratches even look like? I am utterly alone, and I sing loudly to myself as I walk. For some reason, the only songs I can remember today are Christmas carols, and so I sing about Rudolph and Silent Night, the sound fading out through the forest and hopefully scaring the bears away.

By 3:30pm I have walked 19.4 miles, and I stop to sit on a log at what would be a perfect campsite and try and decide what to do. Should I keep hiking? It’s early, and that would leave me with fewer miles into Crater Lake tomorrow morning. But Battery Camel might be coming, if he makes it this far, and it would be nice not to camp alone. Plus, I’m just so tired. Not just physically – I’m tired of myself and my negative thought spirals.

I sit in the dirt and eat snacks, thinking about the overwhelming difficulty of this hike. I feel like I am failing, as if every day is made up of a million tiny moments of failure. I am never going fast enough to keep up with the people I meet, I am not able to hike their mileage, I am slow and in pain and unsure about the best places to pitch my tent and how to deal with my blisters and how much water to carry, and of course I am completely terrified of all the animals that I’m certain are lurking in the woods, waiting for darkness to fall so they can attack me.

I have never done anything as truly hard as this, not to mention how unfamiliar every aspect of this life is to me, and I just feel like I am being beaten down, over and over, all day.

Fuck it, I’m camping here.

I set up my tent and watch as seven different hikers pass me over the next few hours. I know that I am doing my own thing (hike your own hike, as they say), but each person who passes by with a graceful stride and a friendly wave makes me hate myself more. Who the fuck are these happy hikers with their titanium legs and why did I ever think I could be one of them?

After the seventh person passes I get into my tent, roll down the rain flap, and hide. I don’t care that it’s still light out; if I have to see one more super fit thru-hiker en route to Mazama Village, I’m going to lose it.

So I hide and pout, like a toddler, and I look at the maps for the next few days and try to avoid thinking of the long dry stretches and how much water I’ll need to carry to make it through them. I wish desperately (for the thousandth time) that I could listen to a podcast or an audiobook on my phone, anything to distract myself from myself. Instead I remember what Pema Chodron says, that “only to the extent that we expose ourselves, over and over, to annihilation, can that which is indestructible in us be found.”

Outside my tent a deer is eating grass and digging around, the same deer who has been disappearing and reappearing all evening. “See?” I tell myself. “You are not alone. You are out here with your deer friend. Everything will be better in the morning.”

Deer friend <3

I pull on my eye mask, stick earplugs in, whisper my nightly safety prayer, and sleep.