Day 14: “Just go around me!”

24 miles
PCT mile 1909 – Stormy Lake (mile 1932.8)
Total miles so far: 248.5

Remember when I was worried that I’d be camping alone last night? Ha! As darkness fell, hikers just kept appearing and appearing, until there were 13 of us in total, each in our own little section of dirt, surrounded by our meager trail possessions.

The benefit of sharing a campsite with 12 other people is that you do not feel lonely and afraid. The downside is that you also do not sleep, due to all the rustling and snoring. Ah well, what can you do?

I pack up quickly and am out of camp at 6:15am, before everyone else, and yet they all pass me, one by one, over the next three hours. I am slow. I am just so slow. And while logically I know that it’s pointless to compare myself to these other hikers, and that I am here to hike my own hike, logic doesn’t seem to be working for me today. I am pure emotion, my ego is shredded, and I can’t find even one positive thing on which to rest my mind.

I stop mid-morning to wrap the new blister that has formed on my pinky toe, but I don’t even know that wrapping it will help now, seeing as how the entire toe itself is a blister, all along the bottom and up the sides. I stretch my legs, especially my hamstrings (my left hamstring has been seizing up over the last two miles) and it is with a herculean effort that I get myself back on trail.

Mystery shoes?

I check my maps, just a few more miles to Charlton Lake, the halfway point of the Oregon PCT, and instead of feeling excited by this milestone I feel completely defeated. I am only halfway through this hike? How? How how how.

Without warning, I burst into tears. I am just so tired. I sit down in the middle of the trail – literally, right in the middle of the trail – and I am still sitting there 10 minutes later when two older folks, clean kind-looking day hikers, approach.

“Just go around me,” I sob at them, waving my arms to the side of my body.

They try to talk to me, to make sure I’m okay, but all I can do is nod and cry.

“Just go, please.”

And they do, carefully stepping around me as I sit broken in the middle of the trail.

I hate this, I think. I want to go home. I want to not be in pain.

This hike is showing me how truly soft I am, how sheltered I have been from basic discomforts and hardships, and I am reminded again of what my friend Lauren says about how it’s a privilege to be able to choose your suffering. But in this moment I can’t imagine why anyone would ever choose this. Why did I choose this? Why am I out here?

I shuffle the rest of the way to Charlton Lake, which is beautiful despite my black mood, and immediately take off my shoes and socks. I don’t even want to look at my blisters anymore, they are so big and disgusting. So I don’t. Instead, I lay with my back against the firm ground and I stare up at the clear blue sky, searching for God or peace, something, anything to give meaning to this seemingly infinite experience of pain.

I have now walked halfway across the PCT in Oregon. As I eat lunch I try to feel a sense of pride, but all I feel is sadness and the loneliness that should be familiar by now, but which still pulls me under like a dangerous current, each and every time.

After two hours, I reluctantly start packing up. The rest of this stupid fucking hike is not going to hike itself, after all.

I wince as I get to my feet, which catches the attention of a nearby hiker who is sitting on a log, looking out over the lake. His name is Dragon, and I tell him about my pain.

“Have you taken any ibuprofen today?” he asks.

I think back over the morning – I don’t like taking medication, and I’ve been holding off whenever possible. “No, not today.”

“Girl, drugs work! Take some!” He smiles as he shakes his head at me, a silver carabiner swaying through a hole in his earlobe.

He’s right, I know he’s right, so I do as he says before heading back to the trail, and a mile later all is well. The pain is just… gone. Completely gone. Dragon was right – drugs work! I am joyful to the point of exploding, and for the next eight miles I hike pain-free through forest and through burn areas, where charred trees cover the ground and tiny chipmunks scurry over everything.

DRUGS WERK! THANKS, DRAGON! HIKE HIKE HIKE

Hiking is wonderful! Without the pain, I am able to think clearly and I can understand why people enjoy this life. I think back to a conversation I had with a thru-hiker a few days ago, who said that in her opinion section-hiking (like what I am doing) is actually harder than thru-hiking, because a month-long hike is long enough to suffer from terrible pain and blisters and yet it’s too short to reach the point where your body adapts.

“I haven’t had a blister in over 1,000 miles,” she said. “After the first 4-6 weeks, your body comes around.”

But when you’re only out here for a month, you never reach that point. Oh well. Plot twist!

At 4:15pm I reach Brahma Lake, which is where I had initially planned to camp, but now that I’m here and I’m feeling so good, I think I want to keep hiking. I fill my water and sit down to eat an early dinner, after which I’m going to push for two more miles to Stormy Lake and camp there.

As I eat, I chat with a woman and her dog who are out here for a few days, just doing a small section up to Elk Lake. This woman, Ashley, lives in Bend too, and it’s unbelievable to just sit and talk with her. A friend!!

I hike out at 5:15pm and head up the trail toward Stormy Lake. There are a few mosquitos buzzing around, but not too many, and just as I finish setting up my tent Ashley comes along and decides to camp here with me. This is so exciting! We talk and laugh until it gets dark, and this is definitely the most fun night I’ve had on trail so far. I feel safe with her here, and especially with her dog, and as I settle into my tent I think about how truly disorienting it is that this morning I was sitting in the middle of the trail, sobbing, and tonight I am laughing with a wonderful new friend. It’s like having emotional whiplash, all these back-and-forths between loneliness and joy.

I close my eyes and snuggle into my sleeping bag. Elk Lake tomorrow! Paul!