Day 15: There will never be enough honeydew melon

18.5 miles
Stormy Lake – Elk Lake Resort
Total miles so far: 267

I wake up and the only thing I can think is that today is Elk Lake day and that I will finally get to see Paul! (!!!)

He is driving up after work, and we’ll spend two nights at the campground together. He’s bringing honeydew melon and homemade donuts and I am taking a rest day tomorrow, during which I promise that all I will do is eat honeydew melon and homemade donuts while remaining horizontal on the shores of Elk Lake. I am so excited for this!

I pack my things away, say goodbye to Ashley, and am back on trail by 6:30am. The few mosquitos I noticed last night are back this morning, and they have brought their friends. So many of their friends. And so the first few miles of the day are mosquito hell; I consider putting on my headnet but don’t want to stop long enough to dig it out from the bottom of my pack. They’ll go away eventually, right?

Right.

The trail is easy this morning and I cruise along, crushing the miles that will bring me closer to my husband and a gratuitous serving of honeydew melon. I don’t know why I am suddenly obsessed with honeydew melon, but I am. I am obsessed. In my mind there is no such thing as too much honeydew melon and I fantasize about eating it for hours on end. Is this the hiker hunger? Has the hiker hunger finally arrived?

My melon fantasy is interrupted when I run into Dragon and his buddy Neon, and as soon as I see them I’m yelling at Dragon like, “Dude, you saved my freakin life yesterday when you reminded me to take ibuprofen!” and I go on and on about how much better I felt afterward, and he’s looking at me like, “Obviously? Because this is how pain killers work? Who is this woman?” but I am filled with manic melon energy and nothing can bring me down.

For the next five miles, we all hike together. It’s challenging to keep up with them, but it’s so good to talk with nice, funny people that I push myself to stay behind them, the over-worked caboose of this little hiking train.

I learn that these guys are childhood best friends, here from the UK, and we talk about life and work and love. I am still amazed by how quickly you can have a meaningful connection with a new person out here; it’s as if all the bullshit has been stripped away by the difficulty of the trail and you’re left with only what is real and true.

We take a mid-morning snack break, and I share my extra food with them. “Are you sure?” they ask over and over. Sharing food is a big deal on trail, especially when the hiker hunger has set in and there’s no such thing as enough.

“I’m sure,” I say. “You have no idea how much melon I am going to eat tonight.”

When we start up again after the break, I can no longer keep up. I watch sadly as my new friends hike on ahead, and I feel like I am going backward, in slow motion, as I am hit with a deep fatigue. I hiked 24 miles yesterday, so maybe that’s catching up with me now?

The remaining miles into Elk Lake feel endless. I check my map over and over, hoping that I will have magically jumped forward since the last time I checked a few minutes before, but of course that’s not how this works. The miles between you and your destination are immutable, and you have to hike them all, step by step, no matter what.

Finally, I reach the trail junction that will take me off the PCT and over to Elk Lake. It’s only about a mile, maybe a little more, but even that seems to take forever. Will I ever not be hiking?

As I make my way down the side trail I think about my dear friend Kate, who is over in Rio de Janeiro right now, at the Olympics, competing in the 800m race for Team USA. If I wasn’t on this hike I would be there to support her and cheer her on, and I’m incredibly anxious to find out how she did in her first round heat this morning. Did she make it through to the semi-finals??

The trail ends at a paved road, and I follow this paved road toward the resort. I can see the lake in the distance, and when I finally have cell reception I sit down on the side of the road and frantically check her race results. She did it!! She’s through to the next round! I call to leave her a congratulatory voicemail, and to my surprise she answers. She only has a few minutes to talk, what with the cost of an international phone call and the business of being at the freakin Olympics, but it is incredible nonetheless to have a quick PCT-to-Rio chat.

I hang up smiling, walking the remaining stretch of road into Elk Lake Resort, and find Dragon, Neon, and their friend Tux sitting in the shade next to the restaurant. Friends!

As usual I am too dumb and overwhelmed to know what to do now that I am finally off trail, so I just sit next to them and eat all the trail mix that’s left in my food bag. At least I manage to take my shoes and socks off. At least I can do one thing!

All too soon the boys leave to hitch a ride into Bend, and I am alone. I’m not sure if I should order food from the restaurant, since Paul is bringing me so many delicious things. I want to shower, but I’d rather wait until he’s here with clean, non-hiker clothes for me to wear. Oh my god, sweatpants! I’ll get to wear sweatpants tonight! So if I’m not ordering food and I’m not going to shower, what should I do? There’s no laundry machine here, and no resupply box to sort through since Paul is bringing that as well. I guess I can hook up to the slow wifi and poke around on the internet for a while? But first, water. I should drink water, right?

This is basically how the rest of the afternoon goes, except for when I finally break and order sweet potato fries and a giant salad. I know Paul will be here soon, but I am just too hungry to keep waiting. So I sit in the restaurant, charging my devices, eating fries, and chatting with Feather and Sprout, two lovely hikers who I’ve been leap-frogging with for the past week or so. They’re sisters, ages 21 and 18, and they are section-hiking like me. Such an abundance of friends today!

And then finally, finally, Paul is here.

I am disgusting and filthy and he hugs me anyway, even though I smell so bad, and it is an unbelievable relief to see him. A sort of peace settles into my belly; I am no longer alone.