Day 16: A zero at Elk Lake

0 miles
Elk Lake Resort
Total miles so far: 267

My first night at the Elk Lake Campground is anything but restful. Throughout the night I realize that the other people here fit into two groups: families with young children who cry loudly every few hours, and drunk rowdy dude-bros who treat their campsites like an outdoor frat house.

By 5am I am furious. Why are we staying here? Paul could have just picked me up yesterday; I could be at home, in my own bed, with my kitties, in the blissful silence of no screaming babies and no carousing dude-bros. But I didn’t want to do that, because I’ve been truly afraid that if I go home I won’t come back.

So no, I am not in my bed. Instead I am here at the Elk Lake Campground, where I am supposed to be resting but am instead stuck laying on the ground, wide awake, stewing in my own resentment and anger at all of these people who can’t seem to just shut the fuck up.

At 6am I can’t take it anymore, I have to get up. And as I do I tell myself that today is my rest day and that it will be restful, damnit! Babies and dude-bros are not hijacking my one zero day of this entire trip. They are not.

So we head down to the shore of the lake and spread out a soft blanket, where I sit in the morning light surrounded by my exploded pack and my resupply food for the next section of the trail. Paul leaves on a bike ride and the small chore of getting my things organized helps to calm me.

For the rest of the morning, here’s what I do: I nap on the soft blanket in the warm sun, and I eat. Eat, eat, eat. Nap, eat, nap, eat. Honeydew melon, watermelon, and perfect nacho-flavored kale chips from Trader Joe’s.

In between rounds of nap-eating I rinse out my hiking clothes in the lake, hang them on a makeshift clothesline to dry, and luxuriate in being able to drink as much water as I want from the campground spigot without needing to filter it first. Clean water! And I am wearing sweatpants. Sweatpants! And I don’t have to hike! How good is this?? It’s so good.

The afternoon is filled with people. Mel and Collier and Zoe and Daniel come up from Bend (friends! friends friends friends!) and we are all spread out on the blanket together, devouring donuts, me answering their questions, questions like, “But what happens when you get your period out there?!” with unappetizing answers like, “You bleed and hike?”

Our friends leave, and Paul and I lay together in the shade. I have only been gone for 16 days, but for two people who spend as much time together as we do these 16 days have felt very, very long. It is incredible to be together again, and I periodically cry throughout the afternoon over how much I love him and how supportive he is being of me as I do this hard and ridiculous thing.

We order baskets of sweet potato fries and cold pints of kombucha at the restaurant, and I take the iPod shuffle that Paul has brought me (!) and fill it with music (!!) and podcasts (!!!) and audiobooks (!!!!). After more than two weeks of hiking alone with just my own (mostly negative) thoughts, I cannot even imagine what this next section of trail will be like. Stories and conversations to listen to when I am struggling and feeling sad! Upbeat music for when I am dragging! Whole entire books! This tiny device makes me feel spoiled beyond measure.

All too soon afternoon fades to evening, and Kate is about to race in the semi-finals at the Olympics. Yes, I am the only hiker out here who planned their schedule around the Olympics. But I did, and now I am crouched down in the grass in front of Paul’s laptop, which he has managed to connect to the internet via some kind of magic tethering with his phone that works as long as he stands in one exact spot and holds said phone straight up in the air without moving. And it is in this way that we are able to watch Kate race, accessing a free Canadian livestream of the event, and when she runs a personal best time of 1:58:79 and earns her spot in the finals I am shouting and crying, drawing the attention and stares of the families on the beach but who even cares because my friend has made her dream come true and will be running in the FINALS of the OLYMPICS and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to make my own dream come true and finish this hike?

I am strung out on possibility and inspiration.

We head back to our campsite just as two more friends arrive, friends who have brought a small grill and homemade veggie burgers (!) with homemade potato buns (!!) because my friends are just the kindest, kindest people and they know that the only thing I want in the world right now is to EAT.

We build a campfire and we eat burgers, and for a little while I am able to forget that tomorrow I will have to hike, and that I will be all alone once again.