Day 18: Lava rock torture chamber

19.7 miles
PCT mile 1973.7 – Big Lake Youth Camp
Total miles so far: 311.5

My poorly pitched tent flaps in the wind all night long. Flap flap flap. I sleep, but only for a few hours at most, and by 6am I’m sitting up in my sleeping bag, bracing myself for the chill of the morning air.

Better get going, I tell myself. These miles aren’t going to hike themselves, and you can’t just sit here in your sleeping bag all day. Mmm, that sure sounds nice though.

By 6:50am I’m back on trail, and I’m thinking about Kate. She races in the finals tonight, and all I want this morning is enough cell phone reception to send her a good-luck text. So for the next few miles I hike and check my phone, hike and check my phone. I know I’m draining the battery by keeping it off airplane mode, but I don’t care. I want to send this text more than I want a well-charged battery and besides, I’ll be at Big Lake Youth Camp for a resupply tonight so I can re-charge everything once I get there. Living on the technological edge, amiright?

Finally one little dot of reception shows up on my phone screen, but it isn’t enough to send the text. I look around – there’s a sort of lava mountain thing off to the side – maybe if I climb to the top I’ll have better reception? I drop my pack and climb as quickly as I can to the top, holding my phone in my hand, all the while thinking that this is a crazy thing to do. Who adds more mileage to their hike by climbing a random lava mountain just to send a text message? But it works! The text goes through, Kate will know that I am thinking about her, and I can continue on my way.

I stop for water at South Matthieu Lake and fill up all my bottles. This is the last water source until Big Lake Youth Camp, since today will be filled with long stretches of lava rock and burned forest and not much else. I have phone reception again (of course, right? after I’ve already climbed the freakin mountain), and after I check my maps I call Paul.

“How busy are you with work today?” I ask.

“Normal busy, nothing too bad, why?”

“Wellllll, I’ll be crossing Highway 242 in like an hour and a half if you want to meet me there? I could really use more moleskin and bandaids, and I wouldn’t turn down some of the leftover melon….”

He thinks for a minute. Highway 242 is pretty close to our house. “I’m on it! See you soon!”

And for the next few miles I’m hiking happy. An unexpected visit from Paul! New blister supplies for my wrecked feet! MORE MELON!

The final mile to the highway is all lava rock. Have you ever dragged your tender, blistered feet over a trail of rocks? I do not recommend it. But I know that this is just the beginning of today’s lava rock torture chamber, so I try my best to be positive – or, well, if not positive then at least not completely negative. “Remember the melon that awaits you,” I whisper to myself. Melon melon melon.

I find Paul in one of the parking spaces off to the side of Highway 242, where he has already set up a camp chair for me and assembled melon and cold water and an array of blister-related supplies to choose from. And so of course I cry. Who is this incredible person who loves me enough to drop everything and drive to the side of the highway in the middle of his workday? Do I even deserve this?

We sit together for an hour and a half, and for one tiny moment I fantasize about getting in the car with him and just going home. I could be done with this hike, just like that. It would be that easy. And that’s when I know it’s time for me to stand up and hike out. Paul has agreed to drive two other hikers back into Bend with him (aw, he’s officially a trail angel now!) so we keep our goodbyes short and (mostly) tear-free.

I watch as he drives away, and all too soon I am back in the world of the lava.

This section is about three miles long, and I turn on my most aggressively upbeat playlist. It’s time to HIKE, bitches. And so I do.

The rest of the afternoon goes like this:

Hike across the lava. Find relief on small sections of glorious dirt. Hike across more lava. Try to ignore the growing pain in my feet. Hike, rest, hike. Cry. Angry music. Hike hike hike. Lava lava lava. Cry cry cry.

Endless rocks forever and ever amen

Two miles from Big Lake Youth Camp I run out of water. It’s hot, and I’ve been too thirsty and too focused on my feet to ration my water supply this afternoon. By this point the pain in my feet has reached a level that I can no longer process. Listening to my iPod doesn’t help. Nothing helps. This pain demands to be felt. I try to surrender, to find the place beyond the pain, but I can’t. I can’t avoid the pain and I can’t get beyond the pain and so I must do the only remaining thing, which is to rest my mind directly inside the pain.

“Who will I be,” I ask myself, “who will I be if I do not quit this hike?”

What is there to find when we cross our only known boundaries of suffering?

I arrive at Big Lake Youth Camp around 4pm, and I collapse onto the first bench I see. There is so much to do – laundry, shower, pick up my resupply box, figure out where the hiker campground is – but my feet are finished. I take off my shoes and socks and dig my flip flops out of my pack. This helps, but only barely. I thought my feet were in bad shape yesterday, but I am now realizing that this hike can be split into two segments: BL (before lava) and AL (after lava). As of this moment my feet and I are officially AL, and we are just fucked. So okay, now what?

Like usual I am overwhelmed by the number of chores that need to get accomplished in the few short hours in which I am off trail. What should I do first? Where should I go?  But I don’t go anywhere. I sit on that bench and I eat all the chocolate that’s left in my food bag. Is this a good use of time? Probably not, but it’s what’s happening nonetheless. I wish I had more chocolate.

Eventually I make my way over to the small hiker building, which the kind owners of this Christian family camp have built for us, and I give myself the pep-talk I need in order to start doing my chores. I check the time and see that Kate’s race is starting in just five minutes, and even though I have decent wifi I do not have a cable account, which you need in order to gain access to the NBC Olympics streaming app. I half-heartedly ask the other hikers in the room if anyone has an account with a cable company back home, and what do you know, Feather and Sprout do!

Frantic squealing and phone typing commences, and at the very last second we are able to tune in and watch my sweet friend race her heart out in the finals of the Olympics. She is officially one of the eight fastest 800m runners in the world, and the courage it takes to put yourself out there and race on that stage helps me to forget about my foot pain.

And just like that, the pity-party I’ve been throwing for myself all afternoon is over. I shower, pick up my resupply box, do laundry, make phone calls, eat salad and fries in the camp’s dining hall, and just as I’m about to head down to the campsite Dragon and Neon show up, fresh from their rest days in Bend that have somehow put us back on the same schedule, and I am elated, hugging Dragon like he’s my very best friend.

We set up camp down on the sandy shores of the lake, watching the sun drop down low over the water, laughing about everything and nothing. I am surrounded by wonderful people, I have an abundance of chips to eat, and all is well.