Big Lake Youth Camp – PCT mile 2016
Total miles so far: 333.9
The first thing I notice when I wake up is that my tent is soaking wet. The condensation surrounds me – on the outside of the tent, on the inside of the tent, on each item that was touching the walls of the tent – not to mention that there’s sand everywhere. But what did I expect? I am literally camped on the sand, on the shores of a lake. Of course this is what would happen. Of course.
We’re slow to pack up this morning, and by the time we make it back over to the hiker building and finish organizing our resupply boxes it’s 8am. I’ve given Dragon all of my freeze-dried fruit, which I’ve been trying to eat on tortillas with nut butter for lunch, but it’s just too dry. I can’t eat it anymore. I hate it. Why didn’t I bring jam? All I want is jam. Jam is the new honeydew melon.
Neon and his friend Tina and I hike out together around 8:20am. Dragon and Tux are staying for the camp’s breakfast, but I don’t eat eggs and I know that the only way I have even the slightest chance of keeping up with my new friends today is if I hike out now and take very few breaks. Dragon and Tux will catch and pass me soon enough, and then I’ll be alone again.
The first two hours of the day are tough. My pack is weighed down with all my food for this longer section, and my feet are still an unbelievable mess. It has gotten to the point where I literally cannot start hiking until I’ve taken ibuprofen (plot twist!) and even though that definitely isn’t my favorite thing to do it’s my only choice if I am going to finish this hike. And at this point I am finishing this fucking hike.
I cross Santiam Pass at 10am, watching the cars whizz by at unthinkable speeds, and I sit on a fallen tree and call my parents. I try to be upbeat whenever I talk to them, knowing that they’re worried enough without hearing how miserable and painful the hiking is, but by the time I’m back on trail I can’t seem to escape my melancholy mood fog.
I’m back to questioning everything. Why am I doing this? What’s the point of it? What’s the point of anything?
I keep hiking, with a goal of going five miles beyond Santiam Pass before taking my next break, but I just can’t make it. My feet are too sore. I stop a mile and a half short and just sit on the ground. I try re-wrapping my feet with leukotape, I take more ibuprofen, I eat my favorite snacks. 20 minutes later, Dragon arrives. He caught me so quickly! I really am the slowest hiker out here.
I struggle back into my shoes and begin hobbling down the trail, waiting for the pain killers to kick in, telling Dragon over and over that I’ll be fine and that he can hike on ahead. I worry that I’m holding him back, which is a reoccurring insecurity of mine. It’s hard enough to feel slow on my own, but to also feel like I’m holding other people back? I can’t handle that.
“Stop it!” he says over and over. “I want to hike with you! I don’t mind going slower!”
After about an hour of this same conversation I decide to just believe him and be done with it. He doesn’t owe me anything. He doesn’t have to hike with me. He’s here because he wants to be here, and I’m letting my insecurities ruin the chance to hike with my favorite trail friend. No more!
So for the rest of the morning we hike together, and it is absolutely wonderful. He tells me about his family, his childhood, the multiple jobs he worked to save the money for this hike, the girlfriend who is waiting for him back at home. I’ve been sober for more than five years and he’s a passionate drug experimenter – we are wildly different in this and in so many other ways – and yet it’s easy to pass the miles and the hours together. I really like this person. This person who hikes slow with me all day, making sure my feet are okay on the rocky sections, happily sitting down for a long lunch break in the sun so I can dry my tent.
Tux catches us while we’re on our lunch break and decides that he will hike slow for the rest of the afternoon as well. Apparently my slow hiking is a vortex of its own. I’ve already trapped two people!
We get back on trail just as Dragon is telling me how glad he is that I am happily married.
“You have no idea how few women out here respect the fact that I have a girlfriend back at home. None of them want to be my friend once they realize that sex is off the table.”
“Of course,” Tux adds teasingly. “Because everyone wants sex with Dragon.”
For the rest of the day this is our go-to joke. “Careful Dragon, don’t walk too close to those women filtering water over there, they might try to have sex with you!”
The entire afternoon is hilarious. We play games: “If you had to sleep with five fictional characters, who would you pick?” and pose ethical dilemmas: “You have to choose to either kill one baby yourself or to let a train full of passengers fall off the side of a mountain and die. Which do you do?”
I try to stay present through all of it, try not to feel sad that by tomorrow they will have hiked on ahead. Maybe some connections are meant to be fleeting?
We stop for water just after 5pm, and this is the spot where I had originally planned to camp tonight. Dragon and Tux are going 3.8 more miles though, where they’ll meet up with Tina and Neon for the night, and even though my feet are wrecked and the pain killers are no longer helping and the smart thing would be to listen to my body and be done for the day, I can’t do it. The allure of having friends to camp with is too strong. So fine, let’s go.
Poor Dragon. Poor Tux. They all but drag me up the final climbs of the day, talking incessantly and asking me questions to keep my mind off my worsening foot pain.
“Just one more mile,” they say.
“Just another half mile, you can do this.”
At 7pm we crest the final ridge and find the others, already set up for the night on this beautiful ridgetop. It’s windy though, extremely windy, and between the wind and my exhaustion I just can’t bring myself to pitch my tent.
“You don’t have to!” Dragon says. “Just cowboy camp tonight. I’m doing it!”
Ah yes, cowboy camping. A hiker right-of-passage wherein one forgoes one’s tent and just sleeps out in the open, under the stars. I told myself from the beginning that I’d eventually be brave enough to try it, and tonight seems like a good opportunity.
So I spread my groundsheet on the dirt, weighing it down with rocks on all sides as the wind whips around me. I inflate my little sleeping pad, fluff out my sleeping bag, and hope for the best. I’m too tired to get cleaned up, instead I just put my filthy body into my clean sleep clothes, and it takes all the energy I have to soak some dehydrated beans and veggies and swallow down my dinner.
As soon as the sun sets the temperature falls, and I’m wearing my insulated jacket and my fleece beanie and fleece gloves, huddled as deep as I can go in my sleeping bag, but it’s still not enough. The wind is barreling over my body, and as I stare up at the dark sky speckled with thousands of stars, I know that it’s going to be a long, cold, sleepless night.
But at least I’m trying this cowboy camping thing, right? At least I’m trying.