Day 20: Letting go

18.2 miles
PCT mile 2016 – PCT mile 2034.2
Total miles so far: 352.1

I fall asleep sometime after 3am, and I wake up to a brilliant, beautiful sunrise. The sky goes from black to purple to pink, with the bright orange sun casting a glow over all the trees in the distance.

It’s freezing up here on this exposed ridge though, and all of my items are soaking wet. I suppose that’s what happens when you ditch your tent, sleep on the ground, and just let the fog and condensation settle down on you all night?

The sun has yet to make its way over to our little campsite, and I am too cold to pull myself from my sleeping bag until it does. So I sit there and watch the sky as it changes colors, and I think about the fact that I’ve been living in the woods for 20 days and that I have now survived a night of cowboy camping as well. And nothing tried to eat my face in the night!

“I’m proud of you, Tink!” Dragon says as he makes breakfast

“Thanks,” I say, still wet and shivering. “But fuck cowboy camping forever, oh my god.”

By the time the sun has warmed me enough that I can finally convince myself to climb out of my sleeping bag and get moving it’s already 7:20am. That’s a late start for me, and it’s slow going every step of the morning from there.

My feet are on fire of course, but I’ve grown so sick of myself and my complaining that I decide I will try to go one full day without complaining about my feet. I won’t obsess about the pain in my mind, and I won’t mention it to anyone else, no matter what. I still have over 100 miles left of this hike and I do not want to complain the entire way.

I stop for water at Shale Lake just before 9am, and I’m still there a half hour later when Dragon and the others drop their packs next to me and start filtering their own water. I re-wrap my blisters, and I am successful at not complaining. Miracle! It’s only been four complaint-free miles so far today, but that’s a start.

The group passes me shortly after I’m back on trail, and they tell me where they’ll be camping tonight. It’s far, definitely more miles than I’ll be able to do, but I give them a wave and promise to try and make it. You never know, right? Maybe I can make it.

They hike off down the trail, leaving me to my thoughts, and I know that the only way I will be able to avoid complaining is if I’m fully engaged in something else. So I do what I’ve been waiting to do since Paul gave me my iPod at Elk Lake: I click over to the Twilight audiobook (my emotional child’s pose) and I press play.

By 11:25am I reach Milk Creek, a fast moving body of water that will require some careful jumping and rock balancing to get across, but the sun is beating down and this seems like a great spot to dry out my gear and eat lunch so the rock jumping will have to wait.

I spread out my sleeping bag and everything else that got wet last night, and I eat to fuel up for the 3,000+ feet of climbing ahead. I know that each minute I spend sitting here is another minute that I will have fallen behind my friends, and this thought makes me sad and anxious. Will I be able to catch them? How much can I hike today? What if I never see them again? I don’t want to do the rest of this hike all by myself.

After lunch, I climb. The trail goes up, up, up, endlessly up, with overgrown branches on all sides that scrape and scratch my legs as I hike through. Eventually I have to pause the audiobook, I’m just too anxious to pay attention, pushing myself to hike as fast as I can to catch up with the others. But an hour later I sit down to rest and I know that I have to let them go. I’m hurting myself – literally hurting myself – by trying to hold on and catch up. My time spent hiking with these people has been wonderful, but it’s over now, and when something is over I need to allow it to be over.

“Thank you,” I whisper. To who I’m not sure – to my momentary friends, or to God, or to myself for having the wisdom to let go. “Thank you.”

At the next water source there’s a bridge for me to cross, and as I come up to it I see a small folded piece of paper that’s being held down by a rock, and the paper says “Tinkerbell” on the front. It’s a note! For me! From my friends!

Dear Tink!

It was lovely meeting you and wish you all the best with finishing. We totally think you can do it!!!

Hope your foot gets better.

Love your secret admirer,

Dragon

PS – Tux and Neon think you have a nice bum personality, lol!?!

I read it again, laughing out loud. These guys are the best, they knew exactly what would make me smile, and even though I probably won’t see them again, that’s okay. I am comforted by the fact that our short time together meant something to them too, enough that they took the time to leave me a note when they realized I wasn’t going to catch up. My hike is only one month long, which means that they are a larger and more important piece of my story than I am of theirs, but this little gesture warms my heart.

I put the note in my pack, fill up my water, and think through the rest of the day. It’s 3:30pm already, how much more can I hike? And another question: how little water can I carry and still be okay? I’ll be dry camping tonight, water is heavy, and I am trying to give my feet (which I am still not complaining about!) the best chance possible.

I decide to go with two liters, and head back out into the Jefferson Wilderness.

The rest of the day’s hiking is beautiful, but hard. The trail climbs 1200 feet in just under a mile and a half, and almost all of that terrain is rocky and sharp.

At the top of the climb is a sign that says I’m now entering the Mt Hood Wilderness, which means that I’m one section of wilderness closer to Washington. Washington!

From here it’s only 0.7 miles to camp, but those seven tenths of a mile take forever as I step carefully downhill on gravel and rock, losing the trail under the snow, and I entertain myself by talking out loud in a British accent, narrating my journey as if this were a documentary. I decide that this is my solution to the fact that I miss Dragon and Neon; in times of struggle I will hereby be British on their behalf.

In the final half mile to the campsite I get passed by two very clean men who are hiking in the opposite direction with no packs on. How is this possible? There aren’t any trailheads near here. Where are they going? How are they so clean? But they are gone too quickly for me to ask questions.

And then I am passed from behind by a barefoot hiker, who is just loping gracefully across this rocky trail like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Barefoot!! He’s barefoot!

What is happening out here right now??

I set my tent up in a small clearing amongst the trees, doing my best to shield myself from any wind that might be headed this way tonight. After the cold, wet, windy terror of cowboy camping I am determined to be comfortable tonight. I will be comfortable, damnit!

In the hours before dark I am joined by an older English man, the two clean men from earlier (who are out here for a night and whose packs were stashed right near me while they went exploring), and finally by Feather and Sprout who I convince to camp here as well. It’s a little hiker party! I miss Dragon and his crew, but this is the next best thing.

I crawl into my tent and zip it closed behind me. Fuck cowboy camping. I am so happy to be back in my little nylon envelope!

I look at my maps before bed and plot out the remaining days of hiking. Today is Monday and on Thursday I will reach Timberline Lodge. Then, on Sunday, I will be done. I will have hiked 460 miles. Excitement begins to bubble up in my chest but I push it back down. I’m not done yet. Not yet.