Day 12: Pain and resistance and mosquitos and blueberries

22.2 miles
PCT mile 1882.8 – Shelter Cove
Total miles so far: 217.9

I wake up at 5am, and for some reason I feel completely spooked about being out here all alone. Is it just irrational fear, or is it true intuition? Is there something lurking out there? And, more importantly, how many nights must one spend in the woods before outgrowing this debilitating anxiety?

It is still mostly dark outside, and I stay curled in my sleeping bag until the sun starts to rise. My fears prevent me from drifting back to sleep, so instead I mull over my options for today.

It’s about 22 miles to Shelter Cove, where I’ll pick up my next resupply box. Can I hike 22 miles today? I’m not sure. My right leg was really starting to hurt yesterday, a pain in my outer shin that felt like the beginnings of shin splints, and I’m not sure how it will feel once I get going again. I’ve checked the maps though, and it appears that there’s only one good place to camp between here and Shelter Cove, and it’s only 12.5 miles away. I definitely want to hike more than 12.5 miles today, right?

I obsess about this until 6am, when I finally drag myself out of my tent. “Just see how your body feels,” I whisper. Stop obsessing. Just hike.

After four miles I reach Summit Lake, and of course Indie and Nana are long gone. Goodbye, friends! I hardly knew you!

I kneel by the edge of the lake to refill my water, and the moment I’ve stopped moving I am swarmed by mosquitos. They buzz around my face, land on my arms, bite into my flesh and suck up my blood. I am perched on the end of a log, trying to hold steady as I filter the water I’ve collected and yet still be able to swat them away as best I can. I slap my hand down on my arm and when I pull it away there are streaks of blood. Did I just crush a mosquito and smear my own blood back on my skin? Or was someone else’s blood already in its belly? How do mosquitos work? Whose blood even is this? Oh, nature.

For the next seven miles I am only aware of two things: the mosquitos and the pain in my shin. That’s it, nothing else exists for me. I am not thirsty, I am not hungry, I do not appreciate the beauty of the landscape, nothing. Mosquitos and shin pain, shin pain and mosquitos, outward into infinity.

This poses a frustrating challenge, because the only thing that might help with the shin pain is to stop and rest and stretch, but if I even so much as slow my pace I immediately find myself covered in mosquitos. So every step creates an inner battle for me, wherein I must constantly decide if the shin pain is bad enough that I am willing to be swarmed by mosquitos in order to rest. The answer to this is always “no”, which leaves me with one remaining option: keep hiking, and surrender to the pain.

As I hike, I think about a quote I love from Dan Harris, where he says: “It is not the pain that is intolerable, but your resistance to it.”

Okay, I think. I am ready to stop resisting this pain. But… how? That’s the question.

Eventually the trail heads upward, through rockier and drier terrain, and as I hike up the mosquitos lag behind. I reach a creek just after 10am and the mosquitos are finally gone. I am free!

I throw my pack to the ground and head directly downstream to ice my leg in the cold water. And it is cold, painfully cold, but it’s a small price to pay for how it eases the inflammation. I realize again that long-distance hiking is just an endless experience of trading one source of discomfort for another, and the sooner I accept that that’s not going to change, the less miserable I will be.

I swallow some ibuprofen, and for the next hour I alternate between soaking my shin, filtering water, and eating snacks. The sun has melted all of the chocolate in my trail mix, which means that I am left with these amazing chocolate nut blobs with seeds and dried fruit poking out on all sides. This is something I never would have appreciated back at home and I experience a few moments of peace and gratitude. The tiny simple pleasure of the chocolate nut blob! Who knew.

I soak my shin one final time before heading out, and I decide to try to reach Shelter Cove today. If I need to go slowly, I’ll go slowly, but I really don’t want to camp alone again tonight, and besides, I bet there will be a shower at Shelter Cove. I love showering!

And so I hike and I think longingly about a warm shower, and after a few miles the ibuprofen kicks in. Drugs! I have eight miles left to Shelter Cover and I know that I am going to make it. I can do this! I can definitely hike these next eight miles.

As I hike, I start a mental list of what I will do when I get there. I do not want another Mazama Village situation where I’m so overwhelmed that I just sit in the corner and eat crackers for hours on end. No, not this time. This time I will be ready. So I give myself a pep talk:

There will be other hikers at Shelter Cove. They will probably be more experienced than you. That’s fine. You belong here. You have a right to take a shower and charge your phone and take up however much space you need to sort your resupply box and clean out your pack. When you arrive you will eat, and then you will shower, and then you will do laundry, and then you will deal with your resupply and anything else. You do not have to apologize. You do not have to make yourself small. You belong out here just as much as any other hiker.

I reach the trailhead at Pengra Pass around 3pm and follow the convoluted directions in my guidebook for how to actually get to Shelter Cove. It’s a series of “turn right on the jeep road, cross the railroad tracks, take this other jeep road, then the highway, turn again, make a left at the logs, etc” and I pretend that I am on a quest. The Noble Quest of She Who Desperately Wants To Shower.

And then, finally, I have arrived at Shelter Cove Resort. 22.2 miles today! Even with the shin pain and the mosquitos I hiked 22.2 miles. Who am I?!

I walk into the general store to get my resupply package and see that they have small cartons of fresh berries for sale. Fruit! Delicious perfect fruit! I head outside to the picnic tables in the hiker area, carrying my resupply box and my $5 carton of blueberries, and I am already proud of myself for not just melting into a corner upon arrival. Look at me, I’m getting shit done!

The rest of the day is filled with chores, and I am even able to sweet-talk the women in the resort’s laundry room into lending me a towel to use for my shower. They really, really do not want to do this – towels are for the resort guests only – but I make sad hiker eyes and explain that I have no clothes to wear while I do laundry and eventually they agree to let me use a large multi-colored beach towel that a former guest has left behind. It’s not one of the resort’s fluffy white towels, so technically they aren’t breaking their rules, and besides this towel is still a little damp and dirty from whoever used it down by the lake. But I do not care. I am ecstatic. Towels, motherfucker!

I pay $3 for a six minute shower, do laundry, sort my resupply on the laundry porch, and count the minutes until I can go and buy more blueberries. Or maybe strawberries this time! OR MAYBE BOTH!

Dinner is a microwave bean burrito from the general store and an obscene amount of berries. I will probably get sick from gorging myself on fruit after only eating trail mix and bars for days on end, but I do not even care. What is GI distress when compared to the holy sweetness of fresh summer blueberries?

I carry my things to the hiker campsite, pitch my tent, crawl inside, put on clean sleep clothes (yessss!), elevate my feet on my pack, take more ibuprofen, and decide that my shin will be fine in the morning. It will just be fine. I’ve decided. 

I close my eyes, surrounded by other hikers doing their own nighttime things, and I am so grateful not to be alone.