Day 21: Beast mode

21.3 miles
PCT mile 2034.2 – PCT mile 2055.5
Total miles so far: 373.4

So apparently I just don’t sleep anymore.

I’m curled in my sleeping bag as the sun comes up, peeking out at the world around me, thinking longingly of those few days on trail where I somehow managed to sleep for 6+ hours per night. Six hours of sleep. What luxury! And to think that I feel cranky at home if I’m not sleeping for eight or nine hours each night.

I turn that over in my mind as I pack my things away, thinking of how strict my criteria is for myself at home, about how many things “must” happen in order for me to feel good. Everything from how much I sleep to when/what I eat to how much rest I need throughout the day, and more. And yet out here I am not doing any of those things. I am not sleeping enough, and I am not sleeping well. I am not eating fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m probably not drinking enough water, not when filtering it and carrying it is such an annoyance. And I’m certainly not getting enough rest or downtime, even though I’m doing more physical activity than I have ever done in my entire life.

And yet here I am, surviving. It’s a good reminder that I am not the delicate flower I think I am. The story that I tell myself at home is no longer true. I am strong and tough. I can do hard things, in hard conditions.

I hike out, unsteady at first as my mind adjusts to the pains of my body, and I will myself to ignore the blisters on my left foot. There is a new one now, in between my toes and wrapping down onto the bottom of my foot, and it hurts so much that I almost laugh. What the fuck is this life! What am I doing!

As I hike I eat dried pineapple, a generous gift from the two very clean men who camped nearby last night. They’re headed back to their car today and were happy to give us their extra snacks.

I am grateful for this pineapple, but it isn’t enough to pull me out of my pain-and-exhaustion-induced funk. And then, of course, the trail turns rocky again. GREAT. This is just GREAT. Every rock is sharp, every step is painful, and I feel myself falling deeper into the pit of despair that seems to eagerly await me in my heart each day of this hike.

You know what? No. Fuck this. I am stronger than this. I feel my pain start to melt into anger and that anger fuels me, and as I round a bend in the trail and catch up to Feather and Sprout I am in full-on beast mode. They watch as I throw my pack down, rip off my jacket and long-sleeve shirt, put a t-shirt on, braid my hair off my face, swallow three ibuprofen tablets, turn on my aptly-named Assassin Training playlist, and prepare to fucking HIKE.

It’s seven miles to Olallie Lake, where there’s a small store that sells food and supplies for hikers, and I am stubbornly convinced that they will have jam. They. Will. Have. Jam. Jam! I have been fantasizing about jam for days and days, and as I pound my way down the trail I imagine opening my new jar of jam, pulling out a tortilla, smearing it with peanut butter, and then covering the entire thing in a thick layer of sweet fruity goodness.

Beast mode works, apparently, because it’s not even 10am when I arrive at Olallie Lake. I throw all of my trash away in their trash bins, drop my pack on a bench, head into the store, and with crazed eyes I ask the woman behind the counter if they have any jam and if so what kind of jam and how much does the jam cost and WHERE IS THE JAM, PLEASE??

If she is alarmed she doesn’t show it. She just leads me right over to the glass jars of grape jam and I don’t care that glass is heavy and breakable and that I probably shouldn’t hike with it in my pack, I buy it anyway. Jam!!

I buy other things too – apple juice, chocolate almond milk, Oreo cookies, and a large container of salt & vinegar Pringles. Oh yeah, the hiker hunger is here for sure.

Outside I sit on the bench and eat like a person possessed. Other hikers show up and I think I speak with them, but I honestly don’t even know because I am just so strung out on this beautiful, beautiful jam.

An hour and forty minutes later (oops) and I have eaten a quarter of the jam and every single other thing I purchased. I dump the leftover jam inside a clean ziplock bag, and double-bag that with another ziplock, and it’s at this moment that I realize I will be able to eat jam every day for the rest of this hike and I won’t even have to carry the glass jar. This is, without a doubt, the best news I can imagine.

I hike out toward Trooper Spring, one of my water bottles fizzing away courtesy of a caffeinated electrolyte tablet, and beast mode continues on high. I hardly ever drink caffeine so when I do, it works, and I spend the rest of the afternoon all jacked up on caffeine and jam, even entertaining the thought that I’ll be able to hike fast enough to catch Dragon & co. I saw their names in the trail register at Olallie Lake, they came through last night and might have even camped there, so how far ahead can they really be?

In my heart I know I won’t catch them, but having someone to chase helps to fuel my beast mode hiking, so I indulge myself with thoughts of surprising them at their campsite tonight as I fly down the trail.

With four miles to go until Trooper Spring I have to stop for an emergency poop situation. Ah yes, maybe don’t eat an entire container of Pringles + a package of Oreos + a quarter of a jar of jam + apple juice + chocolate almond milk in under an hour? Maybe don’t do that.

I meet up with Feather and Sprout at the spring, where the water is stagnant but refreshingly cold and mostly clear. We lay on our little foam pads in the shade, my tummy doing all kinds of gross-feeling things, and we are there so long that we basically own this patch of land. Hikers come by, asking about the spring, and we point them back toward it like ushers and tour guides. “On your right you’ll find the water. Beware the strange stuff floating on the surface!”

At 4:15pm we finally manage to drag ourselves away. We have about 700 feet of climbing to do to reach what our map says is a series of small tent sites, each about a tenth of a mile apart. I muster the remaining fumes of my beast mode, power up the climb, and at the first clearing I reach, I’m done. Plus, there’s phone service here!

I’ve just finished pitching my tent when the girls arrive, followed by a dude named Chipotle, and we all share the small space. I call my people, post photos to Instagram, eat dinner, and poke at the blister between my toes. Is it infected? It certainly looks infected. I clean it off with an antiseptic wipe, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, get into my tent, and hope for the best. In two days I’ll be at Timberline Lodge, and Paul is going to call them tomorrow to see if he can reserve a hotel room for me (!) so this blister situation will just have to keep it together until then.

All of the sudden it’s 9pm (hiker midnight!) and why aren’t I in my sleeping bag yet??

I snuggle into it, my small inflated mattress crinkling beneath me, and close my eyes.

Beast mode, out.