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PCT day 11: Fledgling and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We knock out five uphill miles this morning in two hours, looking for not-so-silty water. Unfortunately, two hours into our day is already 12:30. And a mile or two later, as I’m crossing a small stream, I slip on a wet log and land squarely on my ass. I almost cry, but don’t. “Are you okay?” Backup asks.

“I’m not doing too well,” I reply from the middle of the stream. “Physically I’ll have a bruise on my butt, but okay other than that.”

I pick myself up and we walk on. A little bit later, there’s a huge — really huge — fallen tree across the trail. It’s too big to go over, but there’s space underneath it to squeeze by. I could maybe do it with my pack on if I got down on the ground and wiggled. Instead I take it off and toss it under ahead of me, then crouch down and follow it. On the other side, I just can’t bring myself to put it back on and keep walking. Instead, I sit down on a log and put my head in my hands. 

Backup wiggles under the tree (pack on) and sits next to me. “What’s going on?” he asks. 

“I’m not doing too well,” I say again.

“Yeah, I got that. What kind of not well?”

I’m quiet for a minute and then I say, “I’m sick of hiking!” and start crying. I tell him I’m exhausted, my feet hurt, my shoulders hurt. We’ve gone a little more than six miles today. This is so much harder than I thought it would be, and I feel like the biggest idiot on the planet. “I want to take a nap.”

We agree I can take a nap when we get to the campsite near the top of this climb, about two miles away. 

We’ve only been walking again for a minute when Backup slips off the trail and nearly falls down the slope. He’s banged his knee and for a minute he’s scared he’s really injured. When he calms down and figures out that he’s okay, he says, “Adrenaline! Did you get an adrenaline rush when you fell?”

“I dunno. Maybe a little bit.”

“There’s usually a crash afterwards.” 

“I mean, maybe a little bit. I don’t think that’s it though.” (Clearly everything really is terrible. Don’t tell me it’s just adrenaline.)

The climb from here is all switchbacks. Switchback after switchback. Partway up I open up Guthook and count the switchbacks that are left: 30. I mentally tack on a couple in case I counted wrong or the GPS placed me on the wrong one, and decide that as I count down I’m going to spend each switchback thinking about the year I was that age. I spend the first few switchbacks thinking about what I want this year that I’m 30 to be like, and what I want to have done by the time I turn 31. Then I’m on switchback number 29, and I think about last year, when I was 29. And so on. Some years I dwell on, as that switchback goes on and on. Others pass by before I can remember what I did for my birthday that year. 

I notice that for my twenties and late teens, I’m thinking almost entirely about the people I loved during those years. I’m simultaneously running through failed relationships and beating myself up about not being a better, faster, happier hiker. 

I remember one of my college exes telling me when he broke up with me, “You have enough willpower for two people… for a while.” I don’t think I’m as scared of that kind of aloneness as I used to be — lord knows I’ve been in enough relationships to know that being coupled is no defense against existential loneliness; that’s just something you have to learn to wrestle with by yourself, eventually. But I am afraid of being alone in the woods. Every time Backup gets fed up with me (usually when I’m complaining about how long it takes us to get out of camp in the morning) and suggests that he should just get off trail at the next town or road, I’m desperate to have him stay. 

I guess I’ve got a lot of miles to figure this shit out. 

When I’ve counted down to zero (I guess I did miscount), we’re at the campsite, but it’s occupied. I make Backup promise we can rest at the very top of the climb, a few more switchbacks away. 

We’re up in beautiful alpine wonderland again, finally, and at the top there’s a meadow with a great spot to sit in the sun. There are two unattended packs sitting there right now, but we find a spot 20 feet away. I want to do a little blogging and close my eyes for a bit.

We’ve been sitting there for just a few minutes when one of the pack owners shows back up. We do the usual hiker greetings, and I tell him we’ve just stopped for a little break before hiking on. His buddy shows up and they sit down by their packs and chat with one another, and I return to my blog entry. It takes me a minute to realize that this dude is talking, in an increasingly loud false whisper, about us. “…Whole damn mountain and they sit down in somebody’s camp and start texting,” etc.

I look up at Backup, and then I look over at the hiker. “Hey man, if you want us to leave, just ask us,” I say. (It’s not an established campsite, by the way. It’s a meadow.)

“Yes. Please leave.”

I start to gather up my things. He says something about texting again, obviously disgusted. “I’m not texting,” I tell him. “I’m writing things down about the day so I can remember what a beautiful day it was.” I hoist my pack and tell Backup I’ll meet him back up the trail. I get out of sight and then curl up next to the trail and cry again. Why am I having such a goddamn terrible day? Why was that dude such a passive-aggressive dick? 

I can’t let it go. I’m holding onto it like I used to hold on to the assholes who’d yell things at me while I rode my bike. I got hit by a car in 2008, and for a couple of years afterwards I was really sensitive to that shit. Someone would yell something at me and hours later I would still be telling anyone who would listen (and some who wouldn’t) about it, needing them to agree with me about the person’s asshole status and the horrible state of the world and so on and so forth. Basically, I was the asshole. And doing more damage to myself than the original comment ever did. 

So I’m stomping through alpine wonderland. Letting the asshole ruin it for me. We watch marmots romp over the rocks. We sit by a ridiculously beautiful creek, with purple flowers everywhere, to filter water. We stomp onwards. I stop to pee and then climb up onto the big boulder I peed next to. The view is beautiful. The light is long. It’s evening and we’ve gone less than ten miles.

Backup climbs up next to me. “Can I have a hug?” I ask him. He puts his arm around me. We stay like that for a while, and eventually decide to give up on our goal for the day. We’ll camp nearby and try to be well-rested for tomorrow. This plan makes me feel better. 

We backtrack a little for extra water, then walk a little over a mile to a campsite surrounded by eeeeping pikas. We set up the tent, then climb onto a rock outcropping to make dinner while it’s still light outside. We don’t have a lot of wiggle room, food-wise, on this section. We’ll have to crush some miles tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. But tonight, my feet are only a little sore. My belly is full. I’m hopefully all cried out. So hey. Maybe the day was a little good, after all. 

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